John Mahany last wrote for the Flight Training blog on upgrading to bigger, faster aircraft. He has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.
Are you considering taking the big step and moving up to a turbine aircraft? If you decide to step up to a turboprop or VLJ, you will find that your aircraft insurance broker will want a more professional level of training, like that offered by providers of simulator-based training facilities, using flight training devices (FTD). These include SimCom, SimuFlite, and FlightSafety International. There are a few others, as well.
What is the difference between a turbocharged engine and a turboprop? “Turbocharged” refers to piston engines only, whereas a turboprop is a jet engine that turns a propeller. Sometimes it is also called a prop-jet. It’s the same thing.
In a turboprop engine, a turbine (jet) engine shaft is connected to a reduction gear box and propeller governor, which in turn governs propeller speed and operation. A turboprop engine can be normally aspirated or flat-rated, which is the equivalent of turbocharging for a turboprop engine. Turbine engines also are normally aspirated.
Yes, this will cost considerably more, but the airplane also will cost more. It is all relative. Don’t go cheap on the training, and rush through it. It’s your life! Invest in quality training and take the time to learn the airplane. I have met many experienced pilots who are still learning more about the airplane they fly, even at the jet and turboprop level, after many years and thousands of hours experience in type. It really is a never-ending process. A good pilot is always learning.
You might find an instructor who is “insurance approved” to provide training in specific makes/models of aircraft in the airplane. Typically, the type-specific owner groups, such as Cirrus, TBM, and Pilatus, will have this information. But most of the training at this level is done in a simulator/FTD. Mistakes made in turbine powered aircraft can be costly (a hot start on a turbine engine could cost $250,000). It is far better to make mistakes in turbine aircraft in the simulator than in the airplane! You can walk away from the simulator and use it again.
Before considering any of this, it would be wise to take stock of your piloting skills, and consider hiring an instructor to fly with you to evaluate your skill level. Your piloting skills, both VFR and IFR, should be at the Practical Test Standards level for the grade of pilot certificate that you hold. If you are not proficient, that should be addressed first.
You need to be proficient, and it helps to have some recent experience before upgrading. Otherwise you will find yourself “behind” as you go through the training, and it will become much more challenging, as well as frustrating. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read through the Aeronautical Information Manual? You need to have pertinent operational information for IFR procedures at your fingertips!
Good instrument skills are a must, as flying high(er) performance aircraft demands a greater degree of precision. You simply have to be a proficient instrument pilot, and high performance aircraft are flown by the book, also known as the numbers.
The training itself will depend on your experience level. A low-time private pilot upgrading for the first time may find the process more challenging. A bigger, heavier airplane with more horses under the cowl will take some getting used to. As you step up to more complex aircraft, expect the level of difficulty to increase accordingly. As the speed increases, you will learn to think in terms of time rather than distance, and cruising at 120, 150, or 180 knots equates to two to three miles a minute respectively, while 300 knots is five nautical miles per minute. You learn to plan climbs and descents accordingly, and staying ahead of the airplane takes on a new meaning.
When you step up to the world of retractable landing gear, you will learn the procedures for when to raise and lower the landing gear. You do not want to get distracted and forget, which does happen occasionally. There is a saying among those who fly retractable gear airplanes: “There are those who have, and those who will” land gear up. Even professional pilots, especially when flying single pilot, have been known to forget the gear on occasion. You don’t want to join this club.
Information in ground school may seem to come at you in firehose fashion. And, just to add to the complexity, in larger aircraft, typically there is more automation. If you have avoided automation and glass cockpits, they will be hard to avoid when you upgrade. It would be good to learn any advanced avionics such as Garmin G1000 or Avidyne well in advance if possible.
When you upgrade to complex and high-performance aircraft, it will take more time to learn the aircraft systems, aircraft performance, and weight and balance, as well as the procedures and checklists. You will find that the manuals and the AFM/POH for aircraft will vary from one manufacturer to another. Cessna performance charts will look different than Beechcraft performance charts, for example.
When you step up to this level of training, it will be referred to as either initial or recurrent training. Initial training is for a pilot who has not flown a particular airplane (jet/turboprop) before. On the other hand, after you have successfully completed initial training, and you come back for training a year later, this is called recurrent training. This course will be shorter in duration. To maintain your aircraft insurance, you will have to complete recurrent training annually.
The typical initial ground school and simulator training for a turboprop aircraft will take at least five and possibly 10 days. For turbine/jet training, expect 14 days or longer. It depends on where you train, and the training program that has been approved for that school or that operator to use. The requirements will vary slightly.
Expect the turboprop ground school to be about 20 hours over a period of three to five days. For smaller turbine/jets (Citation/VLJ), it will depend on the specific jet, but ground school will typically run five to seven days. Bigger transport category jets (Boeing/Gulfstream) will take longer to learn, with ground schools typically taking two to three weeks. Try to arrange to get the manuals/course materials in advance, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with the material.
For most turboprops, initial training typically consists of five simulator sessions. For jets, it could be more. Each simulator session is typically two hours long. This can be a very intense two hours, especially when you are dealing with abnormal and emergency situations. You will probably forget that you are in a simulator, which by its nature is more challenging to fly than the airplane. This is intentional. Simulators are not designed to be a stable platform. If you look away from the panel to reference a checklist or chart, you might look back and find yourself in a climbing or descending turn. This will encourage you to become familiar with and learn to use the autopilot/automation/flight guidance system, as appropriate. When flying single-pilot, the autopilot is your co-pilot.
Once the training is completed, if this is your first time in turbine equipment, jet or turboprop, expect to have an instructor pilot fly with you for some time before you fly solo. You will need to demonstrate single-pilot proficiency. In the VLJ and the Citation I and II, it is possible to earn a single-pilot waiver.
Let’s briefly compare this level of turbine/turboprop training (FAR 61) with charter and airline operations (FAR 121/135), for airline and charter pilots who are upgrading to captain. They are not turned loose as pilot in command at the completion of their simulator training and checkrides. They are then required to complete additional training, called initial operating Experience, or IOE.
This initial operating experience consists of flying with a qualified instructor pilot, or line check airman, for up to 50 hours, and successfully completing what is known as a line check before they are released to fly the line as captain in revenue operations. This is where they finally get a chance to fly the airplane and see how it feels and handle, under the supervision of an experienced captain. Thus, you should expect a similar process yourself.
Whatever you have upgraded to, after the training is completed, no doubt you will be anxious to go fly! I would caution you to start with day VFR first, if possible, before plunging into hard IFR. It is always better to get a feel for the real airplane in day VMC first, and away from other traffic. Have fun and fly safely.—John Mahany