Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Type-Rating Experience


Direct Seal Beach, when able ...

"70 knots ... V1."  My right hand moves from the throttles to the control yoke. "92 knots, rotate." Hauling back on the yoke, pitching up 12 degrees, I notice the primary flight display has suddenly gone dark. To add to the confusion, the plane is now pointed pretty much straight into the blazing, late afternoon sun. The standby instruments are hidden in shadows and trying to fly with the co-pilot's PFD seems a dubious choice, at best. I'm certain the designated examiner is watching every move, but I'm oddly calm because crap like this has been occurring with alarming regularity over the past week. "Screw the display failure checklist, for now ..." I think to myself as I press the red reversionary mode button, transforming the MFD into a PFD. "Positive rate, gear up ..." This is a single-pilot operation, so at 700 feet AGL I transfer autopilot control to the co-pilot's PFD, the autopilot is engaged, passing V2+10 knots the flaps are retracted, set climb power, and within seconds the aircraft is accelerating through 150 knots and climbing like a stripped monkey. I change heading to comply with the departure, acknowledge the tower's handoff, then check in with departure, and only then does the display failure checklist come out. Aviate, navigate, communicate ...

Like those who have gone before (and those who will undoubtedly follow), I had wondered just what it would be like to train for a type rating in a turbojet aircraft. With the experience fresh in my mind, here are observations on preparing for, and successfully managing, the type rating experience, from the first day of training through to the practical test.

Different, Not the Same

Four days earlier the training process began in a simulator that is remarkably similar to the actual aircraft, but like all simulators it is, nevertheless, just a simulation. For the next two days it will be what I'll be using for training, mostly. The first sim session involves checklist familiarization, engine start procedures, normal takeoff, and VFR maneuvers. There's a slight delay in the simulator's visual system, which I chalk up to this particular simulator's charm. My first experience in a level D simulator many years ago taught me that there's no future in fighting the machine. Complaining can be fun, but it's more productive to learn the simulator's quirks, adapt, and move on.

Being on the opposite side of the instruction equation a good experience for a seasoned instructor. It's something we should do on a regular basis, I think. Spending a lot of time evaluating, explaining, and observing other pilots makes it all too easy to forget how it feels to be a student. Ambiguous language, overuse of indefinite pronouns (this, that, it ...), poorly worded questions, and not understanding the student's perspective are daily challenges that all instructors face. My instructors did a fine job, but I had to remind them that, despite the compressed nature of my training, taking time to repeat a task and incorporate feedback in the moment can be more productive than pressing on. Repetition is especially important for an old dog like me. Or perhaps I'm still wearing my instructor's hat by observing and critiquing other instructors!

Half of the second day is spent in the sim, but then I have a commercial flight to catch to Denver to take advantage of a repositioning flight. I'm happy to get more time in the actual aircraft. It takes a while to get from KDEN to KAPA, it's cold in Denver, and I'm not really wearing the right clothes. Luckily I'm not wearing my trademark shorts, but I have no jacket, just a lightweight sweater. The delay on the ground in minimal and the instructor with whom I'm flying offers to do the outside items on the Quick Turn checklist so I can stay inside where it's warm. Note to self: When flying a jet in the winter months, best to bring several layers of clothing, just in case.

We depart into a gray sky, threatening snow. Engine anti-ice is on and there's a bit of ice accumulation on the boots, but in just a few minutes we're on top. Flying through and on-top of weather instead of plowing through it: Now that's something I could get used to!




While cruising en route, there's plenty of time to review system operation and the various quirks of said systems. I'm accompanied by a knowledgeable instructor and I'm determined to make good use of his expertise.

Prepare

The third day is spent in the aircraft and that session started with the preflight inspection. There are a number of things to check and I discover that both engines need just a smidgen of oil before we depart to reposition this aircraft to the Bay Area. We navigate to KSBP, of all places! I do the RNAV approach to a landing with simulated flap failure, which eats up a lot of runway. We roll out to the last turn off. My wife meets us at the FBO and we all go have lunch.

On departure,  there's a V1 cut just as the main wheels leave the ground. We slowly claw our way at V2 up to 1500 feet AGL, then accelerate to Venr and the flaps come up at V2+10. A Skywest Brasilia is climbing out behind us and normally we'd be long gone, but on one engine the Mustang is slowly limping its way to altitude. Luckily, Skywest turns southwest toward the Morro Bay VOR before climbing through out altitude.

Next come maneuvers. I still seem to know how to do steep turns. Stalls are done three ways; a turning departure stall, autopilot-induced stall, and approach-to-landing stall. Recovery begins at the imminent stall condition because, well ... this isn't a Citabria. Fully stalling larger aircraft is something advanced pilots are expected to avoid.

Next up: Unusual attitude recoveries, an emergency descent, and a single-engine ILS with a circle to land at KSNS. The circle-to-land was challenging because I felt compelled to keep the airspeed above Vapp, but had to stay below 120 knots in order to remain in category B. My landings have been fine so far, but I still have a tendency to pitch down too much on final. I chalk that up to a negative transfer of learning from propeller aircraft to a turbojet aircraft. I also realize my seat height is too low. Why Cessna didn't put a seat height gauge in the Mustang is a bit of a mystery.

Expedite descent? Not a problem ...

We depart to the Bay Area and after landing I realize I left my overnight bag (which I needed) at the FBO at KSBP. Oh well. I check into the hotel, then it's off to buy some long pants and a jacket. Inadequate clothing seemed to be a recurring theme. At the conclusion of day three, I'm a bit apprehensive that I won't be ready for a check ride on the fifth day. I'm more proficient and confident, but still doing some boneheaded things from time to time. I decide to sleep on it. Next morning, it is an early commercial flight back to SoCal and more time in a different aircraft.



Most of day 4 is spent doing a mock check ride: All the VFR maneuvers, then a bunch of approaches, some to a full-stop landing, some to a missed approach (often on one engine). At the end of day 4, we jump into the simulator to finish up some emergency procedures including the Mustang's Emergency Descent Mode (EDM) - an emergency descent that is automatically initiated when the aircraft is above 30,000 feet and the cabin altitude exceeds 14,500 feet. The autopilot turns the aircraft 90 degrees and initiates a descent at Vmo down to 15,000 feet. The pilot just needs to don the oxygen mask, reduce power, extend the gear and speed brakes, and hang on!

Know Thyself

Before I describe my practical test experience, let me point out the ancient Greek maxim is a good place to start on the road to advanced and/or intensive flight training. Ask yourself why you want a type rating. You can get a type rating just for kicks, but maintaining your privileges (14 CFR 61.58) requires regular proficiency checks. The cost and time involved with recurrent training tends to winnow out the pilots who are just messing around.

Acquiring knowledge, skills, and habit patterns on a compressed schedule requires you to know and respect your personal learning style. Don't be bashful about communicating your specific learning needs to your instructors. If an instructor's approach isn't working for you, let them know: Remember they work for you.

Knowing how to manage personal demons (we all have them) is crucial if you want to keep your training on track. Significant external pressures, whether they be work or family pressure, need to be managed or eliminated (at least temporarily). If you're going out of town to do training, the separation can actually be an aid. One of my own shortcomings is expecting perfection from myself, which is unrealistic at best. I've learned to accept short-term disappointment in my performance and wait. With time, things improve and I tend to lighten up on myself.

The FAA's Airline Transport Pilot and Aircraft Type Rating
Practical Test Standards for
Airplanes are used to evaluate type rating applicants, so acquiring and reading that PTS is obviously a good idea. If you want to get your ATP while you're at it, by all means do so. You'll need to have met the requirements of 14 CFR 61.515 and hopefully you passed the ATP knowledge test prior to last summer, when the requirements became pretty onerous for the average, aspiring pilot.

I perform best when I receive the training materials in advance and set time aside to study on a regular basis. Dry flying with a cockpit poster helped me memorize the flows for normal, abnormal and emergency situations so I didn't have to spend as much time learning the flows while sitting in an expensive simulator or in the aircraft. Short study sessions several times a day is the most effective way for me to cement procedures: Midnight cramming just doesn't work for me.

Memorizing facts and procedures (rote learning) may be the lowest level of learning, but you'll need to do a lot if it for a type rating. Flash cards are a proven way to memorize stuff and a high-tech version is Flashcard Machine. The web site works with a smartphone app for iOS or Android, allowing you to create and display flashcards on your phone or table which lets you turn wasted time standing in line at the grocery or cafe into productive study time. I find brief, regular, flashcard sessions lead to the best retention. The Flashcard Machine apps keep track of areas items you have missed answers so you can focus on what you need to learn instead of what you've already learned. Here's a link to flashcards I created for CE510 Emergency Memory Items.

When you get to the simulator, expect things to go sideways: Emergencies, high workload, strange panel layouts, and unfamiliar approach procedures can and will get you flummoxed. You'll make mistakes, so take a breath, slow down and prioritize: Aviate, navigate, communicate. As a DPE I know likes to say "Nothing good happens fast."

Takeoff planning and handling of emergencies are different from what you're used to in a piston twin. Engine failures and emergencies after V1 (takeoff decision speed) are handled in the air because the aircraft should have the necessary performance if you did your homework: The performance planning you do in advance should ensure that you can climb to a safe altitude. It takes a while to embrace the mindset of taking an emergency (such as an engine fire) into the air, but you've got to believe.

Checklists will become your constant companion: Normal, abnormal and emergency. And there will be memory items. More complex systems lead to more complex checklists and sometimes just locating the correct checklist is a challenge. If I had it to do over again, I would have gotten my hands on the physical checklists before beginning my training.

In the simulator, you'll experience cascading failures with interdependencies that create possible (though unlikely) nightmare situations. A dual generator failure leaves you on emergency power, which means you only have engine anti-ice, no windshield de-ice, and no de-ice boots. Oh, and you'll have to perform a manual gear extension, make a no-flaps landing, remember to dump the cabin pressure before landing, you won't have anti-skid braking and will have to use the emergency brake. Combine that with a high field elevation or a short runway ... well my palms are sweating just thinking about it!

Staying relaxed during training is determined in large part by how you manage your time outside of training. I find eating good meals, making time to exercise and getting plenty of sleep goes a long way to keeping me performing at my best. There's no shame in taking a nap after a particularly stressful session and, in fact, learning theory posits that this sort of rest can actually help you enhance learning by preventing retroactive interference.

The fast tempo at which events occurred in a jet is challenging, especially in the beginning. The first few minutes right after takeoff is a good example: Once the wheels leave the runway and the gear is up, the rate of acceleration is astounding. Just as I was getting used to the speed of events, the failures started occurring, such as the dreaded V1 cut.

The V1 cut is, quite simply, an engine failure just after you're reached the computed speed at which you are committed to takeoff. In a real aircraft, it usually is simulated just after the main wheels have left the pavement. You learn to continue the takeoff, accelerate to V2, get the aircraft climbing, get the gear up, and climb, climb, climb, slowly climb to 1500' AGL (a TERPs-derived altitude). The engines' close proximity to the aircraft's longitudinal axis gives you less adverse thrust and that makes the aircraft a bit easier to handle. You use the flight director from the start of take off and you can usually use the autopilot with an engine failure once you're at a safe altitude. After a while, a V1 cut is not unlike a crosswind landing: Once you've seen one, you pretty much seen them all.

What's it like to land a jet? I found the Jacobson Flare worked quite well with the Mustang. I calculated the correct cutoff distance and landings were never an issue. I did struggle a bit with the sight picture during approach to landing. On final approach to landing, the Mustang has a slightly pitch-up attitude that I'm still adjusting to.

Another negative transfer from propeller aircraft to turbojet aircraft is the delay between the time you adjust power and when that adjustment takes effect. If you're practiced at flying a stabilized approach in propeller aircraft, that will pay big dividends when flying a larger aircraft. Chop and drop approaches to landing can be a blast in a small aircraft, but they can lead to serious, maybe even deadly consequences in a jet.

Perform

Check ride day arrived and I reminded myself that a type rating check ride is pretty much just like any other check ride. Arrive prepared, know your systems, and do your best: No one can ask any more of you. If you mess something up during a type rating check ride, you don't get another chance. But, hey, no pressure! If you impress the examiner during the oral, the flight portion is more likely to go well, too.

The examiner is a thorough, but very practiced at getting candidates to relax. He asks me the usual questions and mostly he's unable to stump me. So he pulls out the stops and asks me more arcane stuff. It turns out my instructor has prepared me very well because I'm answering all the questions.

Something I learned during my check ride is that if an applicant for a type rating already holds a ATP certificate (which I do), the examiner has the discretion to waive some of the tasks in the PTS. The relevant section, found in the PTS introduction, is entitled Removal of the “Limited to Center Thrust” Limitation or Initial ATP/type rating Airplane Multiengine Class Certificate.

Hold short, landing traffic ...
Oh, that landing traffic ...
After the aforementioned display failure during takeoff, the flight portion of the check ride went very well. I don't make any of the mistakes I had been making and the various simulated emergencies come and go in a relaxed sort of blur. I loose track of the number of approaches and suddenly I'm doing a circle to land for a full stop. After engine shutdown, the examiner reaches out to shake my hand, offers his congratulations, and says something about how he got tired of writing "excellent." Ah, shucks ... He particularly liked my handling of the display failure after takeoff, but lest you think I'm walking around with a big head remember that as a newly-minted jet pilot with single-pilot authorization I'm like any other dedicated pilot: I'm always learning.

Success!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

December 2014 Photos

As 2014 draws to a close, a brief look back at a busy month spent in Northern California, Southern California, and in between. I wish all a happy and prosperous 2015!

Over the Petaluma River
Approaching LA
4 Mile Final, Santa Rosa
Over Long Beach, Vectors Santa Monica
Rain over Treasure Island, SF Bay
East of Santa Barbara
Filtered Sunlight, San Pablo Bay 
Beneath a sheltering sky over Marin County
Over Hayward, vectors Sausalito
ABLAS - Another Beautiful LA Sunset

Friday, December 19, 2014

Simple Things

Whether it's wrist watches, iPads, flash lights, kneeboards, or ADS-B receivers, pilots love gadgets. We love the features our smart phones, tables, and GPS units have to offer, but complexity comes at a cost and at the end of the day, simple things often serve us best.  Here's my list of simple, yet effective tools I like to keep in my flight bag.

Pen (or Pencil) and Paper

Writing on your iPad or tablet can be very handy, but cockpit resource management solutions tend to be intensely individual: What works for one pilot can seem unworkable to another pilot. The truth is that sometimes you just need to write something down on paper, dammit! An ending tach or Hobbs time, a phone number, or just a reminder. The low-tech answer is often a pen and pad of paper, both of which are easily acquired from most any FBO or hotel. I've yet to try it, but the ArmBoard™ looks like a interesting solution for cramped cockpits or aircraft with a control stick that makes it difficult or impossible to a standard kneeboard. Heck, with a little ingenuity and the right size of PostIt™ notes, one could easily concoct their own personal solution.



The Best Hood

At many points in your flying career you're going to need a view limiting device for simulated instrument flying. Pilots often dread flying with a view limiting device, but the good news is there are a bunch of options. The bad news is that many hoods and foggles are not only uncomfortable enough to belong in a medieval torture museum, they can interfere with your hat, eye glasses or headset.

In my opinion, the best view limiting device is prosaically named "The Best IFR Hood." It's cheap ($5), foldable, and it fits over/under/on top of ball caps, headsets and glasses. Looks can be deceiving because this puppy is extremely lightweigh, but effective. I buy them by the dozen and regularly distribute them to pilots I train. The first reaction is often one of skepticism, but after 10 minutes every pilot who has tried it is sold. Buy two, write your name on one, and stick it in your flight bag, and you'll have it when you need it. It truly is The Best IFR Hood.



Flashlight

The old saying is a flashlight is a container used by pilots to store dead batteries, but with highly-efficient LED flashlights and head lamps this is no longer true . You can always use your smartphone as a flashlight, but you may get reduced talk time and I personally prefer a dedicated flashlight. You can find inexpensive headlamps at your local hardware store. My favorite is an older Petzl e+Lite headlamp that offers white or red LED illumination. The newest e+Lite model weighs in at less than one ounce, but it costs quite a bit more than my old model. All LED flashlights are much more energy efficient and likely to have excellent battery life and endurance.



Adhesive Bandages

Nothing is worse than scraping your knuckles or getting a cut on your finger during preflight and not having something to bandage the wound. You could go whole-hog and carry a full-blown first aid kit, but just a few alcohol wides and a dozen bandages in your flight bag could be all you need.

Food and Water

The Law of Threes says we can survive three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. No one can blame you for not wanting to carry a tent in your flight bag, but food and water are fairly easy to check off that list.

Whether you invest in a BPA-free stainless steel model or simply grab a disposable water bottle at the FBO, having water on hand can be a very good thing. Long flights at higher altitudes with low relative humidity can lead to dehydration. Pilots often don't realize they're dehydrated so it's best to sip water regularly. An added advantage is than an empty bottle can come in handy should you need to ... um ... heed the call of nature while in flight.

Food comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can pack one of a dizzying array of energy bars. For my money an apple, a bag of peanuts, and some turkey jerky are quite satisfying during a long day of flying.

Microfiber Cloth

An absorbent cloth can be a very handy thing to have in flight and I like to carry a microfiber cloth. They can be bought cheaply by the dozen and are good for cleaning eye glass, wiping condensation off the inside of a windshield, removing smudges from glass panel displays, and a host of other uses. Another advantage is that microfiber cloth is washable and dries quickly.

Sinus/Headache Remedy

Flying at altitude and breathing supplemental oxygen can cause sinusitis, headaches, even painful sinus block during descent. There are several approved OTC (over-the-counter) medications pilots can use, but most of the ones on the drugstore shelf are not very effective. The best remedy for my money is Advil Cold & Sinus, a combination of ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine. In the US, medications that contain pseudoephedrine are pseudo-regulated: They're kept behind the pharmacy counter, require you to show your driver's license, and the sale is logged, but that inconvenience is small when compared to the relief this active ingredient offers. Keep a few tablets in your flight bag and it will be there if and when you or your passengers need it.

Sick-Sack

You never expect a passenger to be affected by motion sickness, but when it happens it can come on unexpectedly. Nothing is worse for a passenger than feeling like they need to barf and not having a suitable receptacle in which to hurl. You can purchase ultra-effective sick-sacks containing absorbing gel, but a lightweight zip-lock bag or a simple plastic grocery bag works, too. Plastic bags are good for host of other uses, too. Why not keep a few in your flight bag, just in case?

UV Protection

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology describes a study showing that a one-hour flight at 30,000 feet exposes pilots to the UV radiation equivalent to a 20-minute tanning bed session. Yikes! You don't have to fly in the flight levels to have significant UV exposure and to fight back, you can wear a cap or hat and apply sunscreen. Hats can be problematic for pilots who use conventional headsets, but for those of us using in-ear headsets like Clarity Aloft it's less of a problem. Regardless of your headset preference, applying sunscreen is a good way to reduce your risk of skin cancer. My favorite sunscreen is Ultra Sheer® Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 100+ by Neutrogena. Some might say SPF 100 is overkill, but then those folks probably ride a bike without a helmet while chewing tobacco, too.

What Else

I've covered a few things I find indispensable, but if there's something in your flight bag that you find useful, yet simple and inexpensive, feel free to post a comment.

Did I leave something