With the coming of the very light jets (VLJs), I've had many folks ask me just what jet type-rating training is like. Although it's hard to evaluate the programs currently under development, there is a general format they will all have to follow: the Practical Test Standard, or PTS, provided by the FAA for the conduct of aircraft type ratings. The PTS for type ratings is the same as the one followed for ATP practical tests and can be found online here (as a 150 Kb Adobe PDF file).
Your type-rating training will typically begin with instruction in the aircraft systems and their normal, abnormal and emergency operations. This training may be given in a classroom -- as is traditionally done by training providers such as FlightSafety International and SimuFlite -- or may be done as distance learning (either Web-based or media-based) as contemplated by Eclipse Aviation and United Airlines. At any rate, this systems training will be about a week's worth of study and will include weight and balance and performance lessons in addition to the lessons on all the aircraft systems.
Your knowledge of the aircraft systems will be tested during the oral portion of the practical test and again evaluated by observing your operation of systems during the flight portion. (See Section 1 of the ATP/Type Rating PTS.) In fact, the systems testing -- along with weight and balance and performance -- is all you will be evaluated on for the oral portion of the practical test. You can relax a bit and not worry about all those questions about airspace, minima, and FARs. You'll still have to demonstrate working knowledge of these items in flight when you encounter them, but it won't be on the oral.
Systems knowledge is important to your ability to make proper and timely decisions in flight. Both Al Haynes (UAL 232 over Sioux City, Iowa) and David Cronin (UAL 811 -- over the Pacific) credit their ability to handle the extreme emergencies they found themselves in partially to their understanding of the aircraft systems. There were no checklists and no established procedures for the malfunctions they dealt with. They called on the sum of their aeronautical experience and their systems knowledge to cope with the extremely crippled aircraft they piloted. Both pilots made the best of what many would have thought to be insurmountable odds and saved lives.
You don't have to know how to build the airplane, but you do have to know how things work together and what the ramifications of any failures might be. Systems training is moving away from the emphasis on memorization of temperatures and pressures that was at the center of training in years past. With all the knowledge that a pilot needs to accumulate to operate today's aircraft in the modern airspace system, cluttering brain cells with meaningless bits of trivia is counterproductive. All those numbers may be good for winning beers in the bar after class is over, but they are of no use in the day-to-day world of flying. Manufacturers paint green arcs and red lines on gauges for a reason. If instant recall of a number will not save your life or aircraft, you shouldn't need to memorize it.
Many students are dismayed by the amount of systems information to be absorbed for the typical type rating. The perception is somewhat misleading, however. Many general aviation airplanes have systems every bit -- and sometimes more so -- as complex as those of jet aircraft. Unfortunately, the information given to the pilots for piston aircraft is not nearly as complete as that provided for jet aircraft. Contrast the Cessna 421 -- especially the earlier ones -- with the Cessna Citation. The Citation's systems are much simpler than that of its piston cousin. If you go on to get additional type ratings you'll also find out that the first one is the hardest. After all, there are just so many variations to a fuel system! And cheer up, there's no FAA knowledge test requirement for a type rating.
During your simulator training (or flight training, if you're doing this all in the airplane) you'll start slow -- the first session is usually a get acquainted session so you can get used to the feel of the controls and the flows necessary to accomplish the various checklists. You'll also have the opportunity during this session to experience power response in a jet. For piston pilots used to instant power when the throttle is pushed forward, jets take a little getting used to. This is where it's very much a numbers game and what you'll need to do is set the power setting known to give you the result you want and wait. Jets don't seem to do anything in a hurry except cruise.
During subsequent sessions, which are typically two hours in duration, you'll experience various system malfunctions while flying maneuvers totally with reference to instruments. If you're getting a type rating in a jet that requires a crew of two for normal operations, your simulator sessions will be two hours in each seat for a total time of four hours. That can be an extremely tiring four hours, because there is rarely any time with nothing going on.
Depending upon the type of training done -- traditional maneuvers-based or newer scenario-based -- your remaining flights will be filled with either every combination of bells, buzzers and lights coming on in the cockpit, or many subtle and not-so-subtle decisions to make. Or you may encounter a combination of the two. No matter which method is employed (and readers know my preference), the aim of the training is to get you successfully through the practical test and, more importantly, to make you a safe jet pilot.
After the completion of your simulator or flight training, you'll be faced with the dreaded checkride. I sympathize. I get the worst case of checkitis known to modern man, even after all the checkrides I've taken in my career. Perhaps it's because for most of those rides my job was in jeopardy every time the Feds got in the airplane. That can make for a case of nerves. I was usually OK once the engines were started, however.
One of the reasons for tension on the checkride is a misunderstanding about what constitutes unsatisfactory performance. Each task sets forth the tolerances required to meet the minimum standard of the task. Almost every candidate I have questioned on what constitutes unsatisfactory performance will tell me that deviating even one iota (whatever that is) outside those tolerances will result in a notice of disapproval. That's not what the PTS says. The PTS definition of unsatisfactory performance states, in part:
"Consistently exceeding tolerances stated in the TASK Objective, or failure to take prompt, corrective action when tolerances are exceeded, is indicative of unsatisfactory performance. The tolerances represent the performance expected in good flying conditions ..."
Nobody is expected to fly perfectly, but everyone is expected to recognize and correct errors. Just relax a bit and you'll probably do a better job.
Your checkride may be given in a simulator. There is a table in the back of the PTS that will tell you which tasks are required to be given in flight and which can be evaluated in a sim. Your whole checkride may be given in a simulator if it is a Level C or Level D. If you have a previous jet type rating, you can take the whole ride in the sim and receive an unrestricted type rating. If you don't have a previous type rating (or meet other requirements of FAR 61.63) you can still take your whole check in the simulator, but you will have a restriction placed on your pilot certificate requiring 15 or 25 hours of supervised operating experience before you can act as pilot in command. Again, consult 61.63 for the exact requirements here.
The checkride, as traditionally accomplished, is nothing more than a strict instrument ride. All maneuvers will be done solely by reference to instruments. A typical ride will start with a normal takeoff and area departure to the practice area to accomplish the airwork required. You'll need to do the imminent stall recoveries, steep turns (at least 180 degrees in each direction at 45 degrees of bank) and an emergency descent procedure. Your first engine failure/shutdown will probably come shortly after the airwork is complete.
Return to the airport will involve an area arrival and an approach -- probably culminating in a missed approach procedure to a holding pattern. You'll do several other approaches -- one circling, another non-precision, and a landing from an ILS. You'll do a V1 cut-and-go and an aborted takeoff. You'll also do a no-flap or partial flap approach and landing and an aborted landing.
As you've probably discovered through your training, jets are easy to fly -- easier than most piston twins. You don't have P-factor to worry about, there is no critical engine, and you don't have to worry about shock cooling if you pull the throttles to idle at altitude. In the event of an engine failure, if you do nothing but keep the airplane flying along its intended path, you'll probably be OK. There's none of the "identify-verify-feather" madness, and a failed engine won't cause you altitude and airspeed problems if not promptly secured as would happen with props.
Jets have far less vibration -- in fact vibration in a jet usually signals a severe problem -- so parts don't wear out as quickly. Pitch plus power (plus configuration) equals performance. This is true in all airplanes, but it's a lot easier to accomplish in jets. Flying jets is very much a numbers game. You'll develop a set of power settings that will work in almost any situation for you. Plug in a predetermined power setting and you'll get predictable performance. This allows you to set power in the jet and leave it be. You won't be adjusting power nearly as much as you do in pistons -- in fact you'll want to avoid that because of the inherent response lag that jets have. You can get 180 degrees out of phase with the machine very quickly if you start jockeying the power.
Jets really are easier to fly than props, but there are a few things you'll have to be aware of that are potential traps for new jet pilots. Because you're sitting above the clouds in the sunshine, it's easy to lose track of what may be happening to the weather below you. Since jets have longer ranges than most props, you have the potential of crossing two or more weather systems. You'll have to remind yourself to keep track of the weather en route and at your destination. It is nice, however, to be up out of most of the soggy bumps at the lower altitudes.
You'll have to be aware of the differences in range at various altitudes. The typical turbofan flown at FL290 has 60% of the range it would have if flown at FL410. If, for whatever reason, you cannot reach your planned cruise altitude, you'll have to make alternate plans. Be aware of this and make any diversion decisions early while you have plenty of fuel and, therefore, plenty of choices. Your options narrow for every minute that goes by.
Be aware that it takes time to come down and slow down. As I said earlier, about the only thing a jet does quickly is cruise. Everything else takes planning and patience. As a rule of thumb, multiply the number of thousands of feet you need to descend by three and this will give you the number of miles you will need for a normal descent. If you're at FL370 and going into Chicago Midway, you'll have about 36,000 feet to lose. Multiply that by three and you get 108. Start your descent about 108 miles out. And don't forget that you have to slow to 250 KIAS before descending below 10,000 feet MSL. (I'm amazed at the number of times the 250-knot speed limit gets violated. One well-known pilot can be observed to be above 300 knots most of the time going through 10,000 feet. He's been at this long enough to have enough practice, but he always ends up too fast. It takes planning, but slowing the airplane is just good form -- and the law!)
You'll be operating in regimes that will be unfamiliar to you and you'll have to develop the internal database to deal with new weather phenomena, new visual illusions and a new speed and altitude regime, but it's not anything beyond the capabilities of a motivated pilot. It would be an excellent idea -- and probably required by your insurance -- to take a mentor with you for several flights until you get the hang of things. Have fun, though. Flying jets is just about as good as it gets.
For more From The CFI, check out the rest of Linda's articles.