Rejoice if you're fortunate enough to be upgrading from a piston to a turboprop. But if it's your first experience burning Jet A, prepare to mount a steep learning curve along the way to becoming proficient. Switching your mental gears from cylinder head temperatures and shock cooling to hot starts and redlined ITTs will require some effort; so will learning generally more complex aircraft systems. Haven't done any flight- level flying? Then brushing up on such basics as high-altitude weather, aerodynamics, and physiology will also be in order.
Considering the cost of turbine-powered aircraft, it should come as no big surprise that the required training is as much — if not more — a function of insurance dictates as it is of common sense or Federal Aviation Regulations. What may surprise some, though, is the high level of training and experience that most insurers require of a pilot before they will agree to issue a turbine aircraft policy. For example, they will probably not insure someone unless he or she goes through a factory- approved, type-specific initial training course. If at all possible, it should be simulator-based. Depending upon a pilot's experience level, an insurer may also insist on an additional 10 to 50 hours flight time in the aircraft before allowing flight with passengers. Nor will an insurer likely offer coverage to a pilot who lacks an instrument rating, since the aircraft's utility would be severely limited without one.
According to several insurers we spoke with, other important considerations in the decision to issue and price a policy include the amount of complex airplane time logged by a pilot (with multiengine time being especially prized), whether or not the airplane will be flown by the owner or by a professional crew, and the age of the insured. If the pilot's age falls outside of the 25-to-60-year range, some insurers require that the aircraft be flown with a second pilot aboard. Total time is a big factor in whether or not first-time turbine pilots qualify for coverage, with 1,000 hours being a minimum desired target. If the aircraft in question is a twin, insurers will want to see at least 500 hours of multiengine time included in the total as well. These numbers are guidelines, and there is room for negotiation if a pilot falls short in one area but comes up strong in another.
The two largest insurers of turbine aircraft in this country are United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG) and Associated Aviation Underwriters. Between them, they account for the lion's share of turbine aircraft policies written. A spokesman for Avemco Insurance Company says that turbine aircraft policies make up only about two percent of his company's total business. AOPA Insurance Agency, Incorporated, does not currently offer turbine aircraft insurance.
A turbine aircraft novitiate who successfully runs the insurance gauntlet (and can afford the airplane purchase price) will next be faced with learning the aircraft and its high-altitude environment. Chances are good that this initial training will be far more involved than anything the pilot has previously tasted, especially if he or she was raised purely on a diet of light reciprocating-engined aircraft. For example, even though the FARs only require a pilot to earn a type rating in order to act as pilot in command of aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, the reality is that a factory-approved course for lighter-weight turboprops is often just as intensive as a type-rating course. And while the FARs may not require, for instance, a private operator of a Cessna Conquest to take an annual proficiency check, his or her insurance carrier will probably demand it for continued insurance coverage.
When it comes to turbine airplane training in the United States, three companies have staked out the biggest claim to market share: FlightSafety International, SimCom Training Centers, and SimuFlite. Of these, FlightSafety is by far the largest. It trains more corporate and airline crews in state-of-the-art, full-motion jet and turboprop simulators than do either of its two closest competitors. Playing David to the FlightSafety Goliath, SimCom has targeted the more price-sensitive general aviation market, opting to use less expensive full visual, but motionless, simulators for various piston and turboprop GA aircraft types. SimuFlite concentrates on the bizjet market. It has motion-based simulators for 20 business jet models as well as the King Air series of aircraft at its Dallas-Fort Worth facility.
Initial training for a turboprop at any of these companies will take five to seven days. For some pilots, it will be an eye-opener. According to Weldon Burnett, spokesman for FlightSafety, first-time turbine pilots sometimes experience culture shock as they work through the typical FlightSafety initial aircraft course. "They're used to going around the pattern with a CFI, maybe spending $150 to get a check-out in a new type. Then they show up here and are faced with a much higher level of training. I'll hear comments like 'A week!' or '$5,000!' They just aren't used to this degree of training."
FlightSafety, of course, is the force to be reckoned with in the world of simulator-based aircraft training. At last count it was the factory-authorized training organization for 23 different aircraft manufacturers. It boasts the world's largest fleet of simulators, currently at 150 and growing. It trains 30,000 pilots a year at 38 Learning Centers in North America and Europe. No other company even comes close to this in terms of pure mass.
The folks at FlightSafety point out that an hour spent in one of their simulators is equivalent to three hours in the real airplane, since no time is wasted in getting to the meat and potatoes of training. According to FSI, even a well-qualified instructor can teach only about 20 percent of emergency and abnormal procedures safely in the real airplane. In a simulator, there are no such barriers to learning. If something bad can happen, a good instructor will let it happen in a way that allows the student to learn from the experience. The effectiveness of simulator training is indisputable. General aviation jets and turboprops continue to chalk up much lower accident rates than the piston-powered fleet, which for the most part does not have a large simulator-based training infrastructure. There are other factors contributing to the better safety record of the turbine fleet, such as greater built-in system redundancies, for example, but regular, comprehensive pilot training remains at the top of the list.
FlightSafety offers several training options, which can be tailored to the needs of aircraft operators. A one-time initial course in the Cessna Conquest I (C-425) is typical of other FlightSafety turboprop initial courses. It requires six days to complete, at a cost of $5,775. It includes 15 hours of classroom instruction, 7.5 hours of left-seat, full- motion simulator time, and 7.5 hours of Cockpit Procedures Training. (The CPT is a realistic cockpit mock-up used for learning check lists and procedures — not a full-fledged simulator.) Customers also receive whatever flight instruction may be required in their own aircraft. For $9,525, FlightSafety's full service initial course can be had. This option is part of a long-term, automatically renewing agreement that allows a pilot to make multiple visits within a year in order to train to proficiency.
A three-day annual recurrent training course for the Conquest costs from $2,825 to $5,700, depending upon certain options elected by the purchaser. The basic course includes nine hours of classroom instruction and six hours of left-seat simulator time. Flight instruction in the customer's aircraft is optional.
At SimCom, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, a five-day Cheyenne I, II, or IIXL initial course will run $4,775, with the three-day recurrent school costing $2,775. Striving to remain the low-cost leader, SimCom's initial and recurrent course offerings average around 20 percent less expensive than FlightSafety's or SimuFlite's. SimCom also runs periodic specials, during which a second pilot can attend a course for as little as 50 percent of the regular price.
One of the reasons SimCom has been able to maintain this cost advantage over its competitors is that it uses only motionless simulators, which are built by its in-house staff. It starts with the actual nose section from a salvaged fuselage of the desired type. Once transformed into a simulator by SimCom technicians, it is mounted behind a 12-foot- tall, 180-degree range of vision wrap-around visual display. Daylight, dusk, or night scenes with a variety of weather variables can be shown on the screen. Inside the simulator, a pilot looks at the display through the actual aircraft windows. Full-motion simulators utilize visual displays, which are mounted to the windscreens, so that looking out the window is really looking into a display screen. SimCom's larger wrap-around displays create a sensation of motion without the costly hydraulic systems needed in full-motion simulators. The result is a less expensive but still highly effective simulator.
A typical SimCom five-day initial course includes 15 hours of classroom training, 10 hours of left-seat simulator time (and 10 hours in the right seat if paired with another student), and five hours of debriefing following simulator rides. Optional flight training in the owner's aircraft is also included, if desired by the student.
At SimuFlite's Dallas-Fort Worth facility, the King Air series 90, 100, 200, or 300 initial training syllabus takes a week to complete, at a cost of $7,750. This encompasses 21.5 hours of ground school, 24 hours of simulator time divided between left and right seats when two pilots attend, as well as 14.5 hours of simulator debriefings. The company offers a four-day King Air annual recurrent course for $4,300. SimuFlite uses full-motion visual simulators for its courses.
An initial turboprop course at any of these companies will include a thorough review of all aircraft systems; plenty of hands-on practice in normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures; and a proficiency check at the conclusion of the training. The training can also be used to satisfy the high-altitude airplane logbook or training record endorsement required by FAR 61.31(f), if a customer needs and requests it. This endorsement is required, with certain exceptions noted in the regulation, in order for one to act as pilot in command of a pressurized airplane that has a service ceiling or maximum operating altitude above 25,000 feet msl.
For purchasers of the Tradewind Turbines Propjet Bonanza conversion, there is another initial training option available besides SimuFlite, FlightSafety, or SimCom. Tradewind offers its own initial training course as part of the conversion's purchase price. According to Tradewind spokesman David Welch, the check-out takes from two to three days, and all flying is done in the owner's aircraft. It includes a three- hour powerplant ground school. Since the typical purchaser of the conversion is already very experienced in the Bonanza, says Welch, the course does not cover other aircraft systems. Tradewinds only offers the training to purchasers of the $351,000 turbine conversion and does not separately price the course. The purchase price includes training for a second pilot and a mechanic if the buyer so desires.
Those wishing to undertake more detailed training for the Propjet Bonanza can attend FlightSafety's newly introduced initial course for the aircraft. It covers all aircraft systems in FlightSafety's typical in- depth fashion and takes five days to complete. There is no simulator available at FlightSafety for the Propjet Bonanza, so all training is conducted in the owner's airplane. (FlightSafety will generally not build a simulator for an aircraft type until there are 60 to 70 actually flying.) According to Welch, either initial course will satisfy insurance requirements for the turbine-powered Bonanza.
For those with the sufficient right stuff, and green stuff, the world of turbine flying beckons. Whether it's more speed, a sexier image, or a combination of both you're seeking, stepping up to a turboprop might be just right for you. For certain, it's guaranteed to be both a gratifying and a learning experience.
SimCom International, Inc.
7500 Municipal Drive
Orlando, Florida 32819
SimuFlite Training International
Post Office Box 619119
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas 75261
Marine Air Terminal
Flushing, New York 11371