Filling the gap

May 12th, 2014

Check Out ChecklistMuch has been made of the new federal aviation regulations that require new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 hours. This is really no different than the way the old supply-and-demand system used to work. By that I mean that fewer than 20 years ago, a budding airline pilot wasn’t getting hired unless his or her logbook showed this kind of time or close to it. It’s only been in the last 10 to 12 years that we saw the serious decline in total hours among new-hire pilots—to the point that they were getting hired at 250 hours of total time.

If you are looking to get hired at the regionals, the best route to the 1,500 hours is flight instructing (this assumes you don’t qualify for one of the total time reductions). As a busy CFI, you can rack up 700 to 800 hours a year, and you can do it without paying for it. That alone will give you an idea of how much you can expect to fly as a professional pilot. Regional pilots can expect to average 800 hours a year once they are no longer on reserve.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, back in the day, teaching is what we did to earn our time.

What’s more important is that you find a way to take advantage of that gap in hours. If you have students who can afford it or are adventurous, try to arrange for some fairly long cross-country trips. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you try to rip someone off or take advantage of them, but if you can meet a legitimate teaching need while fulfilling other obligations, you might be able to reach a mutually beneficial end point.

For example, I had a student who wanted to go to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh one year, and he wanted to take his girlfriend and a buddy. They were retired, and affording it was not a concern. The only airplane that would work was a twin-engine Piper Aztec. As a result, my boss and I went along, and so did my girlfriend. The airplane was loaded up, and off we went. I flew the entire trip and picked up a dozen or so hours of much-needed multiengine time, along with great cross-country and real IFR experience, and it didn’t cost me a dime except for my food. My student even covered my housing.

The following year, I had another student who had bought a warbird Cessna 172 and wanted to fly to Oshkosh. Once again, I was intimately involved in the planning and logistics. She flew under Foggles for most of the round trip, and this time I also got paid for the time I was there (I was busy enough at the school that I couldn’t afford to leave and not get paid for missed work).

Advertise your services to local newspapers that need aerial photos, and look for opportunities to fly actual IFR as much as possible. Go into complex airspace, and get some night experience. If you have a client who is buying an airplane (or delivering one), try to get a ride.

The gap between getting your commercial and CFI is your chance to shine. Do what you can to make your experience stand out. This will not only help you get a job, but it will also help prevent burnout and boredom from doing the same thing every day. Polish your customer service skills and expand your knowledge. Be ready and able to answer any questions any client or student might have, especially if they are in the market to buy an airplane.

It sounds daunting to get the 1,500 hours to get hired, and if you need to pay-as-you-go, it is. But if you can get paid and get great experience, then it’s not only doable, it’s fun, exciting, and a grand opportunity. Take advantage of it!—By Chip Wright

FAQ: How to join our Facebook chats

May 5th, 2014

Long-time Facebook friends of Flight Training magazine know that on the first Tuesday of each month at 3 p.m. Eastern, we host a live chat through our Facebook page. This lets us chat in real time with you. We use CoverItLive as the chat interface. It’s lots of fun, and we always have a great discussion.

This year we got an exciting new sponsor, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, which is providing a $50 gift card for each chat. That means one of you can win a $50 gift card just for showing up and participating! You’ll find a lot of great pilot gear on their website. (And if you should want to “like” their Facebook page, that’d be nice, too.)

Our chat sponsor

Our chat sponsor

This FAQ should help you find us and get chatting to increase your chances of being the lucky recipient.

Q. When is the chat?

A. It’s always the first Tuesday of the month, and always at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Q. How will I know it’s coming?

A. If you’re like me, you have to make yourself a note on Outlook. But CoverItLive has a function where you can send yourself an email reminder. You can set it for a day, an hour, a half-hour, or 15 minutes before the chat. Click here. 

Q. How do I get to the chat?

A. There are two ways—and here’s where it gets a little confusing interesting.

  1. Click this icon if using a computer.

    Click this icon if using a computer.

    If viewing the chat on a computer, we recommend you just click the chat icon in the timeline on our Facebook page. That takes you directly to the CoverItLive window. You won’t see anything except the chat topic until the chat actually starts. Once it starts, you’ll see a window that lets you type your comments and hit “send.”

  2. If using a smartphone, we recommend you to go this URL. This is a direct URL for our CoverItLive window.
  3. If you can’t get to us through the chat icon, try using the direct URL.
  4. If using an iPad, either way should work.

Q. OK. I got to the chat, but I don’t see a window. What do I do now?

A. Check your screen resolution. It should be set to the highest resolution. Alternatively, use another browser. Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox work well; Internet Explorer and AOL, not so much.

Q. Do I have to be logged in?

A. No.

Q. I got to the chat and it has started, but it still says it is waiting. What do I do?

A. Refresh the screen; if a box pops up asking if you’re sure you want to leave the page, say “yes.”

Q. OK, I’m in the chat! I can see questions and answers from other people, but you haven’t posted my question. Why is that?

A. It takes us a certain amount of time to respond to each question. And, depending on the number of comments and the complexity of the topic, we may not be able to post each and every question or comment. We’ll do our best, though.

Q. I have a question, but it’s not about what the topic of the chat is. Can I post it anyway?

A. Of course, as long as it’s related to flight training or flying.

Q. I’m in the chat, but it seems to be frozen. What do I do?

A. Try refreshing your screen.

We look forward to chatting with you! If you have any other issues with the chat that weren’t addressed here, please email me (jill.tallman@aopa.org).—Jill W. Tallman

 

 

Operations specifications

May 1st, 2014

If you talk to pilots from different airlines, it becomes pretty apparent that they are very different in many ways, and in other ways, they are exactly the same. The reason is that they each must operate under their specified operations specifications, commonly called their ops specs.

Every Part 135 and 121 airline has an ops spec, which is essentially the blueprint that has been approved by the FAA for that airline. Ops spec C55, for example, deals with certain required weather criteria for determining the suitability/requirement for an alternate.

Every airline has some form of C55, but there may be exceptions within the ops specs. The details are negotiated between the airline and the principal operations inspector, or POI, the individual at the FAA who is responsible for the oversight of the airline. As you might imagine, that alone is a huge job, and it’s one that requires a staff of experts in all areas of airline operations. There are folks who work in flight operations, maintenance, in flight (the flight attendants), security—you name it. The POI is the head honcho.

How much latitude an airline gets depends on a number of things. If the POI is comfortable with the managers of the airline, he or she is more likely to grant some leeway and relax some of the restrictions. However, if the airline is fairly new, or has a questionable safety record, or is staffed by relatively inexperienced pilots, expect the requirements to be a bit tighter. Likewise, if the company is mature and has a long history of solid operations, you’ll see less resistance in doing more complex operations.

Some POIs are just conservative and are very reluctant to approve of changes that the airline believes it needs. Others are pretty progressive. The pace at which airlines are moving toward electronic flight bags, or EFBs, often is a reflection of the personalities of the POIs and whether they are willing to do away with paper charts.

Another good example might be Category II ILS approaches. CAT II approaches are much riskier than CAT I, and they have a slew of extra maintenance requirements, along with pilot training needs that need to be met. Financially, it’s an expensive program to have, and so many regional airlines opt not to pursue the CAT II certification, even if the equipment is capable. I was at Comair for nearly 10 years before we finally pursued CAT II operations. When we started doing a lot of flights into Atlanta, we experienced a lot of delays, cancellations, and diversions caused by fog that had the ILS approaches down to CAT II. Delta owned us, and finally agreed that it was costing more money not to have the option than we were saving, and the investment was made.

But we didn’t just start flying 1,200-foot runway visual range (RVR) approaches right away. We had to train pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics.The pilots had to fly a certain number of approaches at 1,600 RVR to test the equipment in the airplanes in real-world conditions. It was months before we could fly CAT II without restriction.

Ops specs also spell out everything from approval for EFBs to what airports an airline can use, and for what purpose. Some airports may not be approved for regular service but can be used for refueling or diversions. Still others can’t be used at all except in an emergency.

If you pursue an airline career, you will become intimately familiar with ops specs, POIs, and the relationship they have with your carrier. Most sections of the ops specs will mean little to you as a pilot. Others will be your bread and butter, and you’ll memorize them chapter and verse. After all, we’re talking about the FAA here!

Fly safe!—Chip Wright

CFI: Curious Flying Individual, Crazy Flying w/Idiots, Can’t Fly Inough

April 29th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about a flight lesson in a Grumman Tiger. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Who knew that a closed flight school would open the door (you get in, open it, and he gets in) to so many styles and manners of certificated flight instructors? Really, I am not checking them out for my next CFI. I am simply learning from them. In January, with 15 hours under my left seat and a long way from solo in 2015, I decided to see how many CFIs I could fly with in 2014.

Jean's logbook, with endorsements from some of her many CFIs

Jean’s logbook, with entries from some of her many CFIs.

I get itchy to go up only once a month, so I am not expecting much progress until I settle down with a field, an airplane, and an instructor.

While I have the time and money to progress as fast as I want in learning to fly, I am in no rush. I plan to take three years to solo. This puts me into a unique category. I would like to become competent flying an airplane, yet I am not interested in continuing on to my pilot certificate (or so I say now).

In one blog I read, “Twenty hours to solo at age 21, and one hour for each year of age after that.” While my hours are slowly creeping up with much review and some new material, at age 68, I will not panic until my presolo hours hit 50.

I am delighting in each review flight I take with different instructors in different airplanes at different airports. I am surprised how each CFI adds to my learning and understanding. Each instructor seems to emphasize different aspects or teach/reteach the basics in a different manner. While each skill I use in the air is not a totally new one for me, I learn more each flight. I love the way my prior understandings and my new ones come together to slowly increase my comfort and my skills.

In some ways, checking out new instructors is almost as much fun as flying.

I have had nine different CFIs in 20 hours of instruction. I’ve flown three different types of airplanes; most were Cessna 172s.

The CFI entries in my logbook tell you a lot about their levels of expertise and what I learned or reviewed. “Discovery flight,” says one. “Climbs, descents, constant rate and speed, medium turns, trim, taxi, airport and airplane protocol,” says another. And these two CFIs took me up in the same airplane at the same airport, albeit a short 0.3 flight versus a 0.9 flight. One was just starting his time in this role. The other had taught many.

EPSON MFP imageI was quite impressed by the handouts the more experienced instructor gave me before we headed to the airplane. While three of the flight instructors I have flown with handed me a list for radio calls, and the one who took me through my first 14 hours drew many diagrams before our flights, I especially appreciated one handout from this instructor.

The illustrated runway layout included instructions for radio calls and what to do with the instruments at each point on the way to land this particular airplane. I have had less than two hours at airports without towers, so radio calls are a bit different. Abeam the number on the runway on downwind, “Carb heat, cut power, 1st notch flaps, trim to 90 mph.” At 45 degrees and turn to base, “Call base and 2nd notch flaps.” Yes, these become second nature to pilots. Not yet for me. The diagram and the notes are particularly nice to study for this particular airplane and airport.

Another CFI, on a similar airport diagram, included altitude. So many details for landing in the pattern. Complicated considering the ease of takeoff. Once on the runway you just stay straight, throttle on, and lift that nose at speed.

Even the first time up in the air with me, the more experienced flight instructors seem a little bit more confident in talking me into a move rather than taking over the controls. I did understand one grabbing the controls to quickly taxi our small 172 off the runway for a large commercial flight coming in behind us.

Some flight instructors are a master at my comfort level, the absolutely most important factor for me. If I am feeling comfortable in the airplane with the instructor, I remember more and I learn more during the lesson. And that CFI can ask and receive much from me. Steep turns, sure. Stalls, bring them on. No help on the landing. Well…

Instructors vary on how much they talk or tell you what to do, or ask if you feel confident and want to do a maneuver (takeoff for me, fine, landing, talk me down please in the crosswind). Some just confidently expect you to do what they suggest. “Play with it,” one says. And I do. And after he evaluates my skill we play with it even more. Steeper, faster, funner.

Learning something each time. Getting different teaching styles and experiences. One thing though—most have told me that I taxi a little too fast. I think it is because it took me so long to learn it. I promise to get that right next time. Fast taxiing will slow down to match my slow solo progress.

While I have several airports and dozens of flight instructors within an hour of my home, right now I am leaning toward LebanAir Aviation at Lebanon State Airport (S30). The friendliest (and probably cheapest) little airport in Oregon: $80 airplane, $40 instructors.

This might be the one. I have eight more months to check out CFIs. At LebanAir alone, two instructors down (I mean up) and six to go at that small airport.

Six years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. My guide got ill, and I finished that trek on my own. Polé, polé, slow and steady, was the mantra. Both with and without my guide it worked. Guess I am doing that in learning to fly. I’ll get there slowly. And some CFI and I will land, he or she will get out. This CFI will leave, not because of illness, but because I am ready. The CFI will send me up into those heights. Alone.—Jean Moule

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Time to get serious

April 23rd, 2014

Adam Brement soloed April 18 in a bright-red Cherokee 140 at Griffiss International Airport (KRME) in Rome, N.Y. Here’s his story.—Ed.

Adam Brement (right) with his grandfather, Luigi Bottini.

Adam Brement (right) with his grandfather, Luigi Bottini.

I have been flying my entire life. I grew up around aviation, all thanks to my grandfather, Luigi Bottini. Luigi is a Master CFII. He owned and operated a flight school called Galaxy Aviation. I officially started logging hours back in 1992 but never had the consistency to apply the knowledge and hours to solo. Back then dating my high school sweetheart had taken priority over flying.

But over the years after high school and college I married my high school sweetheart, started a family, and am now the proud owner of Galaxy Aviation Flight School & Pilots Club. Since taking over the reins of the flight school, I figured I should get serious about getting my license.

Adam on solo day, in Rome, N.Y.

Adam on solo day, in Rome, N.Y.

On April 18, 2014, I finally got the opportunity to solo! What a surreal feeling. After all these years of flying with my grandfather (best friend) by my side, I was now about to be all by my lonesome. It was awesome. I took what seemed like an eternity to do my preflight check/runup, double checking everything, I didn’t want to miss a thing. The tower cleared me for takeoff, and down Runway 15 I went.

Takeoff went beautiful. I climbed to 1,500 feet, made left traffic, and proceeded to fly the pattern. As I came around for my landing I had everything lined up and it was smooth. I did it!

I talked to myself out loud through the whole thing making sure not to forget anything. My grandfather is 80 yrs old, and is my best bud. We fly every chance we get. I spent my summer vacations from the age of 12 till I was 18 flying cross-country to Oshkosh, Wis. I know my grandfather couldn’t be more proud of my accomplishment.

On top of running the flight school, I am the director of maintenance for Saint John The Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Rome, N.Y. I am in charge of the maintenance for the buildings and grounds of two churches in our parish. In the winter I am a level 1 hockey coach, and I coach my son’s hockey team. My wife and I also run the Cub Scout/Boy Scout program in the city of Rome. I have two kids, son Kyle, 7, and daughter Emily, 10. I hope to someday pass this experience on to my kids.—Adam Brement

Are you interested in learning to fly? Would you like to experience the thrill of flying an airplane by yourself, like Adam did? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Never too old to fly

April 22nd, 2014

Ted Brother’s Success Story is just a little bit different than our usual wonderful solo and checkride photos that turn up on our Facebook wall. For one thing, Ted is in his 70s. For another, he started out learning to fly in a taildragger. Here’s Ted’s story in its entirety.—Ed.

“I’ve taught 10- and 12-year-olds to fly, so yes, I can teach you.”

With these words Paul Santopietro started my odyssey on Aug. 14, 2012, when he took me on as a student at Katama Airfield (1B2) at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. I was not 10 or 12; I was 76 years and two months old when I started my dream—to learn to fly.

Katama is a National Heritage grass field, and Paul’s 1975 Model 7KCAB Citabria N8680V was the airplane. The eight to 10 hours normally reserved to learn how to taxi and maneuver a taildragger on the ground soon turned into 12 to 15 hours. Learning to get my septuagenarian body into and out of this tandem two-seater proved to be equally as challenging.

My introduction to flying lasted until the end of September when Nancy and I headed to Naples, Fla., for the winter. With 18 hours of dual under my belt

student pilot solos Cessna 172 at age 77

Ted Brother (left) with CFI Skip Bentley after soloing the Cessna 172 in Fort Myers.

I joined the Fort Myers Flying Club at Page Field (KFMY) as a student pilot and transitioned to a Cessna 172S. Skip Bentley now had the oldest student he ever taught, and the flying club had its oldest student member ever.On May 15, 2013, just 23 days before celebrating my seventy-seventh birthday, I soloed N3512Q at La Belle Municipal (X14) in La
Belle, Fla. After eight months of Class D airspace, with tower, ATIS ,
ground, and jet traffic to contend with, I looked forward to my return to the
grass at Katama and the stick and rudder of Paul’s taildragger.

On July 31, 2013, I soloed N8080V and received my tailwheel endorsement.

Student pilot solos Citabria at age 77.

Brother soloed this Citabria in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He’s shown with CFI Paul Santopietro.

In November 2013 I passed the FAA knowledge exam. After six days of patient instruction by David Abramson at Pompano Airpark in Pompano Beach Florida (KPMP), and just 70 days before my seventy-eighth birthday, he scheduled my checkride.The oral went well, but the check ride was discontinued because of weather. After two agonizing weeks of waiting I returned to KPMP, passed the checkride, and received my certificate, 57 days before my seventy-eighth birthday. As I approach my seventy-ninth year having fulfilled a lifelong dream, I am thankful for my wife Nancy’s support, for the great instructors I have had, and for the wonderful new and interesting acquaintances and friends I have made through this flying experience. I have no dream of getting my ATP; I just want to fly in clear skies and have the opportunity to buy a few $100 hamburgers—well, maybe an SES endorsement might be next.—Ted Brother

Are you interested in learning to fly? As Ted knows, it’s never too late to start! Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

The training wall

April 21st, 2014

06-496_SimmCommThe worst part about transitioning to a new flying job is the training. Specifically, the sim training. It’s in the sim that you begin putting all of the pieces together from the previous weeks. The company operations manual, the procedures, the systems—it all comes together here.

In many ways, it’s no different than other training you have taken on during your climb up the aviation ladder. The hardest part in the private syllabus is learning to land. In the instrument, it used to be the NDB approach; now it’s making sure you hit the right button at the right time on the GPS. In the commercial, it’s…well, the commercial is pretty easy. For the CFI it’s mastering the right seat while learning to talk, teach, and fly at the same time. In each of these, at some point you have to combine the physical skills with the academic knowledge required.

In airline or corporate flying, it’s no different. Sort of.

The difference is that you have a defined period of time to put it all together. Usually there are anywhere from six to eight sim sessions for training. There is a bit of a movement afoot to integrate procedures training in a non-moving sim sooner, so that the students have the ability to practice more and master the basics. But at some point you are in “the box” and under the gun for a fairly short period of time, and it’s intense.

When I was a new hire in my first airline job, I was told that it was Sim 3 or 4 that caused everyone to take a giant step backwards. My instructor was right. On Sim 4, I forgot how to fly. I was awful. It was just a matter of going through the motions. But, the next day, I came back and it was like nothing had happened.

I’ve had the same problem with every training event since. Somewhere in the middle of full-motion sims, I have a day when I’m task-saturated just trying to tie my shoes. At least now I know to expect it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve had instructors critique me by saying, “Well, you’ve mastered the range knob.” That’s like being told that you have mastered the headlights in your car. But on those days when you can’t seem to do anything right, take the positive comments where you can get them.

It isn’t just me. Every sim partner I’ve ever had has had a bad day as well. Fortunately, we’ve never had them on the same day. My most recent sim partner had his bad day the day after mine, and we carried each other through. Another one had hers the day before the checkride, and she was so distraught she didn’t sleep that night. She aced the ride (I knew she would). I used to do a lot of “seat fills,” where I’d sit in to help a student when another pilot wasn’t available. Every time I heard that it was Sim 3 or 4 in the syllabus, I’d brace myself. I was rarely disappointed.

We all hit a wall on occasion, and a good instructor will coach you through. On those days, the learning experience is often just learning how to accept that you aren’t perfect. It’s humbling, and it can even be humiliating. But you just need to shrug it off, get some sleep, recognize what you did right, and come back the next day. That good instructor will encourage you and remind you that you aren’t the first, and you probably aren’t the worst.

And when you do, you often can’t believe that you had so much trouble in the first place.—Chip Wright

Barter website creator is now a private pilot

April 15th, 2014

Great news in a happy email from Stephanie Thoen of Aurora, Colo., today: “I am writing to let you know I completed my PPL last week with Mary [Latimer].”

Stephanie, you may recall, launched a website earlier this year that seeks to connect student pilots with CFIs who are willing to barter flight intruction in exchange for goods and services. Flight instructors can register for free at WillWorktoFly.org, whereas student pilots pay a one-time registration fee of $18.95. A portion of the fee goes toward establishing a flight training scholarship, and all registered student pilots are eligible for that scholarship, which is to be awarded monthly.

Thoen came up with the idea after falling short of funds in pursuit of her pilot certificate. (I think it’s a fabulous idea, and am half-tempted to see if I can trade my husband’s comic book collection for a commercial certificate. On second thought—scratch that; he might barter my airplane to get the comics back.) She reports that a mention in Flight Training magazine and on our website helped to boost traffic to the site, so that she will be able to offer a scholarship in June. “Any additional amount I get above and beyond…will go toward putting together a free flying camp once a year for several students,” she said.

It’s safe to say that Mary Latimer likely provided the inspiration for the free flying camp. Latimer has held free flying camps for women for three years in a row at her home airport in Vernon, Texas. I spent a few days at one of her camps in 2013, and wrote about it for the magazine. Schoen sought Mary out to finish her training.

Congratulations to new private pilot Stephanie, and kudos to Mary for inspiring others to give back to aviation.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

 

Show shopping

April 14th, 2014

Follow Me carts await Sun n Fun arrivals_2899Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Expo.  I love attending airshows for the obvious reasons– the flying displays, the aircraft static displays, the aviation celebrities, and meeting AOPA members.

But my biggest thrill, as a student pilot, is the shopping. I decided to spend no more than $200 at the show. First, I found myself in the Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co. hangar in its headset demonstration area. It’s a great one-stop-shopping place to try out many of the major headset manufacturers, including Bose, Clarity Aloft, David Clark, Lightspeed, Pilot USA, and Sennheiser. After testing out the different brands, I decided to stick with my Bose headset–for now.

I’m in the part of my flight training when I need E6B calculator. I went to the PilotMall.com shop at Sun ‘n Fun and looked at a variety of whiz wheels and electronic devices. I decided to spend the $63.95 for an electronic ASA E6B calculator.

One of the benefits of working in publishing is folks are always sending things in for us to review, so we have a lot of equipment lying around. It was how I got my first aviation headset.  I have been using a curved kneeboard that has been driving me crazy, because it was tight around my leg and interfered with the operation of the yoke. And it had nowhere to hold a pencil!

I paid $14.95 at PilotMall.com for a new kneeboard that has a spot for a pencil and has common aviation terms printed on the front and back. And while I was there, I bought an autographed copy of an oral history of the Tuskegee Airmen ($18.95) and a pair of luggage tags ($10.95) that read Girl Pilot (Get Over It). Finally, I went over to the Sun ‘n Fun merchandise tent and bought a 40th anniversary T-shirt for $19.95. That left me with $71.25, but I could have easily spent more.

So the next time you’re at an airshow, a fly-in, or some other aviation event with vendors, I highly suggest you go to the booths and try out all the available merchandise, even if you don’t buy anything. You can see what tools are out there and see what you might want to buy in the future.–Benet Wilson

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Upgrading to turbine/turboprop aircraft

April 10th, 2014

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.

TBM 300Are 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