The preflight walkaround—usually a familiar ritual—was strangely foreign. I knew the textbook answers about the proper engine oil, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydraulic quantities, but all my training took place online. I’d never actually laid hands on the real airplane.
Opening the cabin door was new to me and stepping into the left seat of the Cessna Citation M2 was novel. The 20 hours I’d spent in a full-motion simulator earning my first jet type rating at FlightSafety International (“Sim City,” April 2020 AOPA Pilot, Turbine Edition) was mostly done in nighttime conditions inside a simulator that was kept cold enough to hang meat.
Now, my first flight in a real jet was taking place on a hot summer day. I plunked down side-saddle and turned on a radio to pick up an IFR clearance. With sunlight blazing through the windshield, the temperature was stifling, and I was beading in sweat in just a few minutes.
Our passengers were boarding, and Luz Beattie, a friend and AOPA colleague with thousands of hours of Citation experience who was the pilot in command of this flight, motioned for me to stay in the left seat.
“Go ahead and strap in,” she said. “You’re going to fly this leg. I’ll get the door.”
The seat itself was identical to the one in the sim, and the instrument panel was exactly the same, too. The Garmin G3000 was familiar, and Luz went through the normal preflight checks with rapid-fire efficiency.
Starting the Williams FJ44 engines was just like the sim practice, and the right engine coming to life allowed the air conditioner to kick in, which provided nearly instant relief throughout the airplane.
Luz handled the radios and got a taxi clearance. The real airplane moved much more gracefully on the ground than the sim, and quicker, too. Even at idle power, the engines put out so much thrust that I had to ride the brakes while taxiing downwind to keep speed within reason.
Cleared for takeoff, I lined up with the runway and went through the final checks just as I’d practiced so many times in the simulator. In the box, initial acceleration on takeoff had seemed ridiculously fast, especially during night conditions. I sincerely doubted the actual airplane would behave that way.
It was a hot day, so I anticipated the acceleration would be lackluster. In fact, the airplane surged ahead so suddenly that a couple of the passengers shrieked like giddy kids on a carnival ride.I stood on the brakes, advanced the power levers all the way forward, waited for the “green triangles” that indicate the FADEC systems controlling the engines were working properly, and released the brakes. The airplane was about 800 pounds below its maximum takeoff weight (of 10,700 pounds), and it was a hot day, so I anticipated the acceleration would be lackluster.
In fact, the airplane surged ahead so suddenly that a couple of the passengers shrieked like giddy kids on a carnival ride. If anything, the simulator underestimates the kick in the pants the M2 provides.
Our 106-knot rotation speed arrived in what seemed like a blink of an eye (even though in reality it was about 14 seconds), and a tug on the floor-mounted pedestal yoke had us climbing at a 10-degree nose-up attitude as we accelerated through 200 knots.
By the time I started a crosswind turn, I felt like I was mentally falling behind. I’d raised the landing gear as if by reflex and pulled the flaps up, too, but I hadn’t yet reduced engine power, and they were still pushing out takeoff thrust. Luz tapped on the power levers as a gentle reminder to pull them back, and she made the radio calls and programmed the flight director. We arrived at our initial altitude of 3,000 feet and I was tempted to engage the autopilot but didn’t want to relinquish the controls just yet.
The sim is remarkably smooth and responsive, but it has some quirks. Light rudder pressure in either direction causes the wings to rock, especially at low speeds. The real airplane, however, is extremely well balanced and harmonized, and the rudders felt solid.
I finally activated the yaw damper and the autopilot at 5,000 feet and let the automation climb the rest of the way to cruise altitude.
Sim sessions were an intense series of cascading emergencies. It seemed at least one engine was constantly failing, or on fire, and red and yellow warning and caution lights seemed ever present. That Pavlovian conditioning had me spring loaded to expect depressurizations and electrical faults, and it was almost disconcerting when the airplane’s systems operated perfectly.
The weather at our destination was gorgeous VFR with light winds—and that was a curveball, too. Sim sessions are typically made to resemble hard instrument conditions with ceilings and visibility down to, and often below, landing minimums. It felt odd to see the airport 20 miles away and get cleared for a visual approach.
I maneuvered for a long final to a 4,000-foot runway, touched down slightly left of the centerline, and braked lightly once the nosewheel was down. The 60-degree landing flaps and speed brakes helped the airplane decelerate nicely without having to stand on the pedals.
Once on the ramp, a marshaler signaled for me to make what looked like an impossibly tight turn.
“It’ll do it,” Luz assured me. And she was right. The airplane pivots on a dime.
She walked me through the shutdown checklist, and by the time it was over, I felt like I was mentally catching up to the airplane again.
Am I ready to fly this airplane single pilot? Not a chance. This was my first jet type rating, and it came with a stipulation that I get 25 hours of real-world experience before flying as a lone PIC.
Will I be ready for that in 25 hours?
I don’t know—but I’m sure going to enjoy flying with more seasoned Citation pilots and asking lots of questions during that time. I’ll absorb as much knowledge as I can and evaluate later.
The simulator is a remarkable teacher. It allows you to practice engine failures at critical moments, avionics going dark in the clouds, making emergency descents with oxygen masks and smoke goggles on, and other emergencies you wouldn’t dare try in the real world.
But the simulator only gets you to the starting line.
The real learning starts on the flight line.
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