“Safety begins with with a well trained pilot” – the slogan for Flight Safety, where Mike and I have been since Sunday. We traveled to Tucson via airline to satisfy the FAA and insurance company requirement for annual recurrent training on the Learjet 31A. “Satisfy” makes it sound like we are sitting around listening to someone speak like some CPA continuing education class. Far from it. We were given access to online training materials about two weeks in advance. There are over 1500 pages of training materials. We were expected to have a good grasp on all of it by the time we arrived. Then we checked in at 0730 Monday morning to a classroom where, after some procedural paperwork, our teacher began reviewing the material. He also asked questions of each of our class of six. Besides looking like an idiot, failure to answer too many questions correctly could risk leaving here with a directive for remedial training and a loss of authorization to fly the airplane. After class and lunch, we returned for a simulator session at 1500.
Flight Safety has, what the FAA calls, a level D simulator. It is the most advanced type of simulator allowed for training. The box’s external dimensions are about 15’x15′ and stands 25′ in the air. It sits on six hydraulic rams that look like they have a throw of at least 10′ each. There is a walkway leading to a retractable plank for boarding. Inside, the sim looks like a control center at a nuclear launch facility. The cockpit area is the familiar cockpit of the Lear 31A (exactly), with a view of computer generated graphics out of the front windows for 120 degrees. Behind the cockpit, the sim instructor’s control computer has a large touch screen and multiple switches. From there, he can set the weather, aircraft performance, location, and fail just about any system on the airplane. I have been told one of these sims costs about $25 mil. Keep in mind that the airplane can be bought for about $1.5 mil.
There are six sim sessions, each with an hour brief/debrief. Each day introduces more concepts at a pace that has been compared to trying to drink from a fire hose. On the first day, for instance, we were asked to deal with engines that caught on fire and quit, while navigating down an instrument approach in zero visibility to within 200 feet of the ground. We were also challenged with fuel misfeeds, thrust reverser inadvertent deployments, engines that blew up regularly, and aborted takeoffs. That was day one. Day two brought an entire new list of problem with which to deal, as well as all of the problems from day one. Day three will add even more.
We actually “fly” for two hours straight, then swap seats and “fly” for another two hours. In addition to properly dealing with the systems as they malfunction, we are also expected to operate the aircraft within specific limits set by he FAA at all times. For example, when approaching an airport, we MUST be within 5 knots of the required airspeed, but no slower, and within 50′ of our assigned altitude and 10 degrees of assigned heading. And we MUST maintain these limits as a 15,000 pound airplane, with 3500 lbs of thrust on one side has a trust reverser deploy and direct 3500 lbs of thrust in the opposite direction on the other side, while following two needles down an imaginary glide slope with no visual outside references. It is not only expected to be performed flawlessly, but is repeated until we both demonstrate proficiency to our instructor’s satisfaction. And we have to maintain this in ALL areas of operation of required training (about 50 events, I’m guessing).
Oh yeah, we are also getting graded on how well we interact with each other. The concept of Cockpit/Crew Resource Management (CRM) has become very important in the last ten years. The FAA wants to make sure that a crew operates efficiently and communicates very well. The pilot population is 99% male, type-A personalities. A crew has to sit within a foot of each other for hours on end. I wonder why CRM has become important? (sarcasm)
By Thursday morning, we will be finishing up our class with a final exam. Then we rush out the door to catch the last available commercial flight, drive home from Houston, get up Friday and jump in a real airplane and a take a two day trip. Back to the real world, where the stakes go up substantially.
Oh yeah, did I mention we are also doing a twelve year, month long inspection on the Learjet?