Photos by Author
I was in the midst of my initial training for the Beechcraft Premier type rating with my long-time friend, Horacio Valeiras. Horacio and I were in Wichita at the FlightSafety Textron Aviation Training (FSTAT) Center. The training was 16 days and entailed 80-plus hours of ground instruction, 8 hours in the FlightSafety MATRIX Graphical Flight Systems (GFS) procedure trainer, 14 hours of instruction in the simulator, concluding with a five-hour oral and practical test. The goal: a Premier single-pilot rating (RA-390S).
I then saw the smile on the face of Stephen Rutherford, my simulator instructor. It was so much fun, we climbed back up to FL400 and did it again. How I love practicing emergencies!
The work starts before arriving at FSTAT, with pre-study materials provided via FlightSafety’s “My Flight Bag” iPad app. I used the same app three weeks earlier for my Part 135 PC-12 recurrent in Dallas. This was my third training event in the two months since my discharge from the hospital for COVID-19 (see “A Close Call with COVID,” T &T July 2020). I guess I was trying to catch up for not flying while in the ICU!
While I enjoy the flexibility of the comprehensive iPad app for studying, I find printed versions for some of the documents are more effective. In addition, you can lose access to the aircraft materials when the Internet is not accessible – hence, when you need them in flight, you can’t access the documents.
Upon arriving in Wichita, we received a backpack filled with a comprehensive collection of material, including the Aircraft Flight Manual (AFM) and Pilot Operating Manual (POM). All jet ratings start the same way – systems and limitations. Denny Reid was our initial ground instructor, and with over 1,600 pages of information at our desk, we began.
With a swept-wing design, relatively high wing-loading (compared with other light jets), multiple lift dump panels (roll spoilers, speed brakes, lift dump), and redundant trim systems, it was initially a challenge to understand the integration. It sometimes left me scratching my head trying to understand the design philosophy. When you first practice the cockpit pre-flight it isn’t unusual for it to take an hour. Denny told us the goal was to reduce it to 30 minutes. That is a long checklist! The Premier utilizes Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, which was familiar to the three of us in the class, and FSTAT’s Cary Wangelin provided very comprehensive information on those systems.
FSAT utilizes FlightSafety’s MATRIX, a multi-component learning system designed to integrate with the Level D flight simulators and encompasses courseware, desktop simulators and the Graphical Flight-deck Simulator (GFS). The GFS training platform can support a number of aircraft easily selectable by the pilot. With multiple touchscreens, including an overhead panel, it displays virtually the entire cockpit. As you activate switches you can simultaneously watch animated schematics of the various systems. Since it is available 24 hours a day to the clients, I would practice as many procedures as I could from pre-flight to landings late at night. Using the GFS, I was able to reduce the checklist time to 20 minutes which meant more time flying in the sim.
On to the Sim
The next phase was flying FSTAT’s full-motion Level D simulator. My first instructor was Brett Friederich who had a previous career with a regional airline. During the training, my goal was to experience a variety of situations, including shorter airports representative of my home base, Montgomery Gibbs (KMYF) in San Diego. The Premier is not exactly a short runway star, and KMYF has a runway landing length of 3,400 on our three runways. After a flight from John Wayne (KSNA) to San Diego International (KSAN), we opted for Santa Monica (KSMO). As pilots know, the runway was recently shortened to 3,500 feet by the City of Santa Monica to discourage jet operations. It was a perfect one to choose.
I established a final visual approach to Runway 21 at KSMO with a Vref of 114 KIAS at 11,000 lbs. From the performance charts, our total landing distance would be 3,136 feet at 20 degrees Celsius. On any airplane, it is important to be exactly at Vref to meet performance specifications; the Premier is no exception. Beechcraft stresses that fact in the AFM, including multiple warnings about being on speed. The AFM states that the performance is predicated on a three-second flare, firm touchdown, brake application within one second, and deployment of the lift dump within one additional second. For every 10 feet above 50 feet over the threshold, add 200 feet to the distance. Each additional second of flare or delay in brake application adds 5 percent to the landing distance. Each knot above Vref increases the landing distance by 1.3 percent. For comparison, the Vref for a 12,000 lb Cessna Citation CJ3 would be 105 KIAS with a slightly shorter landing distance.
Over the Runway 21 threshold at 50 feet, I touched down and immediately lowered the nose, power to idle, brakes, and with the lift dump extended, used firm braking. It takes 80 percent of the landing distance to dissipate 50 percent of the speed, with the remaining half in the last 20 percent – which can be interesting. When I came to a complete stop, we still had 600 feet of runway. I wouldn’t want to do this on a wet runway, however, it was a great experience to evaluate the capabilities.
The next five simulator sessions were with Stephen Rutherford, a very experienced Premier pilot. Stephen enjoyed programming as many abnormal and emergency events as he could fit in each two-hour session. We had the usual engine fires and failures, engine restarts, flap anomalies, emergency descents, wind shear, TCAS and GPWS alerts, icing and even some normal operations thrown in.
Hot and High
Sometimes we assume our jets offer stellar performance, and with two engines operating, they generally do. Stephen suggested we fly from Gunnison, Colorado (KGUC) at 7,680 MSL to Colorado Springs (KCOS) with a landing elevation of 6,187 MSL and a warm day at 30 degrees Celsius. After an ILS to Runway 35R, single engine of course, we repositioned for a takeoff to the north. We were limited to 11,500 lb for the airport conditions. Upon reaching a V1 of 115 KIAS, I experienced an engine failure. Using significant rudder to keep the Premier on the runway until a Vr of 115 KIAS and a bit beyond that to obtain more control, I rotated. Or at least I tried to rotate. I was able to finally raise the nose and fly in ground effect. Approaching the end of the 13,500-foot runway, which slopes up, I barely made it over the runway end lights and steered the plane between two tall trees over rising terrain. Even in the sim, I’m sure my heart rate was up. After I climbed slowly and stabilized the airplane, Stephen casually mentioned that he forgot to tell me the plane was 500 pounds over our acceptable weight under these conditions. Even with 2,300 pounds of thrust from each Williams International FJ44-2A turbofan, it was a great demonstration of the importance of flying by the performance numbers.
Stephen then came up with the idea to fly from Palm Beach (KPB) to Ocean Reef Club (07FA) on Key Largo, Florida, with a 4,400-foot runway. The graphics for this airport on the FlightSafety sim were amazing, with sufficient detail to see the windsock moving in the wind. With trees and the ramp in close proximity to the runway, it was a great way to learn about more confined airports. Of course, Stephen decided to change the runway conditions to wet to make it interesting and so I could gain more experience with the anti-skid brakes on wet runways. The plane did very well, stopping with sufficient distance. On takeoff, he failed an engine on me and wanted to see if I could fly straight and not hit the planes on the ramp or the near trees. You just can’t train for these situations in the actual aircraft – safely at least.
With more than 40 initial and recurrent check rides in my aviation career, each one is a new experience.
Jason Reynolds was my examiner and we started bright and early at 0630 on day 16. One of the first tasks was a weight and balance and
performance exercise. This was a good scenario, which required working backward from the airport conditions (altitude, temperature, wind, and runway length and slope), resulting in a reduction in the MTOW of the aircraft. The remaining oral evaluation centered on systems, in particular, their interdependencies. It isn’t sufficient to understand one particular system, but important to explain the impact on others when that system fails, especially when that failure may occur at FL410.
Five-and-a-half hours later, Jason signed my Beechcraft Premier Single Pilot Type Rating and a FlightSafety ProCard. It was a long but very thorough training course that also offered me the opportunity to enjoy Wichita and visit friends in the area.
FSTAT only has one operating Premier simulator. which can impact scheduling. However, the management team was very responsive and accommodating to our changing needs. Along with the instructors, FSTAT Premier Program Manager Scott Dickmeyer was accessible to answer questions during and after our course. Scott and his staff take personal pride in supporting the training needs of the 270-plus Beechcraft Premiers that continue to operate around the world, and it shows in their program!