Training at FlightSafety

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One pilot's quest for multi-engine proficiency, in which your humble editor gets religion.

I never intended to buy a twin, actually. I was perusing Trade-A-Plane looking for a nice T210 or P210. But you know how it goes...it's impossible to resist the urge to see what Lear Jets or King Airs or DC-3s are going for. And so it was that I noticed that the market for piston twins was horribly depressed. One could actually buy a late-model well-equipped turbocharged twin for less than what an equivalent-condition single would cost. I succumbed to an attack of temporary insanity, and wound up the proud owner of a pristine 1979- model Cessna Turbo 310.

Insurance Woes

I immediately discovered that insurance was going to be a problem. The fact that I had been flying for 25 years, owned several previous airplanes, logged 4,000 accident-free claim-free hours, and was a CFIA/I didn't seem to matter. Until I had a few hundred hours of multiengine time, the underwriters wanted nothing to do with me. My agent finally arranged minimal liability coverage plus ground-risks-only hull at a price I could grudgingly afford, provided I flew with an instructor until I had 25 hours in type. I had to self-insure against flight risks. "Call me when you have 200 hours in type," said the agent, "and I should be able to get you a much better deal."

Since I needed the 25 hours of dual anyway, I made sure my multiengine instructor knew I wanted to train for my multi checkride thoroughly and not cut any corners. "I'm not looking for a 10-hour quickie rating," I told him. As it turned out, I had 38 hours in type by the time I took and passed my multi checkride. I felt very comfortable flying the 310 at that point, and considered myself to be a proficient and safe multi-engine pilot. I couldn't understand why the insurance companies were making such a big deal about this multiengine stuff.

Six months later with 180 hours in type, I phoned my insurance man to ask about renegotiating for better coverage and rates. He suggested that if I was willing to take a Cessna 310 course at FlightSafety, he might have significantly better leverage with the underwriters.

FlightSafety?

I learned that FlightSafety International is the world's largest purveyor of simulator-based flight training. They operate $400 million worth of simulators at 31 "learning centers" across the U.S. (plus two more in France). The Cessna 310 course is offered at FlightSafety's Cessna Learning Center in Wichita, Kansas.

Going to FlightSafety sounded to me like an interesting idea. I was due for an ICC anyway, and a refresher in engine-out procedures would certainly be welcome. Flying a full-motion full-vision twin-Cessna simulator sounded exciting. My wife and I were taking a vacation trip next month to visit her sister in Kansas City, and I would have no trouble sneaking away to Wichita for a few days.

I phoned FlightSafety and scheduled myself for the Cessna 310 recurrent course. Three full days, I was told. $2,450 tuition, plus hotel and meals. My, oh my! I was taken aback by the cost, but I discussed it with my wife and she felt strongly that it would be money well-spent.

Pre-Training Jitters

As the scheduled date for the Kansas trip approached, I started having serious misgivings about this FlightSafety business. I was still clutched about the $2,450 tuition. It seemed awfully expensive for three days of training. I wondered whether I would come out of FlightSafety feeling that I'd gotten my money's worth.

I also had a secret fear that I would not be able to measure up to the level of skill that FlightSafety expected. After all, FlightSafety is where airlines and Fortune 500 corporations send their professional pilots for training. How would a middle-aged owner-pilot like me measure up? Surely, I'd be the only over-40 person in the class, and the only one who does not fly for a living. As a defensive move, I decided to schedule a few hours with my local CFIME to sharpen my instrument and engine-out skills before going to Wichita. By the time we left for Kansas, I felt reasonably sharp.

The FlightSafety scheduler emphasized that my class would start early Saturday morning at 0700 sharp. So I drove from Kansas City to Wichita on Friday afternoon and checked into the Wichita Airport Hilton a short walk away from the FlightSafety Cessna Learning Center.

Intimate Groundschool

At 7:00 am, I check in at FlightSafety. I am directed to one of the audio-visual classrooms. Although the rooms are set up for as many as sixteen students, I discover that I have only two classmates. Vic is in his mid- thirties and a captain on an 11-passenger Cessna 441 "Conquest II" turboprop...a veteran of prior FlightSafety training and back for regular recurrent. Dan is in his twenties and making his first FlightSafety visit to qualify as a C-441 first officer. Precisely as I feared: I am the oldest of the group by a decade and the only non-career pilot.

We receive our groundschool and simulator schedules for the next three days, and they look intense. Nine hours of instrument/multiengine groundschool ("IME"), six hours of Cessna-310-specific systems groundschool, six hours of left-seat simulator time, up to six more hours of right-seat observer time in the sim, three hours of sim brief and debrief...30 hours of scheduled training. There's also a self-learning room with an extensive videotape and videodisk library that students are encouraged to take advantage of "in our spare time."

The IME groundschool starts off with a segment on meteorology, with emphasis on thunderstorms and weather radar. There is a fascinating presentation on microbursts and how to survive an encounter with one. Then a discussion of basic attitude instrument flying: instrument scan patterns, unusual attitude recoveries, that sort of thing. Next we review FAR Part 91, dwelling on IFR fuel and alternate requirements and lost- communications procedures. The session concludes with segments on reading Jeppesen charts (enroute, area, SID, STAR, approach plates) and holding pattern entries.

It's now lunchtime. Vic and Dan go to some fancy restaurant befitting a Conquest crew. I grab a vending- machine sandwich in the FlightSafety canteen, and wander off to the self-learning room to watch some videotapes. I'm paying the tuition (not my employer), and I'm determined to get my money's worth.

It's Sim Time!

At 1:00 pm, I meet my instructor in the briefing room for my pre-sim briefing. Jay talks to me about some of the characteristics of the sim, and explains that the goal of this initial sim session is to allow me to get comfortable flying the sim. We'll probably deal solely with normal procedures today, and deal with failures later. We talk for about 30 minutes, then head for the simulator.

FlightSafety operates two Cessna 400-series piston-twin simulators. The sim is an exact duplicate of a 414A or 421C cockpit in every detail right down to the seats and ashtrays. (It was built entirely from actual Cessna parts.) For my training, the sim is set up as a 414A, which flies almost identically to my T310R. The cockpit layout is very similar except for the placement of electrical switches and circuit breakers. The sim is equipped with Cessna 400- and 800-series radios (including flight director, RMI, and altitude alerter), while my 310 has King Silver Crown gear. So I spend a few minutes familiarizing myself with the cockpit layout and avionics.

The sim is perched high atop a motion base consisting of six huge hydraulic actuators. Jay cautions me to buckle my seatbelt and shoulder harness before he turns on the motion. Otherwise, it is actually possible to get hurt.

This sim has a two-CRT nighttime vision system. Unlike the four-CRT systems in some of the fancier  FlightSafety sims, this one provides no side-window vision (so circling approaches are not feasible). But in all other respects, I find that the vision system is astoundingly realistic: airport beacons flash alternately white and green, VASIs work like you'd expect them to, approach lights are in full color and have RAIL strobes, fog looks just like fog, clouds pulsate if you forget to douse the strobes...you can even see the headlights and taillights of automobiles moving along the freeways! I'm really impressed.

I start both engines, run through the pre-takeoff checklist, and taxi the sim into position on runway 1L at Wichita Mid-Continent airport. It is a clear, starry night. After copying a VFR clearance out of the ARSA westbound, I am cleared for takeoff. Engine sounds are realistic and I feel myself being pressed back into my seat by the acceleration. Nosewheel steering is ultra-sensitive and I find it difficult to track the runway centerline (Jay warned me about this), but once airborne everything feels absolutely real. Gear-up, reduce power to cruise-climb, trim, sync the props...wow, I'm actually flying this thing!

Jay has me level off and try some 360-degree steep turns just to get the feel of the flight controls. He turns on the clouds so that we go IMC, and gives me a series of unusual-attitudes. My recoveries are decent.

Now Jay covers up the attitude gyro, and it suddenly dawns on me that it has been years since I did any serious partial-panel flying...several ICCs and my multiengine-rating checkride notwithstanding. Straight-and-level. Standard-rate turns left and right. Unusual-attitude recovery from an incipient stall situation. So far, so good.

Crash! You're Dead!

Jay has me close my eyes while he sets up another unusual attitude situation. "You've got it!" Airspeed headed rapidly for Vne, turn needle pegged. I pull throttles to idle and try to stop the turn...but it won't stop! I try backpressure but the airspeed pegs and stays there. Altimeter is unwinding at a frightening rate. Nothing I try seems to work. Yoke tries to tear itself out of my death-grip. I am utterly disoriented. Jay presses a button to make the clouds vanish, hoping that I can recover visually. Through the windshield, I see hundreds of lights swirling in front of me, but I still don't get it. "The airplane is inverted!" admonishes Jay. Oh my god. I struggle violently with the controls...stick forces are unbelievable... and almost have the airplane rightside-up when we impact the ground with an audible crash and a physical jolt. I sit there dumbfounded. "I meant to give you an accelerated stall-entry," explains Jay, "but by the time you opened your eyes the aircraft was inverted. Partial panel recovery from an inverted attitude is almost impossible. Don't sweat it." I'm still dejected.

Jay repositions the sim and I take off once again, tracking the centerline somewhat better this time. I fly vectors for a straight-in ILS to 1R. The "controller" turns me onto final too tight and I have to intercept the glideslope from above but I manage to get the needles and airspeed pretty well nailed. At 500' above DH, I start drifting above the glideslope. Airspeed is getting a bit fast, too. As I throttle back to correct, I feel some turbulence and the airspeed starts to decay. Suddenly, the videotape from this morning's IME groundschool flashes through my mind...MICROBURST! Takeoff power...pitch *way* up to Vx...call missed approach. The descent is finally arrested at 200 AGL...whew! "Very good," says Jay, "you caught it early enough that recovery was no problem." Jay vectors me back around for a visual approach, and I make my first landing in the sim...a greaser! I feel good. I've almost forgotten my earlier fatal crash.

Dead Foot, Dead Engine

Another takeoff...direct to ICT VORTAC and cleared for the VOR Runway 14 approach as published including procedure turn. An easy approach. I've passed the stepdown fix, descended to MDA, almost at the VDP, airport in sight. Suddenly...props falling out of sync...ball is pegged...ENGINE OUT! OK, you know the drill...power controls full forward...flaps and gear up...pitch to Vyse...right foot is dead...right EGT is dead...verify by retarding right throttle...feather right...idle cutoff. I look out the window and the approach lights are in sight. I'm a bit high, but I drop gear and full flaps and touch down 1000' past the threshhold. "Very nice," says Jay, "time's up for today."

Jay and I walk back to the briefing room for my post-sim debrief. Jay has a lengthy evaluation form on which he has scored each of my maneuvers on a scale from 1 (proficient) to 4 (hopeless). I figure I'll get dinged badly for the crash...but no. Jay gives me a "1" on all but two items—engine-out recovery and engine-out securing—and gives me "2" on those. He says FlightSafety wants to see me complete the engine-out recover and secure routine in seven seconds or less, and that I took nearly twice that long. "All in all, you scored in the top 15% of first-time sim pilots," Jay tells me. "You should be quite pleased with your performance today. See you tomorrow."

I'm dog-tired. My armpits are drenched. I look at my watch...it's only 3:30 pm, though it feels more like midnight. I think about going to the hotel and climbing into bed. Then I remember the tuition. So I wander back to the self-learning room to view two more videotapes and take a few units of FlightSafety's excellent interactive videodisk course on Cockpit Resource Management. I finally depart for the hotel at 7 pm...twelve hours after my arrival. I sleep like a log.

More Groundschool

Sunday morning at 9:00 am, we re-convene on-schedule for more IME groundschool. Jay reviews contact approaches and visual approaches, and we discuss situations where contact approaches can be used to advantage. We continue our review of FARs: descent below DH/MDA, recency-of-flight requirements, required equipment for day/night/IFR, inoperative equipment, minimum equipment lists, biennial checks of the altimeter, static system, and transponder. The discussion moves onto multigengine aerodynamics: V- speeds, effects of CG and gross weight, critical engine, engine-failure checklist, rejected takeoffs, accelerate- stop and accelerate-go charts, zero-sideslip configuration with an inoperative engine.

It's noon and the IME groundschool is over. Compared with my previous groundschool experiences elsewhere, this class has really gone by fast. I have the feeling that we've covered an awful lot of material in a very short time. I haven't yawned once.

Back in the Box

There's barely time for a doughnut and a cup of coffee before my pre-sim briefing starts. Jay advises that today we'll be shooting approaches to the Salina KS airport, so I pull out the Jepp plates and study them. Pretty straightforward. I tell Jay I'm ready, and we walk to the sim.

Strap in, engine start, ready to copy. Cleared to the SLN VORTAC, then via the SLN 090 radial to the 19 nm DME arc transition to the ILS 35 approach. The takeoff roll is straight down the centerline (amazing!) and liftoff is normal. I accelerate to 120 knots and am just reaching for the gear handle when I see/feel a wrenching yaw to the left. I chop both throttles, pitch down, full flaps, and land on the remaining runway. "Nice," says Jay. He repositions me for another takeoff.

Nothing quits this time. I depart the VORTAC on the 090 radial, intercept the DME arc, and manage a nice arc. I intercept the localizer and proceed inbound. Glideslope intercept...gear down...outer marker...start timer...contact tower...looking good.

Not So Fast!

Thump. Thum-thump. Thum-thum-thum-thum... Props falling out of synch. Yesterday Jay deducted points because I took 15 seconds to recover from an engine failure. Okay, let's show him how fast I can really do it! Everything forward, gear up, flaps up, Vyse, identify-verify-feather-secure. Done! Five seconds flat!! There's just one problem: I'm now 1,000 feet above the glideslope and the approach is hopelessly botched. I call missed approach, declare an emergency, and request direct LOM for another ILS. As I set up for the second approach, Jay chastises me. "You've got the engine-failure checklist down pat," he say, "now temper it with judgement and situational awareness." Tail between my legs, I concentrate on flying a good engine-out ILS approach to minimums and a landing. Jay suggests a five-minute coffee break.

Back in the sim, Jay has me do the VOR approach this time. Just past the VOR inbound, an engine fails again. This time I am able to identify-verify-feather-secure while continuing the descent to MDA. The approach and single-engine landing is successful.

Rejected Takeoff

Takeoff from SLN runway 35. Takeoff roll is smooth...rotate...accelerate to Vyse...gear up. At about 150' AGL, Jay fails the left engine. There's still 9,000' of the 13,000' runway ahead of me. So I chop the throttles, pitch down, and dump full flaps. Plenty of runway remains at the flare. CRASH, BANG, SCREECH! Oh damn! My first-ever gear-up landing in 20-odd years of flying. I'm absolutely devastated. "Your decision to land was the right one," Jay says, "but on a long runway like this you should probably have delayed retracting the gear until landing was no longer an option."

We do another takeoff, a well-executed ILS approach, and a nice landing. Jay says it's time to quit for today. We retire to the office for the post-sim briefing. Jay writes all 1's on my scoring sheet for today, although I certainly don't feel as if I deserved after my blown ILS and my gear-up landing. I'm just starting to comprehend how poorly my conventional in-aircraft multiengine training prepared me to handle critical engine emergencies. Jay signs off ICC and BFR endorsements in my logbook. He explains that, due to a scheduling conflict, I will have a different simulator instructor for my final sim session tomorrow.

It's 3:00 pm so I decide to put in a few more hours in the self-learning room. I complete the videodisk cockpit resource management course, view a few more videotapes, and leave for the hotel at 5:30 pm.

Crack of Dawn

Monday, the last day of my three-day course. I report at 6:00 am after not nearly enough sleep. Today is going to be different: sim in the morning, groundschool in the afternoon. I have a new sim instructor, John. I also have a "sim partner" today: Nick is a career pilot who flies Cessna 404 Titan turboprops for the U.S. Customs Service in Texas. Nick will fly the first two hours in the sim (with me observing from the right seat), and then we'll trade seats for the last two hours.

During the pre-sim briefing, John tells us to study our Hutchinson KS approach plates, and warns us that a major emphasis today will be partial-panel work.

Watching Nick

My right-seat time observing Nick fly is fascinating, and far more valuable than I ever expected. Considering Nick's high time and professional pilot status, I am amazed to see him experience various navigational disorientation problems (missing step-down fixes, messing up holding pattern entries, and such). Positional awareness has always been the strongest aspect of my flying, and I virtually NEVER make the sort of mistakes I saw Nick make.

On the other hand, I find Nick's mastery of the flight controls to be awesome. The guy is super-smooth. Never over-controls the way I tend to do, particularly partial-panel. And his engine-failure recoveries are unbelievably quick and unfailingly correct. It's as if he simply bypasses "identify" and "verify" and goes directly to "feather" and "secure". Nick always seems to know instantly and instinctively which engine has failed without a millisecond of conscious effort. His handling of engine-outs is an inspiration to me, as I never even imagined that such a level of proficiency was possible.

Nick handled takeoff emergencies so flawlessly that John decided to move from Hutchinson KS to Chicago/Midway, taking off on a 5000' runway with a huge hangar right off the departure end and city skyscrapers beyond that. The sim is set up for full gross weight and 80 degrees OAT. On takeoff, precisely at the moment that Nick raises the gear switch at 50' AGL, John fails the left (critical) engine. Not only does Nick recover successfully (in perhaps three seconds), but he runs single-engine slalom on the skyscrapers and successfully circles to land at Midway on the opposite-direction runway. What a performance! Had I not seen Nick do it, I wouldn't have believed it possible.

During the break, I tell Nick how much I envy his handling of engine-outs on takeoff, and ask him what his secret is. What he tells me is a revelation: "When an engine fails on takeoff, there's no time for that 'dead-foot dead-engine' business. If the nose swerves LEFT, I feather the LEFT engine. If the nose swerves RIGHT, I feather the RIGHT. That's all there is to it." Wow! So simple! So obvious! Why didn't anyone ever mention that to me before? Why didn't I think of it myself?

My Turn in the Sim

Back in the sim. I'm now in the left seat and Nick is riding shotgun. I takeoff from Hutchinson and climb to 6000'. The attitude gyro slowly starts to roll over and play dead, then starts to tumble and twitch spastically. My transition to partial panel is smooth and natural. John has me do some climbs, descents, and turns. Then the "HDG" flag appears in the HSI and my heading gyro has failed. John asks for some timed turns and some wet-compass turns. Next I shoot several ILSs and a VOR-DME approach with no gyros. This is *great* practice for me. During one no-gyro ILS approach, an engine fails. I get pretty high on the glideslope while securing the failed engine but manage to get the needles centered again prior to the middle marker.

More approaches. The flaps won't extend. Gyros fail. Flaps and gyros out. Single and double alternator failures. Flaps, gyros, and one engine out. Frankly, I'm amazed. No way could I have handled stuff like this two days ago.

"Okay, that covers my agenda," says John. "Anything in particular you'd like to practice some more?" Yes, yes, yes...I want to learn to handle takeoff emergencies as well as Nick! I confess to John about my gear-up rejected takeoff yesterday with Jay. "Fine," says John, "let's work on it."

Takeoff Emergencies

I do nearly twenty takeoffs from Hutchinson. John fails one engine or the other at various points shortly after liftoff...generally just as I reach for the gear switch (in which case I land straight ahead) or just as I've raised the gear switch (in which case I'm committed to fly). I find that Nick's swerve/feather trick works superbly...I'm feathered and secured within a few seconds, and not once to I pull the wrong throttle, prop, or mixture. I tell John I think I'm ready to try Midway.

To make a long story short, I manage to do everything just right and duplicate Nick's feat that seemed so insurmountable just two hours ago. As I bring the airplane to a stop on Midway's opposite-direction runway, I feel a "rush" that's hard to describe.

Post-sim debrief. John scores me all 1's. I thank both John and Nick for one of the most memorable experiences of my aviation career.

Simulator vs. Aircraft

Today's sim session has had a profound impact on me. Until now, I had no idea just how inadequate my previous in-aircraft training was in preparing me to handle real-life emergencies. This was not any fault of my flight instructors, but simply an inherent limitation of in-aircraft training.

It is impossible to experience realistic failure situations while training in the aircraft. You see the instructor pull the throttle or the mixture, or slap the no-peek over the instrument...there's none of the "What the heck is going on here?" that characterizes real emergencies. As for engine failures at liftoff, you simply cannot practice those in the aircraft at all.

I am now quite certain that, had I experienced an actual engine failure immediately after liftoff during the last 7 months, I WOULD BE DEAD NOW. I am now absolutely convinced that some training in a sophisticated multiengine simulator should be a mandatory prerequisite to obtaining a multiengine rating. If the FAA won't make this happen, then the insurance companies should do it.

I stop into the office of Bruce Landsberg, marketing manager for FlightSafety's piston-engine training programs. I want to find out about FlightSafety's "continuing proficiency program". Bruce explains that for a flat annual fee of $3,825, I can avail myself of FlightSafety's recurrent training as often as I wish. The $2,450 one-time tuition that I've already paid will be fully credited against the annual fee. It sounds like a great deal for anyone who wants to take this training twice a year or more. I have convinced myself that ongoing simulator-based recurrent training is as crucial to my ability to operate my 310 safely as the annual inspection. I check with my wife by telephone, then sign up for the annual contract.

Systems Groundschool

All that remains in my three-day curriculum is the Cessna 310R systems groundschool. Today, I'm the only student in this class, so it's six hours of one-on-one with my systems instructor, Dennis. Using slides, exploded diagrams, cutaway models and similar aids, Dennis takes me through every subsystem of my airplane in excruciating detail.

I learn all about scavenge pumps, pressure-ratio controllers, upper-deck air, shower-of-sparks magnetos, and elastomeric alternator clutches. A cutaway propeller hub and governor prove fascinating...I had no idea how many parts were required to make a full-feathering prop do its thing. I thought I really knew the 310 electrical system, but Dennis walks me through every conceivable combination of failed alternators, popped breakers, warning lights, and voltammeter indications...and it turns out there is quite a bit I didn't understand. He also takes me through the detailed landing gear system schematic until I have the function of every relay and microswitch down pat. We cover the 310's baroque fuel system with equal thoroughness. Then the combustion heater. The de-icing and anti-icing equipment. I have a million questions, and Dennis answers them all. This guy really knows twin Cessnas inside-out.

Finally, it's 5:30 pm and the course is over. The last three days have been fascinating, grueling, exciting, exhausting, thrilling. I sense that my FlightSafety experience has been truly a watershed event in my flying career...ranking right up there with my Private, Instrument, and CFI checkrides. I know that I have now attained a level of understanding and mastery of my airplane that puts me in the 99th percentile of all piston- twin pilots.

I think back about my initial apprehensions about taking this course. I've gotten my money's worth from this course...without a doubt. And I actually managed to go head-to-head with the pros without making a fool of myself!

Epilogue

That was in 1987. Since then, I've continued to renew my annual FlightSafety contract, and have returned for recurrent training about three times a year. My proficiency has continued to improve. In 1989, I earned the coveted FlightSafety Gold Proficiency Card which is awarded to contract students who meet certain proficiency requirements and demonstrate the ability to perform to ATP checkride standards. The Pro Card must be renewed every eight months, and I've continued to keep mine up.

My insurance company is very happy about the fact that I train several times a year at FlightSafety. My insurance coverage is now $5 million smooth plus all-risks hull, and my premiums are remarkably cheap. But even if they weren't, I'd continue to train at FlightSafety. I feel that anyone who is unwilling to devote the time and money it takes to get frequent simulator-based recurrent training would be much better off not flying a twin. I don't think there's any other way to achieve the level of proficiency required to operate such an aircraft safely.

Like everything else, FlightSafety's rates have increased over the years, but modestly. Between 1987 and 1995, the cost of my annual contract has gone up from $3.825 to $4,200.

FlightSafety offers simulator-based piston-twin training for Beech Barons and Dukes, Cessna 310/340/400- series, and Piper Navajos and Aerostars, plus piston-single training for Bonanzas, Cessna 210s, and Mooneys. For more information about any FlightSafety program, call (800) 227-5656.