Training for a Turbine Transition

Which method is the best for you?

Imagine this: You are 46 years old and have built a successful company. Flying has always been a hobby, but a few years ago, when you bought a Beech Baron in order to meet your customers face to face, flying became a passion. You eagerly look forward to the annual training required by your insurance company. Business is booming. You decide to buy a jet. You have picked out a tail number. Now you have to learn how to fly this new beauty.

Pilots moving up to turboprops and jets have a choice. You can train at FlightSafety International, TRU, CAE or SimCom and have a structured, highly polished simulator-based course lasting two or more weeks, culminating in a check ride in a simulator. If all goes well, you will be type rated. But hold on, there’s another option.

You can engage one of the multiple companies that tailor instruction to the pilot’s previous experience, busy calendar and own (presumably recently acquired) airplane, ending with a check ride in their new ride. A designated pilot examiner can provide the type rating. Most turboprops don’t require a type rating, but those weighing more than 12,500 pounds and all jets do.

My own experiences in each training venue have taught me there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. When I upgraded to a Piper Cheyenne I turboprop, I hired an instructor, who arrived with a huge stack of training books full of systems, operating procedures and emergency items. The instructor holed up in a local hotel, and for two weekend days, I sat in his room as he ran through topics such as engines, pneumatics, electrical systems, ice and rain, and hydraulics. On day three, we went to the airport, hooked up a power cart, and reviewed every dial and gauge.

That afternoon, we started those PT6s, during which time I was required to describe a hot start, a hung start and a normal start. A hot start occurs when insufficient turbine rpm or excessively rich mixture result in interturbine temperatures above limits. A hung start is when a normal light-off occurs but the engine fails to accelerate—often caused by insufficient power from the starter or the failure of fuel nozzles to open. Either malfunction is particularly compelling when you have just bought these engines. Note to self: Don’t mess this up.

As we taxied out, there was a startling, loud shriek. I immediately thought I had broken some expensive piece of the airplane, but my instructor reassured me: “That’s just the stall warning. It will do that when taxiing downwind. There’s the circuit breaker. You can pull it to shut off the noise, which freaks out your passengers. Just be sure to push it back in before you take off.” I had just learned one of the most powerful reasons to train in your own airplane: All airplanes make noises and have personalities. When you train in yours, you will learn about the idiosyncrasies that make your airplane, well, yours.

Jet cockpit
Many of the newest-­generation jet cockpits are specifically set up to accommodate a lone pilot acting as PIC. Textron Aviation

In-Airplane Means More One-on-One Interaction

Personalized in-airplane training has advantages in addition to just knowing about strange noises. Frequently, the training can be done close to home, as in the case above. You get to practice approaches to your airport. These courses for a type rating are usually shorter than the formalized “big-box” sim training, some of which can last more than two weeks. Many in-airplane companies advertise a type-rating completion in five days.

The instruction is almost always one-on-one. This allows you to ask questions without risk of embarrassment in front of other classmates. There is no rush. You will learn to use your radios and flight management system. The FMS familiarization is key, and an instructor knowledgeable about your box is a highly valuable aspect of in-airplane training.

If this is your first type rating, the in-airplane training and check ride mean you will most likely require at least 25 hours of supervised operating experience with a mentor pilot. In fact, you may find it hard to identify an insurance company that will approve of in-plane training under any circumstances unless you have previous type rating. SOE is also required for type ratings obtained in the simulator-only environment if your previous flying experience in turbojet airplanes is limited (under FAR 61.64). In your case, for example, as an upgrading Beech Baron pilot, you would require SOE if your type rating was awarded in a simulator.

Turbine jet
While full-­motion ­simulators can mimic aircraft, sometimes only an actual flight hammers home the point. Textron Aviation

There are some disadvantages to in-airplane training. Things go by very quickly. Under the hood, a small suggestion about power settings can be disorienting if you’re trying to capture the ILS in a tough crosswind. There is no freeze-frame button on your new jet. Type ratings have been described as akin to “drinking from a fire hose.” In this case, the drinking takes place in the air, in real-life conditions. It can be too much, too fast at times. Approach after approach in real airspace can be tiring and dislocating. Are we doing this with the ILS or localizer only? That said, you can learn things about your airplane you might consider to be only myth in the sim. It really will climb well after a V<sub>1</sub> cut. That may be an important piece of information some day.

You may choose to journey to an in-airplane site—many are in sunny climes. Some have jets similar to yours for lease during training. Many provide some simulator experience, but the sim might not bear much resemblance to your airplane. It’s the “in-airplane” experience you are looking for. The price for an in-airplane type rating is often much less than simulator training with the big guys. You must be aware that training in your airplane costs money in addition to the course. Most jets cost at the very least $1,000 an hour to operate. You’ll be burning real jet-A, landing on your tires, using your brakes and adding time to your engines. My own experience in getting a type rating in-airplane—a Beechcraft Premier—was no cheaper than paying retail price for a formal simulator program. A given type rating costs about $30,000 no matter how you slice it.

With the exception of the Premier, my other type ratings have been obtained in simulator programs at FlightSafety, Higher Power (now part of ATP Flight School) and CAE, which trains to the CE 500 (Cessna Citation Jet), LR JET (Learjet), BE737 (Boeing 737), CE 525S (Cessna Citation CJ series) types. These well-organized programs have several advantages. The class work is formal. Presentations are usually interesting, well-illustrated, projected clearly and comprehensive. They tend to last about an hour each, and breaks are frequent. The facilities are well-maintained and efficient. A list of local restaurants is often provided upon check-in. In this case, you’ll be the one staying in a hotel room—not your instructor.

flight simulation
The beauty of today’s technology is its ability to create visual experiences for students unimaginable just a few years ago. Courtesy learnthefinerpoints.com

Classrooms Full of Other Pilots

One of the most unexpected rewards of the classroom is the presence of fellow aviators who are there for the same reason you are. In my case, many had vastly more jet experience than I had, and the instructors were good about allowing a fair amount of hangar flying. I have been in class with pilots who have had a cockpit fire and an explosive decompression at altitude. These conversations tend to focus your attention when you practice the cockpit-fire memory items and emergency-descent procedures.

The simulators come close to real life, especially the level-D sims. Within a few minutes, you are unaware you are actually tethered to the ground in a box on legs. By the time you get that fire out, go on single-engine missed approach and get her back down to minimums, your legs can be jiggling on the rudder pedals out of real anxiety. Even the thump of the nosewheel on the centerline lights is realistic.

For all that realism, though, you are dimly aware, in the back of your mind, that “I can’t really get killed in this thing.”

In a busy training center, your simulator times may be “inconvenient.” I know a check ride at 23:00 hours is not likely to bring out my best. Sim instructors may be highly knowledgeable—all are typed in the airplane—but though they have a lot of real-life experience, that experience might not be in your airplane. This is sometimes not subtle. A simulator type rating can be expensive. This is true both in terms of money and in time.

In retrospect, I wish I had hired an experienced pilot when I got the Premier type rating. Though I had more than 10 hours in the airplane and 1,200 in jets, I really had no operational experience in that airplane. A seasoned pro would have made me more certain about descent profiles and approaches. In both sim-based and in-airplane courses, nobody ever mentioned the need to use windshield heat. Ask any Citation driver who has descended from Flight Level 410 at a balmy minus 56 degrees C into humid Florida-summer weather about windshield heat, and they will tell you that without it, the moist air will condense in a way that makes visual contact with the outside world impossible.

When speaking to Jim Stewart, who had just upgraded from a Piper Meridian to a Cessna CJ1 jet, I learned he had chosen LOFT, a West Coast sim center close to his California home. “No insurance company would let me get the type rating in the airplane. With no twin time and no jet time, it was not an option,” he said. He told me the hardest part of the type rating was getting used to a simulator and the greater emphasis on checklists. He was required to obtain 40 hours of flight time with a mentor pilot. “This is an additional expense,” he said. (Most mentor pilots charge $500 to $800 per day, and they need to eat and a place to stay when on a trip.)

flight training
“The simulators come close to real life… Within a few minutes you are unaware that you are actually tethered to the ground in a box on legs.” Courtesy learnthefinerpoints.com

A Word About Recurrent Training

Say you’ve enjoyed your CJ3+ for six months and are eager to return to training. The options are essentially the same as for your initial type rating. A good idea is to maximize the advantages of each by rotating between in-airplane, real-life flying and sim-based experiments with exciting events such as a zero-flaps landing without the anti-skid working—which I wouldn’t welcome in a real airplane.

You still need to be sure to develop your own standard operating procedures and callouts—even though you might be alone—and choose a checklist that is economical, concise, complete and mirrors your flows. Generic checklists may be usable, but you may find the signal-to-noise ratio to be burdensome. I still use the checklist for the CJ3 I flew in the Part 135 world for the CJ1 I fly now. There are only two additions and two deletions to that checklist that evolved over hundreds of hours of flight time. This edited version has served me well.

Welcome to the world of flying big, fast airplanes. You want to fit into the same airspace as seasoned professionals in big airliners. You want to look, act and sound like a professional. When I asked an experienced FlightSafety instructor how long it took for him to tell if a pilot was a pro, his answer was simple: “I can tell by the way she gets in the seat.” You want to be that pilot.

This story originally published in the December 2019 issue of Flying Magazine

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