I Finally Married a Jet

Here’s how a CJ stole one man’s heart.

Ken Wolf CitationJet

Ken Wolf CitationJet

** Dr. Ken Wolf (left) and his instructor, Jim

The title of this article is a bit strange, so I will explain. For six years I was "engaged" to an Eclipse VLJ, but the romance dissolved when the originally promised range did not materialize. I sold my delivery position (see the July 2008 Flying article "My Torrid Affair with a VLJ"). I continued to fly my MU-2 Solitaire for the next couple of years but ultimately could not resist the siren song of a jet at 50 cents on the dollar, thanks to the great recession. I proposed and the bride's father accepted my offer. A beautiful young thing in the form of a 1996 CitationJet appeared on my ramp. It was love at first sight and first flight!

Just 30 miles from my home lived Jim Loranger, an FAA-designated pilot examiner for the CJ. He agreed to train me at night and on weekends until I was ready for the type rating exam.

The next two months interspersed my day job with ground school and 44 hours of dual flight instruction. After two weeks in the classroom, we sat in the cockpit with a ground power unit running as I learned various button-pushing sequences to make things happen. For example, a change in altitude requires setting the target altitude, selecting either desired indicated airspeed (IAS) mode for climb or vertical speed mode for descent, and dialing in the appropriate speed. The aircraft then climbs at the IAS selected or descends at the requested feet per minute and levels off when reaching the desired altitude.

Configuring the electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI) for flight was another challenge. The CDI needle displays navigation data from the FMS or from Nav 1 or Nav 2 as desired. The display also has two separate bearing pointers that can be assigned to any of five targets. Configuring the display for a complicated departure or arrival took some thinking. Also, while the aircraft FMS provides a wealth of information, it has a bunch of hidden “gotchas.”

For example, I programmed the FMS to fly from the airport to the outer marker, where I planned to switch to heading mode and fly outbound while setting the ILS and FMS for the return to the airport. The FMS flight plan read “home airport/outer marker/home airport.” Two miles before reaching the outer marker, the airplane turned and started back toward the airport, much to my confusion. Jim explained that the FMS didn’t yet know that I wanted it to fly an ILS. It only knew “airport to outer marker to airport.” The turn anticipation feature of the FMS saw that a 150-degree turn back to the airport was coming up, and it started the turn early using the outer marker as a fly-by waypoint to complete the sharp turn. Placing an asterisk next to a waypoint would make it a fly-over waypoint (i.e., outer marker*), and I could then transition to heading mode as planned. The FMS “gotchas” made life interesting at times!

Getting the jet ready for taxi after starting engines was another learning event. There are a number of after-start checks to be performed (generators, EFIS system, inverters, trim system, autopilot, speedbrakes, thrust attenuators, flap position warnings and eight rotary-knob warning system checks). Programming the FMS, configuring the aircraft for departure, setting up electronic displays on the EADI, EHSI and MFD and setting frequencies in the seven-level radio stack all took time. A 30-minute ground run before taxi was not unusual! I was stretched to the limit, but eventually Jim said, “You’re ready for your check ride.”

I aced the FAA-administered four-hour oral exam, but pride goes before a fall! Unexpected emergency surgery at 4 a.m. the day of the scheduled check ride made me late, apologetic and frazzled. Not good! The airplane was fueled, flight plan filed and pre-start calculations and checks accomplished. A request for the clearance met with total silence. I fumbled with the radios, headset and audio panel switches, all to no avail. Then I remembered! “Push the switch to transmit, pull for intercom.” You can’t get a clearance on intercom! Problem solved and clearance obtained. Anxiety again intervened when I attempted to load the flight plan into the FMS. It doesn’t go in when you push the wrong buttons!

“I’m going to flunk this exam before ever starting the engines” flashed through my brain! Finally, I got everything straightened out, and off we went. Two hours and 30 minutes of airwork, various approaches, system failures, an instrument approach to minimums while flying on the emergency bus, and an engine failure after a missed approach totally drained me. But apparently it was good enough! I had passed thanks to good instruction and the kindness of the FAA examiner who didn’t walk away when I couldn’t zip my fly, so to speak, at the beginning of the check ride. I was now a full-fledged jet jock. Subsequently, I’ve accumulated more than 100 hours and have recently completed my first simulator recurrent training course. I’m becoming comfortable in the left seat, and I no longer feel that the airplane arrives at the destination 15 minutes before I do!

So what have I learned? Hand-flying the CJ is easy. It’s very docile and stable with excellent handling characteristics. The challenge comes with learning the integrated flight management system, the EFIS/flight director displays, the display controller, the autopilot mode selector module, and the remote instrument control box. Initially it felt like trying to rub my belly and pat my head simultaneously when I was 8 years old! Also, jet flying is simply different from a procedural viewpoint. Things happen fast when you lift off and are climbing out at 220 to 240 kias. In order to stay ahead of the aircraft, the pilot must manage automation to a degree to which I had not previously been accustomed.

Also, pre-departure planning is far more extensive and involves setting four V speeds, or takeoff safety speeds; two N1 power settings, for takeoff and initial power reduction; balanced field length calculations, which ensure being able to suffer an engine failure and either safely abort or take off in the available runway length; and climb capability determinations, so that obstacles can be cleared on one engine if the need arises. Emergencies encountered during the takeoff roll are handled differently (abort/no abort) depending upon the emergency and the speed at which it occurs. These and other departure issues require briefing, as does contingency planning for an emergency return after takeoff, and even carries through to landing weight limitations at the final destination to allow for a possible single-engine go-around if needed. It’s a far less casual approach to flying than what I had previously experienced. There’s no “light the fires and go” in the jet!

So, 10 years after being "engaged" to a jet, I am now married to one, and my two wives and I have settled into this new relationship (yes, I'm a bigamist of sorts). It took a lot of effort, but my flying skills have been greatly expanded. Here's the bottom line. Up at FL 410, while flying along at a nice Mach number with incredible quiet and smoothness all around, I look down at the airliners below and say to myself, "It just doesn't get any better than this!" I like my new wife!
Ken has been flying since 1964 and has an ATP rating with 5,500 hours in both fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft. He is also an aviation medical examiner. In his "day job," he's an eye surgeon. Ken had taught eye surgery worldwide aboard Project Orbis, a DC-10 charitable flying eye hospital. Ken and his lawyer wife, Fredda, live in Maine and Florida. Ken has subscribed to_ Flying_ for the past 47 years._

Check out Robert Goyer's accompanying piece, "Cessna's Amazing CJs."