Becoming a Jet Pilot

Becoming a Jet Pilot

Becoming a Jet Pilot

Getting your first jet type rating takes work, but with the right training, it’s more than attainable.

With more than 1,000 hours behind the controls of King Airs, I’ve come to know and love “the King” over the past few years. It was the first turbine-powered airplane I got my hands on – achieving my ATP in a King Air 90 simulator, my first type rating in the King Air 350 and even crossing oceans in the beloved turboprop. The King Air is like an old friend. There is a level of comfort and respect that I share with no other airplane.

With that said, imagine my inner turmoil as I walk through the door of the TRU Simulation + Training facility in Carlsbad, California to begin my initial type training in the Cessna 525
Citation Jet series.

On one hand, in a mere two weeks I will be type rated in a jet! On the other hand, I feel as though I am betraying my Beechcraft brethren by moving into a Citation. Will I forget where my roots are planted when I am flying along at FL450 cruising at well over 400 KTAS? Only time will tell. But as I step foot into the ground school classroom, I push these thoughts out as I prepare to “take a drink from the fire hose,” as they say.

The Model 525

The model 525 Citation Jet (more often known as the CJ) assuredly needs no introduction to the readers of Twin & Turbine. The many iterations of the CJ have been a favorite of owner pilots and corporate flight departments alike for decades. Known for its reliability, performance and single-pilot simplicity, the CJ is a first stop for many aviators looking to make the jump to jets. And for good reason with its performance, pedigree and shared type rating.

While I will be flying a newer 525 model for my employer, my initial type training will be conducted in the “legacy” CJ3 (legacy referring to the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite versus the latest current-production G3000). This aircraft features standard seating for 2 crew plus 8 passengers, a maximum takeoff weight of 13,870 pounds, and two FADEC controlled FJ44-3A engines each producing 2,780 pounds of thrust at takeoff.

Ground School

Being scheduled for class just a couple of weeks before the start date, I immediately receive pre-course study material from TRU. While I am accustomed to receiving pre-course study material from other training providers, I am amazed to see that TRU actually sends a link and log-in to their learning management system (LMS), which gives the user access to all ground school slides, schematics and quizzes. This system is used by the folks at TRU to work around customer’s busy and complex schedules for initial, recurrent and transition/differences training.

For my initial course, there is no requirement to have any of the LMS completed, but I want to be prepared. Based on past experience, I know that having a base line knowledge of limitations and memory items pays dividends when you show up to class.

After the normal greetings and paperwork with the training center staff, the first section we cover is the “Aircraft Overview,” which covers general details and limitations about the aircraft. Following the overview, we take on each system of the aircraft slide by slide. I am fortunate to be one of just two students in the classroom so questions, clarifications and discussions with the instructors come easily. I am a true believer that when it comes to an initial ground school, you get out of it what you put in. If you are uncertain about a portion of a system, speak up. These instructors are product experts. Anytime I can challenge them, I find that my understanding benefits greatly from the exchange. (I often find myself returning to the classroom early from breaks to play “stump the chump.” The more I play, the less I feel like I am the chump).

As class goes on, any trepidation I had regarding a jet being inherently more complicated than a turboprop is washed away. From preflight to shutdown, every procedure and system has been meticulously engineered with the single pilot in mind. For example, most switches have three positions in which one position is labeled “Normal.” Switches in a normal position will always be in that positon unless an abnormal checklist calls for a change. Simple, but genius!

Systems Training

At first glance, I think that my schedule is incorrect. On my first day, I am scheduled for a simulator session in the afternoon. To my pleasant surprise, it’s not a typo. TRU quickly gets customers into the seat of the non-motion systems trainer. The idea is to allow the pilot to immerse themselves in the systems operations while ground school is still fresh in their mind.

I am truly impressed by TRU’s systems trainers. The cockpit is a CJ cockpit all the way down to the power levers and yoke, similar to the full-motion level D simulator used later. The only difference is that the systems trainer stays motionless on the floor.

By Day Five of ground school, I have already conducted a practice run on all simulator profiles that I will be flying leading up to my check ride. I enter the weekend feeling ahead of the game.

Sim Time

At the beginning of week two, I return to the training center feeling refreshed but filled with nervous excitement. Just five short simulator sessions separate me from a FAA type rating check ride.

The first simulator flight is little more than a familiarization flight with normal procedures used to build familiarity and comfort with the aircraft and simulator. I focus on my instructor’s guidance during the flight maneuvers (steep turns, stalls and unusual attitudes). This is the only time built into the syllabus to practice before the mock check ride at the end of the week.

The sim flies spectacularly. It is smooth and extremely lifelike with its dazzling visual displays. As I push the power levers up and release the brakes for the first time, I am hit with the speed. This thing flies! Even with my high-performance turboprop background, I am quickly humbled by how fast things seem to happen in the CJ. The straight-wing jet has the ability to easily climb at over 4,000 fpm.

I hear the assuring voice of the instructor prescribing remedies, “Don’t be afraid to use the autopilot…When you level off, you’ll want to pull the power levers all the way to idle, then advance them forward only an inch…We are shooting for 55 percent power. Remember 55: Stay alive. This will be your go-to power setting.”

As the session goes on, the instructor is quick to point out one of the features that has made Citations so popular for first-time jet owners: the aircraft fly exceptionally well at low airspeeds. When slowed down, the CJ is no different from the familiar turboprop, or even some high-performance pistons.

I prepare for the next few days in the same manner as the first. I reference the syllabus, chair-fly all procedures, practice flows backed up with a checklist and if time permits, I study my notes regarding systems. Following each session, I am grateful for extra allotted time to practice additional procedures recommended by the instructor.

The last day of simulator training is used as a “mock check ride.” There are no practice runs or redo’s. Throughout the three-hour session, I note maneuvers I know I can perform better. A slight altitude deviation here, an opportunity to better maintain directional control there. At the end of the session, we again have extra time to practice a few select maneuvers.

The Check Ride

The day has arrived – check ride day. It’s time to prove I have what it takes to fly a jet.

The two-hour oral test sails by smoothly. I am then briefed by my examiner about the standards for successful completion of each maneuver before leaving the briefing room. Next thing I know, I’m strapped in the left seat of the simulator.

I feel the familiar jostling of the simulator as it comes to life. As I look through the windscreen in front of me, I see we are suddenly on a foggy ramp at Memphis (KMEM).

We start the flight with a low visibility taxi to run-way 18R. First, the examiner simulates an engine failure prior to V1 on takeoff. Next comes a minor electrical failure, stalls and steep turns. As I hand–fly these maneuvers, my confidence builds and I am reminded that no matter the type of airplane, it will fly like an airplane.

Unfortunately, next up is the really tough stuff: an engine failure after V1, a single-engine precision and non-precision approach and a single-engine go-around. Fortunately, I am feeling prepared. I can almost hear my instructors talking me through each procedure.

The remainder of the flight passes by as practiced. Before I know it, I am touching down for the last time on 18R at Memphis International following a hydraulic system failure causing a manual gear extension and flap-up landing. The check airman, acting as tower controller, informs me that he has noticed smoke and flames coming from my aircraft. I perform the emergency shutdown procedure and yell to my imaginary passengers to exit to safety through the main cabin door.

Now, a few months removed from the experience, I’ll never forget what came next. As the simulator assumed its parked positon, the check airman looks up from his paperwork and says: “Congratulations, you’re officially a jet pilot!”

Jet pilot…I like the sound of that.

Tips and Tricks to Ace the Ride

1. Take the pre-study seriously
At a minimum, take time to internalize memory items and aircraft limitations.

2. Take notes
Designate a notebook for every initial and recurrent training course. It is helpful to hand write items that you find important using your own words. In the simulator, highlight items and/or write notes in the margin of the provided checklist for reminders later.

3. Ask questions
As they say, there are no dumb questions. You will be covering multiple complex systems so take the time to get clarification on something that might be confusing.

4. Take advantage of free time
Arrive back in the classroom a
few minutes early to review notes or ask questions. During simulator sessions, make mental notes of maneuvers or scenarios you would like to redo at the end if time allows.

5. Chair fly
This is a great way to prepare for and make the most of your simulator session each day.

6. Learn to fly the simulator
All simulators have their quirks. You can learn about them by
either asking your simulator instructor or by simply observing them for yourself.

7. Verbalize
Talk through all of your checklists and briefings. This not only benefits yourself, but also the instructor or check airman.

8. Use memory aids
Pickle, pitch, power; flap, gear, flap. Any reminder such as this is
a great tool to help you keep track of which steps are required and what comes next.

9. Don’t feel rushed
Take your time to set the airplane up for each maneuver and instrument approach. If you do not feel like you are 100 percent set
up correctly, let the “controller” know and request additional time.

10. Be prepared
There are few surprises when it comes to the check ride at simulator training providers. Thoroughly review the outlined flight prior to taking the check
ride and commit it to memory.

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