Recurrent Training Center (RTC)

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When AVweb's publisher recently went through three days of recurrent training at Recurrent Training Center in Champaign, Illinois, he found it a bit different from other simulator training programs he'd tried, with strong emphasis on flying realistic X-C scenarios and coping with real-world weather and emergency situations. RTC offers excellent sim-based IFR refresher training for both singles and twins, and at significantly lower prices than what the big name sim training companies charge.

It was a cool, not quite cold, day for my flight from Champaign, Illinois to Chicago's Midway airport. The performance charts indicated that I would be airborne in about 2,200 feet at close to gross weight. With the passenger load I was carrying, I had enough fuel to fly to MDW, then on to Milwaukee (the alternate) and then for about another hour; slightly more than what was required by the FARs.

Weather at MDW was 600-2 and forecast to stay that way for the rest of the day. Champaign weather was almost the same and the enroute forecast looked like it was going to be a routine flight. Winds aloft were not favorable, but icing was not in the forecast or noted in any pilot reports.

simulatorAfter takeoff everything looked fine except for a circuitous departure to the airway and the groundspeed indicated stronger than forecast winds aloft. Chicago approach issued a short hold then we were vectored towards MDW. Fuel was a concern at this point as I had used up any extra with the holds and headwinds...if I was going to consider Milwaukee it ought to be now. The MDW weather was still 600-2 so I decided that to stay with the original destination. Alternates are fine, as long as the option of going there remains open. As I learned on this flight, at some time the alternate option goes away.

approach lightsThe ILS to runway 6 was working out just fine. The radar controller had nailed the intercept for me and 69N was now inside the marker, gear down and neatly tracking the glideslope. At about 1000 feet AGL, but still in the overcast, the tower advised that the King Air in front of me had taxied into a snowbank and would I please climb to 2300 feet on the published missed approach. By the way, call departure on 123.8.

Minimum Fuel

I was starting to get concerned about fuel. I no longer had enough to get to Milwaukee and make more than one or two full approaches, but if I was going to go there I had to go now. Climb to 2800 and turn to 360. I elected to stay with MDW, but I advised the controller that I was now at minimum fuel. This meant that if there were going to be more delays I needed to know about them and while declaring minimum fuel doesn't get you any priority, it does let the people on the ground know that you can't take many more delays.

Back around for the next try, not quite as good an intercept but I was tracking steadily on the localizer and down the glideslope when both needles centered and both flags came on. No localizer, no glideslope. I switched NAV2 to the ILS frequency and confirmed that there was no navigation signal. "Missed approach", I told the tower, "there is no ILS". The tower confirmed that a snowplow on the runway had inadvertently "plowed" the ILS antenna and that it would be some time before it was fixed.

I was now very concerned about fuel. My ability to go to any alternate except ones very nearby was gone, I had enough to make a few more approaches but I was uncomfortable with the situation. "69N is declaring an emergency and I would like an ILS to another runway", I transmitted. I had about 30 minutes of fuel left, far too little in IFR conditions; I wanted down now with no further delays. "Roger 69N, you are cleared for the ILS runway 3 approach, you are number one for the field, turn right to 270 and maintain 2000 feet until established, RVR runway 3 is now 4000 feet", the tower replied. I was feeling better already even if the visibility was dropping.

runwayAs I turned inbound toward the marker, my heading suddenly slewed sharply to the right...the right engine had failed. I was very busy now: identify and feather the failed engine, track the localizer, intercept the glideslope, secure the engine, and do not miss this approach! "69N has lost the right engine," I reported to ATC.

The right engine of my Aerostar has the only engine-driven hydraulic pump, but fortunately, 69N is equipped with an electrically-driven auxiliary pump that should let me lower the gear. Finally, I broke out, got the lights in sight, and put down the gear handle when I felt landing was assured. Ah, three greens! Finally I was on the ground with less than 15 minutes of fuel remaining. That was too close for comfort...

Intense...And All Too Real

As 69N rolled to a stop, I took a deep breath...and the instructor turned up the lights in the simulator. It seemed all too real and had been very intense, troubleshooting one problem after another while hand-flying the airplane in solid IFR conditions. This was the kind of session that felt different from my earlier simulator training at other training facilities.

RTC's program starts like most others: you practice standard IFR procedures including holds, all kinds of approaches, unusual attitude recoveries and engine failures in all modes of flight. But once you feel comfortable in the sim, the instructor shifts to various realistic X-C scenarios, one of which I just described above.

Another scenario included lost communications while I was on a vector for an ILS in the mountains. Continuing on the vector would leave you headed toward some very high terrain. You had to realize that something was wrong, you were on your own, and you'd better intercept the localizer and track it inbound rather than continuing as cleared.

Most simulator courses help you gain proficiency in the mechanics of IFR flight, but here at RTC they also introduce the real-world weather and emergencies in a very realistic manner.

Classroom Training

classroomIn addition to the simulator training, there are audio-visual aids used to teach weather avoidance, FARs, procedures and all kinds of computations from weight and balance to navigation. You also complete a systems workbook for the type of aircraft you fly, and classroom sessions go over all the major systems of your aircraft.

RTC 's facility in Champaign is modest but functional. There are two simulators that can be configured as either single or multi-engine airplanes, along with two small classrooms. There are a couple of hotels just down the road with courtesy cars to take you to and from school. The airport (CMI) is almost within walking distance.

By the way, RTC's boss, John Kileen, is also a tower controller CMI when he isn't teaching or making videos, so don't be bashful about telling the tower why you are coming to Champaign!

I spent three intense days at RTC, and came away with exactly the feeling I wanted from my annual recurrent training: confidence. When things get tough in the cockpit, as they did for me once shortly after I attended recurrent training at another facility, it was my confidence that I could handle the deteriorating situation that made the difference. We landed safely with only some extra dampness under the arms to show for it. Regular recurrent training is essential for safe flying, and too many general aviation pilots don't take adequate advantage of it.

Realism At Rock-Bottom Prices

While there are certainly other firms that offer great sim training (and fancier facilities), Recurrent Training Center gets the job done at rock-bottom prices, and gives you more than your money's worth in challenging, intense, high-quality training that someday could save your life. For example, the tuition for my three-day multiengine IFR recurrent training program was $950, less than half of what a comparable course would cost at FlightSafety International. Tuition for single-engine courses are somewhat lower. RTC also offers annual recurrent training contracts, initial training and transition training.

If you have been thinking about simulator training, here's your chance to do it without taking out a second mortgage to pay for it. With RTC's very reasonable tuition rates, there is no excuse to put it off.