AIN Blog: A Valuable Learning Experience at FlightSafety Long Beach

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Matt Thurber
Matt Thurber, in Honeywell's Falcon 900 (FlightSafety doesn't allow photos to be taken at its learning centers).
November 18, 2012 - 10:00am

Recently I was fortunate to experience something that is probably fairly ordinary for most corporate pilots: initial type rating training at a simulator training center. I had the opportunity to complete a Citation V type rating initial course at FlightSafety International’s Long Beach, Calif., learning center. And for a pilot who hasn’t spent much time in a two-pilot cockpit environment or flying a jet, the experience was tremendously beneficial, illuminating and hugely enjoyable.

The experience at FlightSafety was much more than learning about the Citation V. But what struck me from day one was the incredible amount of information that pilots need to learn in a short period of time. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a more complex larger airplane; the Citation V, after all, is about as simple as Part 25 jets get. I don’t doubt that the more than 10 days of ground school needed for a Gulfstream type rating are chock full of details about systems that are more complicated and contain many more solenoids, relays, valves, switches and other gizzies and snerds. After this experience, I don’t know how pilots keep two or more jets safely in their heads when flying multiple types, but I suppose it can be done because people do that every day.

What I also learned from the type rating training experience was the value of a good copilot. Until now, my only experience flying in a two-pilot cockpit was an occasional flight in the cockpit of a jet or working with another pilot when flying together. While the Citation V can be flown single-pilot, my type rating training was done the traditional way: two pilots working together to accomplish the mission safely and efficiently.

I lucked out in this particular instance, because although I had been scheduled to train with another customer-pilot, that pilot wasn’t able to make it and I ended up alone in the class. This not only helped in the ground school—although I prefer the discussions that develop when more than one person is in a class—but gave me much more hands-on time in the Citation V simulator. And I experienced a unique FlightSafety program, where future corporate pilots are hired to fill the copilot role in cases like mine. The Long Beach center alone employs about half a dozen copilot pilots. Natalie Franklin, a talented, patient and skillful commercial pilot, shared the simulator cockpit with me and did a great job introducing me to the world of professional two-pilot flying. (She is also a whiz at programming the Citation’s GNX-XLS FMS, a helpful skill for a “captain” who is used to more modern GPS navigators.) Having flown 16 hours in the simulator with an excellent copilot, I’m not so sure I’d feel safe operating a complex turbine-powered airplane on my own. In fact, I now feel more comfortable flying as a team in any type of aircraft.

In my experience at various simulator training centers (this was my first type rating), I’ve never encountered an instructor who wasn’t skillful, dedicated and good at teaching. That was underscored in my experience at FlightSafety Long Beach. My ground instructors, Graciela Shesky and Mike McGivern, were extremely knowledgeable about the Citation V and also highly experienced Citation V pilots. I am grateful to Graciela for helping me understand the V’s electrical system, and especially that I knew the right answer during the oral part of the checkride, when I was asked how many inverters the jet has (three). I didn’t just know the answer, but thought it through because she taught me the layout of the two main inverters and the inverter for the backup ADI. And during the flight training, using those systems helped sink the information into my brain, especially during an emergency situation that I caused (more later).

Of course, the flying part of the training was the most fun, and I was lucky to be assigned to a hugely talented instructor, Al Dyer, who is also a multi-thousand-hour Citation pilot. Al’s real skill is in making the student feel comfortable and confident but also in letting the learning happen in ways that could occur in real life. This is one of the chief benefits of this kind of training; not just checking the boxes needed to satisfy the FAA, but letting the student make mistakes and learn from them, then build on that knowledge to reach higher levels of capability and safety. Al used spare moments to inject more fun into the training by adding some maneuvers that weren’t on the syllabus. Two stand out: stall practice at 40,000 feet, and a short-field landing challenge at Logan International’s 2,557-foot Runway 15L/33R. Al also went above and beyond the call of duty, spending an entire afternoon to help me prepare for the oral portion of the checkride, which meant that he had to endure driving home (more than an hour away) on one of the worst commuting days of the year.

The real value of training in a sophisticated full-motion simulator was brought home early in the flight training. I was flying as copilot while Natalie captained. After leveling off during an approach, neither of us noticed that we forgot to add power; this was exactly something I had hoped to practice in the simulator because it matched the circumstances of some notable business jet and airline accidents. I recall thinking about those accidents, “How could two well-trained and highly qualified pilots forget to advance the throttles after leveling off during an approach?” Well, I was about to find out.

As copilot, I certainly should have noticed that my captain forgot to add power. In any case, the result was predictable: slower and slower we flew until we nearly stalled. Natalie recognized the problem instantly and added power before the stick shaker activated, but it was close. And I learned a valuable lesson and also understood far better how easy it is to get tunnel vision and neglect something as elementary as adding power after leveling off.

The inverter emergency was entirely my fault; I was reaching for the ignition switches and turned off both avionics power switches, which made the cockpit get really dark. After futzing around and asking Natalie for the electrical system emergency checklist, I finally realized what I had done wrong and turned the inverters back on. From his instructor station, I heard the ever-positive Al chuckling as he explained about how this had happened to him in exactly the same way, but while he was flying a real Citation V. That made me feel a little better, but in truth, this was a valuable experience to have in the simulator, especially because I made it happen accidentally and completely unexpectedly. Of course, the lesson learned was that even though I need to be able to find switches without looking, I also need to verify that I have grabbed the correct switch.

Those two experiences underscored the incredible value of simulator training. Of course, there were many more valuable lessons during my 16 hours with Al and Natalie. Most memorable was the windshear on takeoff. Even though we had briefed the scenario extensively, when I advanced the throttles and rotated, after the landing gear retracted I couldn’t figure out why the airplane stopped accelerating. The idea that it could be windshear just didn’t impinge on my brain. So of course we ended up pancaking onto the runway, gear up, which Al noted was the most survivable scenario, even though we would have been lucky to survive in real life.

It took a few more tries before I could successfully pull out of the windshear-on-takeoff scenario, using full power (never mind destroying the engines at this point) and nibbling at the edge of the stall with the stick shaker vibrating. There is no question that rapid recognition and recovery is the only way to survive this worst-case windshear, but having seen and felt the scenario, hopefully I will be better prepared if it ever happens in real life.

What I really learned during my two weeks with FlightSafety was the fundamentals of what you, AIN’s corporate pilot readers, already know so well: work together as a professional team, learn as much as possible about the aircraft, fly with fat safety margins and no matter what happens, keep flying the airplane. This was an incredibly valuable experience, and I am grateful for everyone at FlightSafety Long Beach for helping make it happen.

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CHRIS ROBEY
on November 20, 2012 - 7:23pm

AN EXCELLENT STORY AND ONE THAT I CAN WELL RELATE TO. THERE IS A LEVEL B, FLIGHTSAFETY BUILT, KINGAIR 200 SIM SITUATED IN MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA. THE NEXT NEAREST COMPARABLE SIM FOR THE KINGAIR IS SEVEN THOUSAND NM AWAY IN THE WESTERN PART OF THE UNITED STATES.
THIS SIMULATOR IS EXTREMELY CAPABLE AND REALISTIC. FOR EXAMPLE, THE INSTRUCTOR IS ABLE TO SIMULATE THE INSIDIOUS ONSET OF SEVERE AIRFRAME ICING.
ALSO, PRACTISING REJECTED TAKEOFFS ON LIMITING RUNWAYS AND RECOVERY FROM UNUSUAL ATTITUDES ARE OTHER EXAMPLES OF WHERE THIS SIM OFFERS SUPERB AND UNIQUE TRAINING VALUE.

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