FSI debuts Europe’s first full-flight VLJ simulator

 - May 18, 2008, 12:09 AM

Next month, the first very light jet (VLJ) full-flight simulator to enter service outside the U.S. will be approved for training Cessna Citation Mustang pilots. The simulator, installed at FlightSafety International’s Farnborough facilities in the UK, will begin training in August and is already booked through the end of this year.

FSI (Booth No. 306) already has two Mustang simulators in operation at its Wichita, Kansas base. According to Anthony van de Geest, assistant training manager at the company’s Farnborough Learning Center, Mustang owners have shown “very substantial” interest in the training. “Most companies that will operate the type will appoint four pilots per aircraft,” he explained to EBACE Convention News. “European Mustang orders are climbing steadily, so the new simulator is going to be working hard.”

FSI already has a major business aviation training operation at Farnborough, located in a new 92,000-sq-ft building at the rapidly expanding aviation business park adjoining the airfield. It is the newest of the training group’s facilities and contains
14 full-flight business aircraft simulators and resources to train up to 3,800 pilots and non-pilot aviation personnel a year.

“Business is pretty good,” said van de Geest. “Generally we have very little availability left this year, and none for some aircraft. For example, the Citation Bravo, Excel, Hawker 400 and 800 simulators are almost fully booked.”

Besides the new Mustang and Hawker simulators, this year and early 2009 will see the arrival of Gulfstream 450/550 and Citation Sovereign units. “Around 80 percent of our business is from Europe,” said van de Geest. “The rest is from the Middle East and Africa, in about equal proportions.”

All of the simulators are built by FSI, and the latest, including the Mustang, are equipped with its Vital 10 wraparound visual system with a worldwide satellite database and enhanced resolution for Category-C (steep approach) airports.

Meeting the requirements for VLJ training have been “challenging,” according to van de Geest, given that many pilots will be transitioning to a jet aircraft as the sole pilot, from older, slower turboprops requiring two pilots. “As we see it,” he said, “there are two main challenges: Instruction in the ways of a modern digital cockpit and instruction in flying a high-performance aircraft.”

The Mustang was the first entry-level jet to be certified and enter service without restrictions and has attracted a large number of owner-pilots for whom the old type-
rating courses weren’t likely to provide the kind of proficiency necessary. Realizing this, Cessna set out to develop a new training program for the aircraft. FSI, which had participated in providing training for earlier business aircraft, was required to compete for the new program–and won.

The result is what FSI calls a “unique and innovative” program designed specifically for pilots and maintenance staff. It is based around the idea of a Mustang Proficiency Index to help predict how a pilot will perform in training and to establish realistic goals. The index is based on fundamentals such as total flight time and recent experience and factors such as military service, previous training courses– and results–and other type ratings. Experience with flight management systems
is also taken into account, as is high-altitude training.

Based on its assessment of a pilot’s estimated proficiency, FSI then provides a structured approach to achieving the type rating and may suggest that additional flight time be undertaken with a mentor accompanying the pilot. FSI stressed, however, that mentor training is not a requirement and the company can pass or fail a student only at the checkride stage in line with the license skill test as laid down by the regulatory authorities.

The company has developed what it claims is the industry’s first mentor program and suggests a 25-hour course based on five hours of daily flying which it says is “ideal” for pilots who have a supervised operating experience limitation on their license. FSI defines the mentor pilot as “an observer with the background and flight experience to be able to identify and alleviate potential problems before they become safety-of-flight issues.”

FlightSafety installed a new static flight training device (FTD) at Farnborough in January to begin training pilots on the Mustang’s Garmin avionics. “A lot of pilots have never been in a glass cockpit,” said van de Geest. “For some, it will be a difficult transition.”

The 10-day Mustang course is unusual in that trainees spend time each day in the classroom, FTD and simulator, so they can quickly apply classroom lessons in the simulators. “We expect some will take longer than others to transition,” said van de Geest. “It is in its early days yet, but we’re pretty sure we’ll resolve any issues that come up.”

The European Aviation Safety Agency has yet to pronounce on its VLJ training criteria and is expected to issue a Notice of Proposed Amendment before long. Van de Geest believes there is a “good chance” that regulation will have to be provided by the insurers placing their own requirements on owner/pilots.

Despite the current global economic downturn, van de Geest sees no near-term let up in the need for business jet training at the Farnborough center, which is located about 35 miles southwest of London (a 40-minute drive from Heathrow Airport). “In fact, we think it will probably edge up as new simulators come on line. We see no sign of any slackening of demand at this point.”