John & Martha and Their Falcon 10

 - October 12, 2006, 10:46 AM

John and Martha King, co-chairmen and owners of San Diego, Calif.-based King Schools, are best known among owner-pilots for their folksy flight-training videos. But with more than 4,000 hours total flying time each, the husband-and-wife team has operated as a jet crew since 1987, when they bought a Cessna Citation after first receiving type ratings. Three years ago, the Kings bought a Falcon 10, largely because they were unsure of the future feasibility of operating their early-serial-number Citation 500 (predating Cessna’s Citation I nomenclature) in domestic RVSM airspace. The Citation was the couple’s first turbine airplane and the eighth aircraft they had owned. They have flown the Falcon more than 1,000 hours.

To the Kings, the most important safety feature in the jet is its second pilot–in their case, a spouse. John told AIN, “There’s much less margin for error in the Falcon than in, say, a Bonanza. The job of the pilot not flying, besides the usual cockpit chores, is to watch for something the pilot flying might have missed. As part of our crew-coordination strategy, each of us will readily challenge the other. If there is a challenge, the only valid response is, ‘Correcting.’”

While not totally against it, the Kings retain a healthy skepticism of the mentor-pilot concept for owner-pilots. It’s based on their experience. John said, “We had a ‘babysitter’ pilot for the first 25 hours in the Citation, based on insurance requirements, and we had more operational glitches in those 25 hours than in any other period in our flying career. On one flight to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Martha, who was acting as the pilot not flying, ticked off each airport along the way where she wanted to land for fuel, but the babysitter pilot did not accept her challenges. On the approach to DFW–after the low-fuel warning lights had been on for some time–he was accepting ATC vectors. Martha finally took over and told the controller, ‘We’re lined up with,’ whatever runway it was, ‘and we need to land, now!’ After taxiing to the ramp we had 20 gallons of fuel in the tanks–not enough for a go-around. We never did that again.”

King added that they decided against employing the services of a particular experienced Falcon 10 pilot when he offered to, “show you a few things” in the airplane. King said, “The two most dangerous words in aviation are ‘watch this.’” He added that a program involving mentor pilots could certainly be effective but would have to involve significant standardization.

The Kings acquired two weeks of simulator training in the Falcon at FlightSafety International in Dallas and go back once a year for recurrent training. John King said, “I’d say that’s a reasonable minimum. Some would say that twice a year is necessary, but we do fly a lot–at least 400 hours a year.” He said they are comfortable with flying to published minimums as a general rule, but if they haven’t flown the Falcon for two weeks or more, they’ll first take a short shakedown flight in favorable weather before tackling a longer trip with the potential for low ceilings at the destination. “The FAA currency requirement of 90 days is not even close to adequate,” he said.

King said, “The two biggest risks for the owner-pilot are lying to himself about currency and not having that second pilot who will readily raise a challenge. For instance, what if the pilot flying is the boss and the pilot not flying is an employee? That can be fine, as long as an effective challenge-response dynamic is established. It’s even more vital for the owner-pilot than it is for a professional crew.”

King went on to include that modern avionics and systems–what he called “the technology of flight”–can reduce workload and stress if the pilot is proficient in using the equipment. But it can increase workload and stress if he is not. Developing a strategy for staying ahead of the airplane is the key, he said, such as computing landing information and numbers while in cruise flight.

“As an example of what to watch out for,” said King, “early on, after one of my first instructional flights in the Citation, my instructor took me aside and sagely told me that I didn’t have to worry about being hurt in an accident. Feeling a bit puffed up–but puzzled–I grinned and asked him exactly what he meant. He answered, ‘Because right now, you’re so far behind this airplane you’d be miles away from the scene of the crash.’”