G-IV Type Rating, Day 15

As Alec Baldwin famously said in the film State and Main: “So, that happened.”

Yesterday I was feeling pretty good. Today? Not so much. People talk about how quickly and completely that giant video-game-on-steroids can humble even the best pilot, and I got a big fat taste of it this afternoon.

The flight could be described as four hours of not being able to do anything right. I was behind the plane, exceeded the PTS standards, and generally couldn’t get my act together. I felt like Marty McFly hanging on to the back bumper of that car as he was towed around town. Except I’m not a kid hitching a ride on his skateboard, I’m a professional pilot who’s supposed to be in the driver’s seat. The sensation of hanging on to the tail with my bare fingernails is not a pleasant one.

There comes a point when the one’s frustration with the poor performance becomes self-defeating. As an instructor, I tend to think that’s the time to quit for the day. However, that’s not an option when you’re on a fixed schedule. If you’re short on sleep, not feeling well, or just having a bad day, too bad. You have to press on and get as much as possible out of the time you’re allotted.

It was a long slog, let me tell you. The TOGA switch was balky, the avionics and lights in the box were throwing off a lot of heat, and the approach plates clipped on the yoke kept falling off. But those were just minor irritants. You see, I knew what I was supposed to do, what the airplane should be doing. I just couldn’t make it happen. And the harder I tried, the worse it got. The failing was all between the pilot’s ears, and by the time we were done, I was too irritated with myself to give appropriate focus to the debriefing.

I was surprised it turned out that way. The day started out just fine. My sim partner was the first one in the left seat and flew quite nicely, handling the V1 cuts, single engine missed approaches, and system failures properly. That was an ideal way to begin, because it allowed me to watch what he did. I had an opportunity to reinforce what I’d been “chair flying” on my own.

What I hadn’t counted on was how busy I’d be in the right seat. I was either programming the FMS, running an emergency checklist out of the QRH, talking to the air traffic controllers, or configuring the airplane. It left very little time to watch anything.

There are so many training items to accomplish on any given day that the instructor has us running through emergency QRH procedures even as we’re intercepting the final approach course. In real life it wouldn’t work that way. We’d go off somewhere away from the other airport traffic, work on the problem, and then when we’re ready, we’d go do the approach. But due to time constraints, things get quite rushed in the simulator. In addition, my company’s ops specs allow PRM (precision runway monitoring) approaches, so we needed to squeeze a couple of those in. Despite carefully briefing them before the flight, we ran out of time, however, and now the “to do” list for tomorrow is even longer.

After we were done for the day, we debriefed with the other pair of pilots in our class about their flights. They seemed more upbeat about their performance. They also were given quite a few more abnormals to deal with. We didn’t get nearly as many as we expected during our training, which made us wonder if we’re even more under the gun that we think.

Either way, there’s nothing to be done about it right now. It’s time to let go of today’s ugliness — but as anyone who’s had a tough day in the box can tell you, that can be the toughest maneuver of them all.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 13-14

Our class started out with five students (myself included), but now we’re down to four.

It’s not what you’re thinking. Nobody’s dropped out, failed, or been asked to leave.. although that would certainly make for an interesting story.

As with most things in aviation, reality is decidedly more mundane than you might expect if your frame of reference was a film or television show. What happened is that one of our classmates is chief pilot for a Fortune 500 company and his schedule didn’t permit him to take the full three week course all at once. He knew that going in, so the plan was always for him to finish at Simuflite’s Morristown, NJ location in a month or two with one of his company’s other pilots.

I wish the guy luck. One the one hand, he’s got some time to absorb all the information we’ve been fed on the Gulfstream IV, not to mention all the manuals, books, and notes necessary for review. The break might be a blessing in disguise. Getting away from the books for a while can allow long-term memory to absorb the material so that it “sticks”. At least, that’s how it works for me. I suppose it’s also possible he could simply forget a bunch of stuff between now and then, especially since he’s still flying the Falcon 50. From what I could gather, he also has a great deal of administrative responsibility on top of the flying duties.

Yesterday — day 13 — my sim partner and I reviewed everything done on day 12, starting with a cold, dark airplane and running all the checklists necessary to get it ready to taxi. As previously noted, that takes at least 20-25 minutes. We cranked up on the ramp at Stevens Intl. Airport in Anchorage, taxied out and departed with a 600 foot RVR — basically the Part 135 minimums. Then it was on to stalls, steep turns, approaches, missed approaches, and holds, all flown in solid IMC.

With a total of only seven simulator sessions to prepare for the checkride, it might seem a waste to do the same thing twice, especially if there weren’t any big issues the first time around, but “normal procedures” constitutes the majority of the practical test. It’s the basics, and without that, the abnormal procedures certainly won’t go too well.

So far, I’m feeling confident. Communication in the cockpit has been good, and my sim partner’s been helping me out with a word here or there to jog my memory on procedures when required, especially in high workload times such as the two-engine missed approach. The airplane climbs so quickly and the missed approach procedure out of Anchorage calls for a turn at only 600 feet. Plus we’ve gotta get the gear up, flaps up, set the flight guidance panel, switch navigation sources, and so on.

Flying with an experienced G-IV pilot is sort of like having a second CFI. Speaking of which, our instructor yesterday was new. A very nice guy, but we both noticed him texting on his phone at various times throughout our sim session. It’s not the most professional behavior, but we’re letting it slide. If if continues, we may be forced to say something. Aside from that, he’s an interesting guy who goes way back to the days of the 707. He also flew the DC-8, 727, L-1011, and 747. The one thing he apparently never flew? The Gulfstream! He spent 15 years in Saudi Arabia flying for their airline or the royal family. Something like that.

Just before we finished our pre-flight briefing, a Simuflite executive knocked on the door and introduced a guy who wanted to observe our training session. He was a representative of the Saudi Arabian aviation authority (their equivalent of the FAA) and had traveled to the U.S. to perform a routing on-site audit or inspection of companies and instructors approved to train Saudi pilots. The guy is American, but he’s been working in the Middle East for more than 35 years. I can’t imagine being away from home for that long…

Sim days consist of an hour of briefing, four hours in the simulator, and an hour of debriefing. This makes them chronologically shorter than ground school days, yet we walk out of the building far more exhausted. I expect that trend will only continue as the engine failures, fires, electrical failures, icing, and other fun starts coming at us.

Day 14 was “off”. No training scheduled. I did force myself to study for an hour or two, then put the books away. I am trying to get adjusted to the later schedule, but it’s been tough. Tonight I spent an hour and a half in the hotel gym trying to wear myself out enough to sleep a little later. The problem is that ground school always started at 9:00 a.m., and I was usually at Simuflite by 8:30. Our sim days, however, start at 2:00 p.m. and we aren’t out of there until close to 9 p.m.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. These simulators operate around the clock, and it’s not unheard of to get a midnight (or later!) start time. I’ve been told that cargo companies often request late night training schedules to get their pilots into the routine they’ll be using in real life, flying all night and sleeping during the day.

The other two students in our class have the morning shift, starting at 7 a.m. and finishing just as we arrive. They don’t mind it because they’re morning people. Personally, I’m quite happy with 2:30 p.m.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 12

I’ve been getting quite a few e-mails from people about the type rating program. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to answer all of them, but I did want to comment on one particular message. A retired Delta 767 pilot e-mailed me recently to pass along a 2001 AVweb article he thought I’d find interesting. The piece was written by a long-time 747 captain named John Deakin who, after retiring from Japan Airlines, went through the Gulfstream IV type rating program here at Simuflite’s Dallas location.

You can read the article for yourself if you like, but suffice it to say the author did not like the program at all and stated quite clearly that, in his opinion, he had not been properly trained.

Deakin — who’s well known for speaking his mind — later wrote a follow-up piece revealing that the article ruffled so many feathers that the charter company which had been ready to hire him “dropped him like a hot potato”.

Deakin then went even further, saying that in hindsight he’d probably been too hard on the FAA and too easy on Simuflite. Yeow.

I started wondering if the 767 pilot was trying to warn me about some kind of negative repercussion because of my own writing. Perhaps I was just reading too much into it.

I replied:

I’m familiar with Deakin’s articles, that one in particular. I understand where he’s coming from. I also know he paid a big price for writing what he did about his experience, something I think about every time I post an entry.

My goal is just to give people a look at what’s involved with getting a PIC type rating when coming into it without any pre-existing jet experience, not to attack Simuflite or take issue with their training. I just enjoy writing and this seems like a topic which would interest me if I were a reader.

I haven’t had the negative experience that Deakin endured. Sure, it’s a lot of work, and it can be frustrating at times, but that’s part if the deal. They don’t call it “drinking from a fire hose” for nothing, right? :)

You do have to be very careful about what you write on the Web these days, regardless of which industry you’re in. Stuff published on the internet literally lives forever. Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back, can’t erase it. So it pays to think twice before hitting the “publish” button.

I’m of the opinion that it’s equally important to watch what you e-mail and say — even in confidence — to people in the business. Aviation is a very small world, and one way or another, word gets around. Why burn bridges? The guy who’s trying to get a job with your employer today could be the one interviewing you for a job tomorrow.

Exterior of the Gulfstream IV simulator

Anyway, enough about that. Today was the first official sim session, and it went surprisingly well. We’re adding new layers of “realism” to the simulation experience. Wearing seat belts, headsets, tuning radios, pulling circuit breakers, etc.

The biggest change, however, was adding motion. Now that the sim’s hydraulics were on, so it felt like the box was really moving. On takeoff, my checklist slid off the side console and ended up on the floor way behind my seat… just like it would happen in a real aircraft. I don’t know how they do that with only a six degree range of motion…

Of course, it’s not a real aircraft. The inaccuracies are informally referred to as “sim-isms”. There are a few here and there — for example, the nosewheel steering is too sensitive — but for the most part it’s an amazing representation of the real thing.

One sim-ism did get to me a bit. After a few minutes, I starting feeling that there was some sort of disconnect between the way the sim was moving and what my eyes were seeing out the window. Until I got used to it, it almost made me mildly (if you’ll pardon the phrase) motion sick. I’ve never felt anything like motion sickness in an actual airplane, even when performing tumbles, aggravated spins, and other aerobatic maneuvers. But since motion sickness derives from the disconnect between what your eyes see and what your body tells you is happening, it makes sense.

Ready for takeoff on Anchorage's runway 32

The goal for today was to cover “normal operations”. Start up, taxi, takeoff, climb out, hand flying, steep turns, stalls in various configurations, accelerated stalls, a full ILS with missed approach and hold, and a vectored approach to minimums with a full-stop landing. I started off in the right seat, and after about two and a half hours we took a short break, after which the instructor reset the simulator back to takeoff position on runway 32 at Anchorage Int’l. Airport and I flew the whole profile from the left seat.

The Gulfstream IV’s avionics continue to impress me. Despite their early 1980’s design and how antiquated they may seem when compared to the latest PlaneView panels being installed on the G-650s in Savannah, the avionics are still smart enough to fly an entire flight plan, including step downs or VNAV descents on the approach, procedure turns, and holds without any input from the pilot. In addition, the Flight Guidance Computer (aka autopilot) knows the speed limits at various altitudes and will adhere to them automatically. It also knows whether the flaps are deployed, and if they are, will not exceed their speed limitation. Best of all, it slows to the Vref approach speed (+10 knots) as you come up on the final approach fix.

When hand flying, I find myself unconsciously giving a bit of rudder input during turns. Most of my flight time has been hand-flown in aircraft which lack a yaw damper. Even the turbine airplanes were like that. Now, however, it’s vital to keep my feet on the floor when the yaw damper is engaged because there are cautions in the flight manual about damaging the vertical stabilizer if you aren’t careful.

Tomorrow is scheduled to be a review of today’s maneuvers, along with some approaches with a bit more challenge to them. Speaking of approaches, the instructor today told me that the ops specs for the company I’ll be flying for does not include VNAV approaches. After looking at a number of plates, I don’t think that will affect much of anything. Flying an approach with VNAV engaged is still allowed, you just can’t use the LNAV/VNAV minima. But the difference between VNAV and VNAV/LNAV minimums is typically only 20 or 30 feet. One the approach we were using today, the VNAV-only minimums were actually lower.

The learning continues…

G-IV Type Rating, Day 11

Steve and I managed to get three highly coveted hours in the Level D simulator today. The instructor gave us our first dose of system failures and malfunctions. If I recall the full list correctly, before we even took off we’d had a hot start, a start valve which wouldn’t close, an engine failure while starting, a right main boost pump failure, and a hung start.

This was my first opportunity to taxi an aircraft with a nosewheel tiller, so I got some practice with that. I figured out how the thrust reversers work, and honed my technique on the ground spoiler check and takeoff briefing. We managed to get in three approaches, a hold, and Steve — who has a lot of experience on the Gulfstream — performed a short field takeoff and landing when it was his turn to fly.

It was enjoyable, and I certainly gained a lot from the experience. However, I wasn’t totally thrilled with my performance in the box today. For one thing, I didn’t descend from MDA in time to land on the runway, and on the missed approach flows I re-engaged the autothrottles. Within seconds we were 1,500 feet above the assigned altitude and accelerating through 320 knots. Oops.

It will get better, I’m sure. But a performance like that really cuts you down to size quickly. The key to preventing this is to know those flows backwards and forwards. That’s what we worked on after the sim session. I also need to get more sleep!

I am starting to realize that the guy in the right seat has the higher workload in many ways. He’s got to program the FMS, read checklists, make call-outs, and hunt through the QRH for emergency procedures. Ironically, the left seat is where you’re sitting during the checkride, so in some ways the pressure is off co-pilot because he’s not being officially evaluated. Of course, there’s unspoken pressure to support your sim partner when you’re riding shotgun, as he will do with you. The two pilots form a cohesive team, and if the right seat pilot doesn’t do his job properly, it’s not hard to leave the guy going through his checkride hanging out to dry.

My sim partner, Steve, has been outstanding in that regard. He will quietly say a key word under his breath to remind me of something when I need it. It doesn’t happen as often anymore, but there are still times when I get flummoxed on a particular functional check or procedure. He helped me put tabs on the QRH book to more quickly pull up key emergency checklists. He’s always encouraging, and provides real-world tips which also ease my workload in the simulator. And when he reads checklists to me, they’re phrased correctly so I know what needs doing.

At lunch, were were talking about how there are no ‘egos’ in this class. Apparently that can sometimes be a problem (I know, I know — pilots with egos?? Never!). I have to agree, everyone has been friendly, humble, and a team player both in the classroom and the simulator. My worst nightmare? Being assigned a sim partner who didn’t want to work as a crew but instead tried to do everything himself. I’ve heard of guys like that before, and it leads to major trouble every time. CRM (crew resource management) is essential to operating a complex jet like this, especially when the flights are short in duration and filled with malfunctions and emergencies.

Anyway, I’ve been writing a lot and unfortunately not sharing much in the way of artwork. So here are some photos I’ve taken of the Simuflite facility. First, here’s one of the procedures trainers we’ve been working on. This is a backlit mockup of the cockpit, great for finding switch locations, running checklists, and so on. I like this trainer a lot because it has the right and left sidewall panels, something the avionics and IPT trainers are missing.

Here are a couple of photos from the “west wing”. This area of the building contains briefing rooms, avionics and Simfinity computer-based simulators, and of course the large bays with the Level D full-motion simulators.

I didn’t realize this until recently, but CAE — the company which owns Simuflite — also manufacturers many of the simulators. This black beast is an Embraer Phenom 300 simulator, one of CAE’s newer designs. I haven’t seen the interior, but the outside of the box sure looks space-age. This sim is not in use. The door is open and the drawbridge is down.

Embraer Phenom 300 simulator

The grey simulator pictured below is for the Falcon 50. You can see the simulator is in use because the bridge has been raised and the “Motion In Use” red light is on. Everyone who flies the Falcon series seems to love the airplane. Apparently those jets handle like fighter jets. I guess that’s great, but how often do you get to fly it that way? These planes are on autopilot all the time, and even when they’re hand-flown, you can’t be yanking and banking with passengers walking around in the cabin. The Gulfstream, on the other hand, has heavier controls and generally flies like a much larger airplane. Think of it as handling like a truck.

Dassault Falcon 50 simulator in use

Simuflite’s Dallas location is purportedly the world’s largest. I think the building is nearly 500,000 square feet and there must be at least a dozen Level D simulators here. I’ve seen sims for the King Air 200, Hawkers, Falcons, Phenoms, Challengers, and Gulfstreams. I believe the Learjet and Citation simulators are in another part of the building. Bombardier has it’s own entrance over on Glade Rd. where I assume there are additional training assets.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 10

Today marked our last full day of ground school… and what a relief it was to reach that milestone!

Gulfstream IV ground spoiler schematic

The morning was spent reviewing a few specific systems in detail. After lunch the instructor took turns calling each of us up to the front to teach one of the aircraft’s systems to the rest of the class. I’ve always said you don’t really know a subject until you have to teach it to someone else, and boy was I right. After each system was explained, the student/teacher would ask the rest of us various questions. Or we would ask him. I taught the ice & rain protection systems to the class and embarrassingly forgot what the SAT/TAS probe inlet looked like.

Once that was done, we watched a 20 minute video on ILS-PRM (a system for simultaneous parallel approaches to closely spaced runways). Then came a video demonstrating an exterior preflight of the Gulfstream IV. We’d seen in on day 1 of training, but now we’re going to have to explain it on the checkride, and there is a LOT of stuff to check on that walk around. As I understand it, on the checkride oral, the video is played with the sound off, and we have to narrate the items to be checked. That’s about the best you can do without having an actual jet on the premises. I will have to spend some time in the library reviewing that video, because at the moment I doubt I could do more than about 10% of it.

The last hour or two was a mock oral exam. The instructor peppered each of us questions we’re likely to get on the checkride. We must be doing okay, because most things were answered correctly. The best approach to the oral exam seems to be to treat it like a legal deposition. You answer the question, but don’t provide additional information. Any additional detail is just an opportunity to dig yourself into a hole. The examiner will certainly know more about the airplane that you do.

In fact, in a week and a half of ground school, there were only two or three questions the instructor wasn’t able to answer off the top of his head. They have a reserved portion of the whiteboard for unanswered questions which require further research. They call it “the parking lot”. One parking lot question concerned which electrical bus powers the EPMP panel on the overhead console. I believe it turned out to be the left main AC bus. But to even get that answer, the instructor had to go to the folks who teach Gulfstream maintenance classes, and even they didn’t know. It took 20 minutes of pouring over schematics to figure it out.

Class ended around 4:30 p.m., and we adjourned to the cockpit trainers to work on flows, checklists, and button-pushing. We’ll be in the simulator tomorrow and I’ve got to memorize the call-outs for normal takeoffs, go arounds, V1 cuts, and single engine missed approaches. Those are all time-sensitive — especially the two-engine missed approach, because the aircraft climbs so quickly that you’ll blow through a missed approach altitude assignment within a few seconds unless you get the airplane configured and programmed in an expeditious manner.

By 6:00 I hit the wall and simply couldn’t do any more. My sleep patterns haven’t been the best, and I’m a little concerned about getting sick. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if that happened, I suppose, but it’d definitely be a strike against me as there’d be no way to just “take time off”. Once you pull the rip cord on this kind of program, it’s sink or swim.