The lure of a jet is strong. Not only are they fast and high-flying but they’re undeniably cool. Who wouldn’t want to take that next step and lose the props?
Truth is, a lot of pilots out there have the money to move up to the jet world but just don’t do it, and the reason is easy to discover, because they’ll tell you. They’re worried that a type rating is beyond them.
In most every case, it just isn’t so. This is not to say that a type rating is easy. It is not. But the rewards are great, and there’s probably no better way to improve your basic instrument and general flying skills.
Why a Type?
Flying turboprops requires little certification beyond what most pilots of piston twins already have. Theoretically, a 100-hour pilot with a new multiengine rating can legally climb into a Mitsubishi MU-2, Merlin or King Air 90 and start flying without additional training, certification or logbook endorsements (with the possible exception of a high-altitude signoff).
For a jet, it’s a different story. For that, the FAA requires a type rating, which is simply certification specifically to fly that particular type of airplane. You’re certified in that type and in no other type.
There are few prerequisites for a type rating. If it’s a multiengine jet (which is, for all intents and purposes, all of them), you’ll need a multiengine rating. And if the jet flies above 24,000 feet (once again, which ones don’t?), you’ll need that high-altitude endorsement. The would-be jet jock will also need complex and high-performance endorsements, though nearly every pilot with a multiengine rating has already checked those boxes. So the price of admission is low.
In reality, pilots looking to get a first type rating want a lot more time and experience in their logbook than that. Tracy Brannon, a longtime instructor at SimCom and today its COO, told me that the personal aviators who succeed fit a typical profile. They fly a lot in complex airplanes — usually twin-engine airplanes — and their basic instrument skills are solid. The success rate for this kind of pilot in getting that type rating added on is “very high,” Brannon said, because they come prepared for challenges. That said, Brannon stresses that SimCom is designed to help all of its customers, even those with lesser experience, succeed at getting type rated. In all but a few cases, he said, it can do just that.
When pilots start out with their simulator training they often complain about how hard the sim is to fly compared with the real airplane. And this is true. The sim, despite being switch for switch and airspeed for airspeed identical to the airplane it is replicating, is not the airplane and you can tell. The very best (Level-D) simulators are very good at what they do, but they still land a bit strangely, they still give G-force feedback in sometimes unexpected ways when doing maneuvers, and they still demand much better performance if pilots want to get the same results as in the airplane.
When you think about it, we really do want the sim to be more demanding, so when we emerge from it, we are better pilots than we’d otherwise be.
The downside, however, is obvious. Give it half a chance and the sim will ruin your day. No pilot coming to a training center for the first-time type rating escapes unscathed. That is part of the beauty of it, though. The challenge is great and the attention and performance have to be too.
Still, the truth is, pilots who want to get their type at a training center will have to do battle with the sometimes fiendish peculiarities of the machines in which we train. The good news is, the challenges of the sim can be conquered. The even better news is there’s a lot to be learned from it.
Who Needs It?
As you probably know, a type rating is required for any large airplane (over 12,500 pounds) and for any turbojet airplane regardless of its weight. Almost always, the type-rated pilot needs an instrument rating too. There are exceptions, such as the Ford Tri-Motor, for which a pilot can get a VFR type rating. While weight is defining on the top end, at the lower end it’s not. Even though the Eclipse 500 weighs just 6,000 pounds, a pilot needs a type rating for it. That means passing a check ride, which in many airplanes can be done right in the Level-C or Level-D simulator. One can, of course, train in an actual airplane. In some cases, that might be the only option. In other cases, pilots who already own the airplane will sometimes choose to train exclusively in it. I’d recommend against that, though, simply because there are too many things you can do in a sim, like a dual-engine failure on climb-out — that you probably don’t want to try in the real airplane.
For those people looking to get that coveted single-pilot certification, it’s much more dependent, actually, on the hardware than the pilot. Depending on the pilot’s experience, there might be limitations on the type rating obtained in the sim, including additional time, normally 15 to 25 hours, flown with a qualified mentor pilot. Smart first-time type-rated pilots coming out of the sim wouldn’t have it any other way. As with any rating, after getting typed, there’s still a lot to learn.
The phantom regulatory presence here is the aviation insurance industry, which smartly sees to it that newly type-rated pilots, if they or their company wants insurance, get additional experience after coming out of training.
For many pilots, getting a first type rating is part of the process of buying an airplane that requires one, so the kind of type rating they get (SIC, PIC or single-pilot) is dependent on the airplane and their needs for it. A lot of these individuals, by definition, are the very busy people whose lifestyle — travel, long hours and high stress — doesn’t mesh well with the demands of flying a jet. Often these pilots are part of a team that flies the company airplane, and the single-pilot type rating allows them to fly left or right seat — or stretch out in back — depending on the mission and depending on the day.
Improving the Odds
Would-be jet pilots can do several things to improve their chances of succeeding at the first type rating. Some of them might sound pedestrian, but they underscore the fact that type ratings are serious business and the airplanes they apply to are complex machines that demand a certain level of professionalism.
Pilots who have good experience, including turboprop twin time and time flying in the system, are in better shape. Brannon stressed too the importance of basic instrument flying skills. “The scan is king,” he said, explaining that without a good basic scan it’s hard to transition to a complex and unfamiliar airplane. There are a lot of things all pilots can do to improve those skills, he added, including hand-flying instead of using the autopilot, flying the full approach instead of taking vectors to final and flying full route clearances instead of long direct legs.
But when it comes down to it, Brannon stressed, the real key is attitude.
While he admits that SimCom will occasionally host pilots who are difficult cases, who don’t want to listen to their instructors or who feel offended that their skills are questioned — we’ve all run into this type before — for the most part, the first-timers who come to SimCom are ready to learn.
Part of that learning is studying in advance, and there are things every pilot can do to get a leg up. Brannon recommends learning the checklist memory items as a starter. For those of you without a lot of complex airplane experience, this might sound like an odd suggestion. But in the turbine world airplanes run on checklists, and some of those lists address situations — like an engine loss just after decision speed — for which there is no time to consult anything but your own trusty brain.
A lot of schools offer accelerated type rating courses. For those pilots getting a first type rating, I’d counsel great caution here. It’s tempting for all of us to think that we can do it. But once these pilots have gone through a little training — day one is usually enough time — it becomes clear that there is more than enough to learn even with a typical 14-day course. My advice: Clear the schedule and do a full course.
What kind of course one chooses is dependent to some extent on what kind of setting fits best. I’ve trained at several excellent schools for various ratings and for a number of different airplanes, and for me, individualized instruction is extremely important. Training with a partner can have advantages, including a built-in support network and study buddy, but it’s hard to overestimate the value of one-on-one instruction.
When I asked Brannon if a lot of the applicants coming in for their first type rating were apprehensive about the prospects, he chuckled and said that nearly every one was. But the message he gave is the same message that I’ve come away with. Top-notch training providers are there not to push their students to the point of failing but to do just the opposite, to help them succeed. They do so with overwhelming success.
The bottom line is this: If you’re a serious pilot and want a type rating, you can do it. It’s not easy; in fact, at times — like when that second hand-flown single-engine ILS to minimums ends in yet another missed approach — it takes a tough minded pilot indeed not to think how nice a two-engine landing would be.
But in the end, the ticket and the skills gained in getting it make the effort all worthwhile.
After speaking with pilots who have earned a type rating and several instructors who have guided hundreds of people to that same goal, it becomes clear that while everyone’s story is different, there are some things that any pilot can and should do to make the experience a success.
• Take the long route. There’s no way for a newbie to really understand the principles behind jets, so avoid the temptation to take an accelerated course.
• Dedicate yourself. Don’t try to stay up with office work while you’re training. Instead, dedicate your days to working at the training center, your evenings to hitting the books and the rest of your time to getting some shut-eye.
• Study ahead of time. Most training providers will send you your books before you begin your course. Get to know the airplane, its performance and its systems. Sure, some of it will seem confusing without the instructor’s wisdom to guide you, but any head start you can get will help you once you’re at the center and elbows deep in systems.
• Don’t commute**. If you can afford to be away from home to do the training, by all means do it. Being away from home and office means setting your mind to the task at hand, getting that type rating.
• Make peace with the simulator. Yes, sims fly differently than airplanes do. Don’t fight that fact; benefit from it. Learn to let the machine do as much of the work for you as possible and spend your energy elsewhere. You’ll need every ounce.