Turbine Pilot

First-Time Jet Pilot

March 1, 2001

Taking the right seat

Your logbook has more than a thousand hours of flight time, enough to know you're in this flying thing for the long haul. You've worked hard on the commercial certificate; the instrument and multiengine ratings; and even managed to beg, borrow, and steal more than 150 hours in light twins. Whenever you spot a contrail overhead you think wistfully, "That will be me someday." Then one day it all changes. That dream corporate flying job offer arrives in the morning mail. Or maybe you're named in Uncle Melvin's will and are sitting on a pile of money. However it happens, you're suddenly in position to fly your first jet. An airplane is an airplane, you think, so how different can it be?

To find out you first need to learn all about your new aircraft's manners and little personality quirks. That means in most cases a formal course of study comprising integrated ground school and simulator instruction. And despite being the sharp pilot you already are, things like crew concept, high-altitude flight, and standard operating procedures are about to take on all new practical significance.

First, a brief word about cost. Initial training on a jet is expensive. Whether it takes place in the simulator (where the majority of such training occurs) or in the aircraft itself, the dollars disappear at roughly the same rate as jet fuel exits the tailpipe during takeoff. Best to utilize the "other people's money" principle here if possible — as in let your employer pay. Uncle Melvin's thoughtfulness works nicely too. In any case, it's money well spent. There's just no substitute for a well-trained pilot, often cited as the most important piece of safety equipment in any cockpit, and especially so in a jet. With most jet aircraft costing millions, and with potentially millions more in operator liability at stake, cutting corners on training is, well, kind of dumb.

What kind of prices are we talking about? Let's look at a few examples of popular corporate aircraft courses offered by some of the big names in training. Note that these are examples only, since various pricing plans and options exist at each of these schools. A Lear 35/36 captain initial type rating course sets you back $10,400 at the SimCom/Pan Am International Flight Academy's Business Aviation Training division (initial type ratings in various Cessna Citation models are offered by the school at the same price). The school's second in command (no type rating) Lear 35/36 initial course costs $7,840. And, according to Mark Mastriani, marketing manager at FlightSafety International's Tucson Learning Center, a Lear 35/36 initial type rating course can be had for $15,800.

For $800 more, FlightSafety also offers a Jet Transition course for pilots bringing little or no jet experience to the table. Topics discussed in the one-day, eight-hour course include jet aircraft performance, principles of jet engines, high-altitude meteorology, high-speed aerodynamics, and high-altitude physiology. The course meets the high-altitude endorsement requirements of FAR 61.31(g), necessary to act as pilot in command of aircraft with a service ceiling or maximum operating altitude above 25,000 feet msl. Pilots who need the Jet Transition course usually schedule it just prior to one of FlightSafety's full-fledged aircraft courses.

It's worth noting that FlightSafety's minimum recommended experience level to take its Lear unlimited type rating course is 2,000 hours total time, with 500 multiengine hours or another turbojet type rating. For those with fewer hours logged, the company offers a Second in Command course that does not include a type rating. FlightSafety suggests that a pilot acquire a minimum of 1,000 total hours before enrolling in the SIC course. It strongly recommends that the pilot then gain further operational experience as a Lear copilot before returning for a Lear type rating. Note that these are recommended hours. There's nothing to prevent someone with minimal experience from tackling such training, but expect the challenge of completing it successfully to increase accordingly.

Less expensive options exist if one shops around, but in the training business, you usually get what you pay for. The premium dollars spent at the big flight-training academies buy state-of-the-art simulators, highly trained instructors, and standardized curriculums, as well as predictable scheduling. All of the aircraft courses mentioned above take about two weeks to complete, and participants can expect to burn considerable quantities of midnight oil in order to get through the programs. Generally, the first week is spent in classroom studies, followed in the second week by six or more flight simulator sessions of four hours each and a three-hour cockpit procedures trainer session.

One of the first lessons you'll learn in training is that flying jets is a team sport. Crew resource management , until now more a theoretical consideration if most of your flying has been single-pilot, becomes a way of life in your new airplane. You quickly learn that the pilot flying (PF) and pilot not flying (PNF, also called the monitoring pilot) have distinct and separate duties in every phase of flight. A normal takeoff, for instance, becomes a carefully staged production with predictable behavior by both crewmembers, as this excerpt from FlightSafety's Learjet 30 Series Pilot Training manual illustrates:

When cleared for takeoff, the PNF reports, "Before Takeoff checklist complete, cleared for takeoff." The PF advances power toward the takeoff power setting, the PNF taps PF's hand and makes the final power setting.

With positive rate of climb, PF calls, "Positive rate, gear up, yaw damper on." The PNF positions the gear handle to up and calls, "Gear selected up, yaw damper engaged."

The PF calls, "Flaps up, After Takeoff checklist." The PNF positions the flap handle to up and calls, "Flaps selected up." The PNF monitors the flaps while they are retracting and reports, "Flaps up," when retraction is complete. PNF accomplishes the After Takeoff checklist.

Individual crew duties during other phases of flight are spelled out in equally exacting detail throughout FlightSafety's training. Paying attention to these standard operating procedures and developing strong checklist discipline and excellent crew communication skills make managing the airplane that much easier as you practice various normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures throughout training. And that of course can only help when flying the real airplane later on.

The simulator itself will likely be a new experience to you as a first-time jet pilot. State-of-the-art full-motion and full-visual simulators do a superb job of re-creating the real-airplane experience. During that first takeoff "in the box," don't be surprised if you blow through the Class D airspace 200-knot speed limit or find yourself accelerating through 250 kt while below 10,000 feet. This is probably the first time you're flying an airplane that is even capable of such performance, and there is a lot going on. Expect to be humbled at first, and then gratified at how quickly you start to get the hang of things. A few minutes after that first takeoff, you might even forget you are flying a simulator as you get into the spirit of flying your first jet.

You'll likely have your hands full throughout training. As one longtime simulator instructor described it, pilots new to jets have a lot to absorb. "Most never flew as part of a crew or in the high-altitude environment. They never worked with a flight attendant or dispatcher, and probably never saw a glass cockpit before." Remember, though, it's jet technology — not rocket science — we're talking about. Like all your aviation training leading up to this, it is merely a series of small steps that eventually adds up to more than the sum of the parts. You will get through it.

Other experiences will probably be new to you too. Handling a rapid decompression and emergency descent is one of them. This is required training and well suited to the simulator. You'll also practice unusual-attitude recovery from both nose-high, low-speed and nose-low, high-speed conditions. Depending upon your aircraft, you might also learn a terrain-avoidance maneuver following a ground proximity warning system alert. And you will certainly be exposed to wind shear scenarios during takeoff and landing, and learn how to perform the wind shear escape maneuver in your airplane.

Aircraft performance problems become more complex in a jet. You are no longer working a simple weight and balance sheet, with a quick check of en route fuel burn and runway required for takeoff and landing. New terms such as second segment climb and approach climb limit come into the equation. You must consider the effects of using engine anti-ice for takeoff or having an inoperative antiskid system during takeoff and landing. How does the use of deicing fluid affect takeoff performance, and how can you guarantee sufficient single-engine climb performance to clear a distant obstacle after losing an engine on takeoff? At what altitude does the airplane produce its best true airspeed for high-speed cruise? What altitude ensures a safe low-speed buffet boundary margin at the current weight?

Before you know it, training will be over. Your first flights in the real airplane will be the stuff memories are made of. It's impossible to read back that first clearance to "Flight Level Three-Seven-Zero" without at least a little bit of a grin. Correctly planning the descent 100 miles from your destination with a 150-kt tailwind, and arriving on speed in the traffic pattern, is a positively satisfying experience. And when the boss changes the destination in mid-flight from Peoria, Illinois, to Hilton Head, South Carolina, it's nice to know you can keep up with the flight planning without a hiccup. But of course you can. You always knew you would be here someday.


Links to additional information about turbine transition training may be found on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/pilot/links/2001/links0103.shtml). Vincent Czaplyski holds ATP and CFI certificates. He flies as a Boeing 757/767 captain for a major U.S. airline.