Turbine Edition: Raising the Bar

Serious airplanes require serious training

October 1, 2007

Here's your chance to experience training in a sophisticated multi-million-dollar simulator - welcome to the turbine training world. But after you have paid the deposit for that new turboprop or very light jet (VLJ), you may discover that any deficiencies in your pilot skills could double or triple the length and expense of training. You'll be held to professional pilot standards. If a type rating is involved, you must meet ATP standards.

Some manufacturers such as Eclipse Aviation require a full-motion simulator ride to evaluate your skills. You'll want to do well, even though you may never have seen such a simulator before. The results determine whether you qualify for single-pilot training, or whether you qualify only to be a crew member. The greatest problem seen by factory pilots at several companies is the low level of instrument proficiency of customers who hope to become single-pilot operators, so 10 hours of instrument practice prior to the evaluation is a good investment.

Once training starts, it is very much like airline or professional crew training - a week (for turboprop aircraft) to three weeks of early morning ground school, afternoon simulator rides, and evenings devoted to homework. There's little fun to it, other than the challenge of learning sophisticated systems. Given the self-study, it can amount to 14-hour days, one new jet owner said. Forget about sightseeing, dining at fine restaurants, and catching up on television, because there isn't time. With a nod to owner-operators, some training companies let you off for the weekend during two-week courses.

Not all courses take that long. You can check out in a Beechcraft King Air C90 at Simcom Training Centers in five busy days for a course that costs $7,040.

Do you qualify?

Would a manufacturer walk away from a customer offering a check for $1 million? It came close to happening at Eclipse Aviation when a prospective buyer did not have the skills to qualify for an Eclipse 500 type rating. Instead, the customer chose a second option; train a second pilot to act as pilot in command (PIC) for the owner's aircraft. Option three was for Eclipse to refund the customer's money.

"A type rating requires that you perform to ATP [airline transport pilot] standards," said Eclipse spokes-man Andrew Broom. "Not everyone realizes that." Even if you buy an Eclipse on the used market, the aircraft's type certificate still requires factory training. Eclipse officials are finding that training for their jet is taking longer than expected. "It's taking a week or two longer than we thought. It was supposed to be a week," Broom said.

Most training courses at the turboprop and jet level require that you study computer- or Internet-based courses before you leave home. Don't ignore the homework. "People who blow off the training unfortunately often become accident statistics," said Adam Aircraft Industries Director of Training David Thompson. If you show up at the factory without completing the prior study, guess what? You'll first go to a computer somewhere in the factory and complete the courses. (Thompson recognizes there will be students who need special arrangements.)

Even when all training is completed, there probably will be a recommendation that you fly with a mentor - currently only Adam factory pilots are qualified to mentor - for 25 to 75 hours until you meet standards. Get this: Failure to complete the mentoring and take a proficiency check - either at the factory or at the owner's location - will void Adam Aircraft's warranty on the airplane, whether it is the A500 piston-engine twin or the A700 jet. And the insurance company at that point will probably deny you insurance. Mentor requirements didn't spring up with the very light jet movement; they are spelled out in FAR 61.63 under "supervised operational experience."

Sounds like rough treatment, but Adam officials know that the type of customers they attract have the financial means to keep them in court a long time should something go wrong. "We are seeing training that was unheard of years ago," Thompson said.

Let's say you pass, and make it all the way to single-pilot qualified. You'll then be required to take recurrent training for as long as you own the airplane. So even when it's over, it's not over.

The traditional path

Insurance companies were happiest when pilots followed a traditional path to a jet cockpit. That is, a transition from a single-piston-engine airplane to a multiengine aircraft, then to a cabin-class multiengine turbine airplane, and finally to a jet.

"I don't think the underwriters are as concerned about the traditional path as they are about the big leap from the Cirrus Design SR22 to a VLJ, or from a Piper Saratoga or Beechcraft Bonanza to a VLJ," said Tracy Brannon, senior vice president of Simcom Training Centers. "We know of people making bigger jumps between less sophisticated to more complex aircraft, and they require more training than [those on] the traditional upgrade path."

In some cases, Brannon said, there have been students who could not reach performance standards. "We personalize the training and determine the root issue and get to it quickly. We have given customers an entire course a second time in hopes of getting them up [to the required proficiency level] and still they did not do so. We politely sit down and discuss training options, or ask them to go home and get additional training." Often those customers who have difficulty, he said, struggle because they lack basic instrument proficiency skills.

My experience

Cessna Aircraft and FlightSafety International have teamed to develop a course for VLJ customers who purchase the Citation Mustang. As an example of what you can expect, FlightSafety and Cessna sent me a Proficiency Index form by e-mail, and FlightSafety followed up with a 10-page evaluation of my Mustang training requirements. I have 2,732 total hours including 146 multiengine hours, and completed a formal class on the Garmin G1000 glass-cockpit system. I have an ATP certificate and am an instrument and multiengine instructor. I completed an initial Simcom simulator course six years ago on the King Air C90 and then flew the real thing for less than an hour.

There are three levels in the Mustang type rating path: second in command, crew, and single pilot. I qualified for the lowest level, second in command. Such a rating allows me to perform pilot-flying and pilot-not-flying duties only with an appropriately rated pilot acting as PIC. After a period of in-flight mentoring as a crew member, I am eligible to take training for the crew rating, and completing that allows me to take the single-pilot course. The time to complete all that is expected to be one to two years.

I also was asked to enroll in the following pre-course training classes prior to enrolling in the Mustang Training Program: Instrument Multiengine Refresher Course (three days, $3,550); High Altitude Course because it had been more than five years since my last such course (one day, $610); Hypoxia Awareness Training (three hours in a simulator, $1,000); and a Turbine Transition Course (two days, $970).

We're not through yet. It was also suggested I take four self-study courses available online ($300 each) concerning aircraft avionics and the operating environment.

After all that I can begin a 10-day, $21,900 initial Mustang training course that includes a recurrent course after 12 months. I must then find a Mustang captain to act as PIC for 75 hours (FlightSafety does not provide the mentor, but there are individuals preparing to offer such services as this is written). After those hours, I am ready to train for the crew rating. It involves an eight-day Mustang Prior Experience Type-Rating course - including a checkride - that allows me to act as a Mustang captain but I must then have a mentor aboard for 25 hours. Now I am up to 100 hours of mentoring.

And after that, I can take a prior-experience course that concentrates on single-pilot operations. But I must ride with a mentor for three to 25 additional hours. Finally I am a fully type-rated single-pilot Mustang captain. If I pass a checkride. It isn't that bad for everyone: A more qualified pilot (one with literally 50 times more multiengine hours than I have) went from a piston-engine twin aircraft pilot to Mustang captain in less than three weeks, including 25 hours of mentoring.

People learn by doing

CAE is based in Montreal with 24 training locations worldwide, seven in the United States. Its clients range from airline crews to the owner-operator or entrepreneur, and CAE will enter the VLJ world with training for the Embraer Phenom twin-engine jets. CAE Group President Jeff Roberts was briefed on the contents of this article - including my sad tale of Mustang requirements - and was invited to draw a conclusion. "The fundamental core, and the driving principle, is the absolute necessity of maintaining and enhancing the safety of an already safe industry," Roberts said.

He added that stratification within the industry at all levels has created a wide variety of pilots with differing training needs. "The days of one-size-fits-all training are long gone. Airlines include majors, large regionals, and small regionals. Business aviation includes fractionals, owner-operators, and Part 135 and Part 91 operators. General aviation includes private pilots and recreational pilots, and the aircraft range from homebuilts to Cessnas, Pipers, and Cirrus Design."

Training needs are only going to increase as airplanes become more sophisticated and the airspace becomes more crowded, Roberts said. Does that mean training costs will grow? He predicted that there will be more people training, which will drive costs down, making training more cost-effective. The present situation where pilots visit simulation centers twice a year may change to include more frequent training at the pilot's home base.

"People learn by doing. The biggest single success story in training is simulation-based training devices. A laptop today has the power of the computer that put men on the moon. That's the direction we have to go."

E-mail the author at alton.marsh@aopa.org.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.