From eye-movement tracking to customized scenario programs, training provider TRU Simulation + Training is leveraging technology and talent to improve training and ultimately make the bizav community safer.
The date is next month on your calendar; looming like an unavoidable cloud: Your annual recurrent training event. Like going to the dentist or getting a physical, for many pilots meeting the legal and insurance requirements for training are something to endure rather than embrace.
But what would training look like if it not only helped you meet the minimum standards, but was customized to help you develop the skills to be the safest, most proficient pilot in the aircraft you fly? What if, in addition to reinforcing emergency and system failure procedures, you were able to focus on scenarios based on actual events that have led pilots of your particular aircraft type to trouble?
TRU Simulation + Training was born of the idea that training should be anything but cookie-cutter. Their Tampa facility is now the company’s largest with seven programs available, including all the Citation 525 variants except the CJ4 (although they do offer CJ4 online ground school), Citation Latitude, Sovereign+, and the Beechcraft King Air 90/250/350. Even as they have aggressively added programs, they continue to perfect their cutting-edge teaching approach and develop new technologies to improve the training experience and ultimately make pilots more skilled, well-rounded and ready for real-world flying.
Citation-Focused, Single-Pilot Minded
With the M2/CJ3+ being one of its most popular programs, especially among owner-pilots, TRU-Tampa has trained nearly 200 pilots in those aircraft. As the M2 is the entry-level jet within the Citation family, the typical owner-pilot is often moving up from a turboprop with limited multi-engine turbine time. For most, this is their first type rating.
The company has put together an effective formula that involves online and/or classroom ground school, flight training devices and full-motion Level D simulators. The company offers the choice of completing the ground school through an online course or participate in a live classroom setting.
“For our initial type rating programs, we have invested a lot of money in providing extremely realistic flight training devices, called Integra. It is the full-flight cabin with a different visual system but the same control loading, same flight dynamics, and same avionics components as the real aircraft,” said David Smith, vice president of training centers.
Smith said the way the FTD’s are implemented are what sets TRU apart from all other training providers. “Our customers aren’t going to get a 40-hour lecture watching an instructor talk and point. We conduct half of our ground school content in the FTDs. There is no substitute for the tactile feedback, which then turns into good habits that transfer into the aircraft.
“For the clients who are owner-operators or first-time type rating clients, it’s a significant relief in that they feel more prepared in their first full-motion session. They have already worked in a high fidelity, nearly identical device for quite a while before that point.”
The ground school material is taught and reinforced through the use of the FTD. According to Smith, the way clients learn the ground school content most effectively is in the context of the cockpit. In the morning, students learn the systems, see the schematics, and they are exposed to the emergency situations, procedures and failures that are relevant to that set of systems. Then they go right into the FTD in the afternoon to perform the basics of that system’s function and also some of the emergency checklist. They see right away how it all relates to the operation of the aircraft.
“That’s the magic – you connect theory to the true operational environments,” said Smith.
To further perfect the FTD and simulator experience, TRU regularly invites Textron Aviation demonstrator pilots to provide feedback on ways to make the sims more realistic.
“Because they are so proficient in the aircraft, if you have a button that clicks the wrong way, they will catch it. That is feedback we value to help us hone in the accuracy. That improves the ‘stickiness’ of the learning,” Smith added.
Beyond the 61.58
Citation clients who return for recurrent can experience an even more customized approach to their training event. In addition to ensuring they meet the requirements of the 61.58 check, TRU has developed a set of enrichment training add-ons that will further enhance pilots’ skills and decision-making. Developed in partnership with the Citation Jet Pilots Association, this enrichment content satisfies one of the key requirements for the association’s Gold Standard Safety Award program.
“We walk them through scenarios that are either directly from an accident report or involve a heavy infusion of causals related to accidents in the light jet market. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of examples, such as improper automation management, difficulty coping with adverse weather, or physical switches that are flipped in the wrong order at the wrong time because of high stress in the cockpit. All of those have resulted in fatal accidents and near misses,” Smith explained. “It’s a win-win for everyone: the legal and insurance requirements are satisfied and the pilot leaves with knowledge and abilities they didn’t have before. It’s continuous learning, not just a refresher of what they learned in the initial type training.”
Investing in Technology & Talent
TRU is investing research and development into new technologies that will make training even more effective for pilots. For example, they have implemented new technology with one of their FTDs that allows the study of the pilot’s eye movement, including his or her scan, movement and the lingering. This allows instructors to see habits that are potentially undiagnosed, good or bad.
“You see tunnel vision as a part of many accidents throughout history, where a pilot focuses on one CAS message, light or malfunctioning instrument,” Smith said. “We are spending time studying the innate habits of our customers and recommending awareness about habits they may not even be aware of.”
The company is also investing in talent and has set a high standard for the instructors they hire.“ We are very discerning in who we hire. When a client comes in, they want to know the guy or gal who’s teaching has a background operating that aircraft. We spend the money and extra time in the recruiting process to find people with that background. After they are hired, we match them with contract flying opportunities with private owners or corporate operators to keep them connected with the aircraft. That makes a big difference in the quality of the instruction,” continued Smith.
TRU also has a partnership with sister company Textron Aviation where TRU instructors can get experience flying the real aircraft, often before it is even certified. For example, TRU has a crew tied into the Longitude program and will be flying the aircraft to gain knowledge, experience and relevance before the startup of the training program.
From investing in R&D to developing innovative training programs and techniques, TRU is committed to much more than training clients to pass a check ride. Instead, they look to bring its clients, especially those who operate single-pilot, effective training experiences that will make them better pilots and in turn will make a measurable impact on the light jet safety record.
“What is exciting is tailoring and developing programs that turn a lightbulb on for a client. That’s the stuff that gets me excited about our business, and our teams are laser-focused on bringing those to market,” said Smith.
Safe and Proficient
M2 Owner Ken Kemna Credits TRU for Making His First Type Rating a Rewarding Experience.
Kemna started his flying career 14 years ago as he and his wife began decided to step back from the day-to-day operations of their automobile dealership group and expand their consulting business.
“It was our intention that by flying, we could be home more and not be traveling all the time. As it worked out, we traveled a great deal but ultimately decided to buy more businesses rather than consult. However, an addiction to flying was the result,” he said with a chuckle.
The Kemna’s owned a succession of aircraft starting with a Cherokee 6, a Piper Saratoga, two Cirrus, three Meridians, and finally their current aircraft, a Citation M2. The Kemna’s took delivery of their aircraft in 2017. “We fly mostly for business. We have offices in Iowa and Florida, and the M2 can always do the leg south and many times north as well. We also fly from Iowa to Vegas, California and the East Coast for business. We have always flown 200 to 300 hours a year, and this year is no exception,” he added.
Although he had thousands of hours and plenty of turbine time under his belt, Kemna admitted to feeling some trepidation about undertaking his first type rating.
“Although I had extensive Garmin G1000 experience and turbine time, there is always a fear when going for a type rating,” he said.
Kemna arrived at TRU Simulation + Training in March of 2017, ready to undertake the 14-day training course. What he found far exceeded his expectations.
“I have trained in many simulators in the past and found that they did not operate as designed or as the airplane actually handles. You are never sure you were getting a true experience. The TRU Simulator is built on-site at Tampa where they do the M2 training. These techs are working all the time making certain the simulator is not only operating properly but changing the programming to constantly make it real world,” he said. “Flying the TRU M2 simulator was so realistic, one almost forgets it is a simulator.”
The instructors at TRU also impressed him: “They were caring, kind and very disciplined. With that said, and though they needed to follow the syllabus, they did consider one’s experience and needs. Thus, they spent time working on areas I needed to be more proficient. From day one I was comfortable with every instructor I worked with.”
During the course, Kemna became adept at handling a wide variety of operational environments, as well as handling emergency and abnormal situations. “Many believe training in the actual airplane is a key piece of training, and that may be true. However, what I really want are the events I could never experience or simulate in the airplane. The sim training gave me the confidence to know what I need to do and when. I will always do recurrent simulator training.”
Now a year later, Kemna was looking forward to his recurrent training at TRU. “They make very certain I not only achieved the targets, but that I mastered them. They focus on sending out a safe pilot, not in just going through the syllabus. I leave TRU being a true jet pilot.”