It was a particularly unpleasant winter morning in New York City. The wind howled out of the east, with blowing, drifting snow. After a pause at the hold point for JFK’s runway 4L, we were cleared to line up and wait.
It was 400 overcast, ½ mile, temperature and dewpoint -1° C. Light-to-moderate icing was forecast. Though the weather was frightful, the Citationjet 525 had bleed air heat for wings, inlets, and windscreen, and boots for the horizontal stabilizer.
It was my turn to fly; Chief pilot KK Harvey assumed the copilot spot. Clearance was the Bette 3 Departure, right turn to 100 degrees after takeoff, maintain 5,000 feet.
With a final check of the annunciators, I applied full power. KK called out “airspeed alive” and “70 knots crosscheck”, “V1”, “V-rotate”, and then “positive rate” as I lifted the gear handle. Poof, into clouds we flew. Then, suddenly: BANG! A tremendous noise from the tail. The annunciator panel flashed red and yellow while the mechanized voice screamed, “Right engine fire! Right engine fire!” “Holy crap, we’re on fire!” I yelled.
The airplane listed to the right as airspeed decreased. “Fly V2!” KK yelled. I lowered the nose. Deterioration slowed, but not enough. Meanwhile, the turn was increasing, despite full left rudder. “Get that nose down!” KK insisted. I lowered the nose further. At 89 knots, the stick-shaker activated. We were just short of stalling, descending in a steep right turn, our options rapidly diminishing. With only 400 feet left, pointing the nose down more to gain speed would leave no margin to recover. “Terrain, pull up! Terrain, pull up!” screeched the voice, piling urgency atop the machine and human-generated imperatives. I couldn’t, wouldn’t give up. Trying to recover from an unrecoverable situation, I wrestled the controls and watched altitude deteriorate.
Then, suddenly, mercifully: Silence.
Ok, we didn’t actually crash. But we would have, if CAE Simuflite Instructor Bill McDowell hadn’t ended the scenario. “Adam,” he said, “that didn’t go very well. Shall we try it again?”
It was Simulator Day #2, my first in-flight emergency, just one of many humblings as I pursued a Type Rating in the CE 525.
Pursuing The Rating
Months earlier, to create a flight department for our company, we selected Cessna’s CitationJet for its comfort, reliable performance and relatively low operating costs. Because it’s certified for single-pilot and crew operation, we planned to have one professional full-time pilot and me. The key to a great single-pilot flight department is finding a great pilot. Furthermore, the key to passing “Initial” is having a great co-pilot. We got all of that and more when we hired KK Harvey.
Simuflite’s CE 525 PIC Initial training requires 50 hours ground school and 28 hours simulator training. It’s a fully-packed 15 days with one day off to catch up on studying (and laundry). A typical day might cover powerplant, fire protection, fuel systems, flight controls, hydraulics, landing gear, brakes, pressurization, oxygen system, and ice/rain protection. The next day might cover emergency operations for all these systems.
One only had to look around to feel inadequate. During introductions, the first pilot retired from Delta after with 25,000 hours, keeping his hand in as a freelance charter pilot. The next had 6,000 hours flying F-16s and planned to fly for a Part 135 operation. Then there was the A&P mechanic who already had an SIC rating – he could fly and fix the airplane. I was feeling green with 500 Aztec hours and another 1,500 in a mix of light aircraft.
Simuflite maintains a superb set of computer-generated simulation models that demonstrate the airplane’s behavior during normal, abnormal and emergency conditions. An animated diagram of the affected system is presented on one screen and the view from the cockpit on another; especially effective.
Despite the amount of material, relatively few memory items are needed to fly the 525, most associated with emergencies. Simuflite publishes a handbook with checklists for the three conditions. On the cover, yellow annunciators indicate an abnormal condition while reds indicate an emergency, like fire. Each light has a page number where the proper procedure can be found. This all works smoothly during classroom rehearsal. In the simulator, things get a lot more interesting.
The Level D simulator is painstakingly realistic. The landscapes, weather, airports, buildings and other aircraft are only slightly stylized. The IFR world is completely authentic.
Eight Sessions To Complete
The simulator training consists of eight sessions, including the final checkride. Sessions 1-7 are all about getting ready for number 8, with no time to spare. As a crew, each pilot serves two hours per session as PIC and two as SIC. Fortunately, as the simulator can edit for critical phases of flight while layering in emergency scenarios, a vast amount of material can be covered. And four hours of approaches to minimums with multiple failures and fires certainly feels like forever.
Simulator Day #3 turned out even worse than #2; I seriously considered quitting. But, we didn’t crash. During an engine-failure scenario, I became disoriented on a difficult JFK ILS 4L approach, circle to land 31R. The ceiling was only 40 feet above MDA, with visibility of ½ mile. The plan was to break out and turn right to 90 degrees, hoping to see 31R’s lead-in lights. I never saw them, and while bumbling around I caused a TCAS alert with another aircraft before executing the miss.
Afterwards, instructor Norwood Band said “You’re going to have to do better than that!” Norwood is a former Marine carrier pilot, and, boy, did it show. “Come back tomorrow rested and ready to do better.”
Attaining one’s first type rating is truly a test of character. It takes more than aptitude, endurance, and assimilating information quickly. Unlike slower-paced flight training, in type-rating school the compressed calendar and voluminous subject matter make it nearly impossible to achieve satisfactory performance before the checkride. Gaining proficiency and passing depends on the client’s ability to comprehend and correct deficiencies communicated during debriefings. There isn’t enough simulator time to perfect every maneuver.
Simulator Day #5 was exceedingly difficult. Most of the flying involved a hot-and-heavy profile with engine fires and other failures degrading performance; mistakes yielded a fatal outcome. The worst emergencies started with two failed generators (the airplane only has two), IFR at 41,000 feet. In the CE 525, multiple systems depend on electrical power. When both of the CJ’s generators fail, all that’s left is the battery, leaving about ten minutes of power unless immediate action is taken.
If neither generator resets (and they never do in the simulator), you flip the switch from “Batt” to “Emer-power” to decrease the load. The challenge is to get to an airport with the 30 minutes of endurance of Emer-power. In the simulator, of course, the available airport is always low IFR.
It takes an awfully long time to get down, more challenging with spoilers in-op. At 3,500 ft/min, it took ten minutes to reach Reno’s IAF altitude. That left twenty minutes to set up, shoot the approach, and land. Plus, the steam-gauge emergency instruments are scattered across the panel. Available instrument approaches are limited to the VOR and ILS, all hand-flown, since there’s no autopilot.
Astonishingly, the approach and landing were successful, even though I nearly crashed when I looked down to switch to “Batt” for gear and flaps. Returning to level flight effectively centered us on the localizer, a lucky break. Breaking out, the panel flicked to black; emergency braking ensued.
During debriefing, I asked Norwood if the dual-gen failure might come up during the test. He replied, “Everything we do is fair game.” I muttered something about being doomed.
I began to suspect that Simuflite instructors viewed owner-pilots less than positively. It wasn’t so much about the stereotypical Type-A pilot writing out a personal check for the airplane, but the experience of such owners compared to their professional counterparts. Most pros rise through the ranks, flying a variety of piston, turboprop, and jet aircraft, operating Part 135 or 121, where teamwork is paramount to safety, comfort, and efficiency. CRM is well-understood and long-practiced.
But, for the owner-pilot who likely has little or no turbine experience, stepping up to a jet can be daunting. Not only are the airplane and systems unfamiliar, most owner-pilots fly single-pilot, no CRM. Further, unless the owner has logged current instrument time in terminal areas, he or she will be just hanging on. Simulator scenarios are typically conducted IFR in terminal environments in terrible weather; landing at the destination airport is the exception, not the rule.
As we advanced, I only collected points for maintaining a good attitude. Session #7, rehearsal for the test, went okay with only one checkride-busting mistake – after breaking out for the circle-to-land at Kennedy, I prematurely disengaged the AP, causing a balloon back into the clouds.
Each client must receive the chief instructor’s blessing to proceed to the test. While failure at this point is dreadful for the client, the credibility of the school is also on the line. Failing is bad for all parties. To this end, there can be some extra training to focus on clients’ weak areas.
KK and I went to seek our blessings. KK’s performance was ranked in the top 5% of the class. My grade was not discussed. However, KK stated that we were good to go, and the chief instructor agreed. Although I appreciated KK’s enthusiasm, I fretted that I might take her out while serving as copilot.
As with the previous sessions, the checkride begins with an oral test and preflight briefing. The examiner expects each candidate to know all the speeds by heart and asks many systems questions. The examiner describes the weather and the scenarios to be expected. Simuflite forbids the creation of more than one emergency or abnormal event at a time during the checkride; it‘s up to the client to create the others (ha). KK and I both passed the oral test; off to the simulator.
I’d been sleeping poorly throughout the training. Thank goodness it was Free Donut Day at Simuflite. Food is banned in and around the simulator, but I ate one before entering and smuggled two into the cab.
We decided that I would fly first, with KK as copilot. Ironically, the examiner had us departing out of Kennedy, using the same runway that had taken us out in session #2, in similar weather.
Amazingly, the engine failure on takeoff ended well; we leveled off at 2,000 feet, declared an emergency, and pulled out the checklist. KK read off the steps and I executed them. We were able to restart the engine and continue our journey.
Next came steep turns and unusual attitudes, handled smoothly. I didn’t even need to sneak a donut.
Following multiple abnormal and emergency approaches at JFK, we headed to Nevada and experienced an explosive decompression at 35,000 feet. Well-rehearsed, we dive for the ground at redline, knowing the passenger masks only work below 25,000 feet.
The examiner kept the simulator running; we were still in the game. I couldn’t believe that everything had come together so well. I even managed to survive the violent wind shear event at SFO. Two more hours of flying, and we were DONE.
During the debriefing, the examiner reviewed what went well, and what didn’t. “During those steep turns I was pretty sure you would bust. But the computer says you were within the 100-foot maximum deviation so I have to pass you on that” and “When you were holding at JFK I was pretty sure you would stall, but you didn’t, so I have to pass you. That was one of the worst checkrides ever. Congratulations, you passed.”
I left the debriefing deflated, but still, I passed! KK suggested the examiner must be having a bad day, but I was dubious. I hoped it was that he didn’t like owner-pilots.
A few days later, our freshly-minted ratings in hand, we picked up our new-to-us CitationJet. The real airplane was a pleasure to fly, with no failures or fires. And, well, should my terrifying, anxiety-producing memories begin to fade, there’s always next year’s recurrent training to look forward to.