G-IV Type Rating, Day 18

This was our finest day of (fake) flying yet. The difference? A new instructor we were assigned — a former military pilot named Norm. Easygoing, friendly, and truly interested in teaching, Norm was a pleasure to work with. He shared his knowledge about the airplane and wasn’t just checking off boxes on a form.

A pleasant demeanor does wonders for the learning environment. It creates an atmosphere where students are not afraid to ask questions or seek clarification when necessary. With other instructors, I might just let a question go because of the manner in which it is likely to be answered. With an instructor like Norm, however, you can be assured before the issue is even raised that it will be addressed as a conversation among professional peers.

To be sure, the job at hand is a serious one, and there are things which must be accomplished during every classroom and/or sim session, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process.

The good stuff started as soon as he entered the room. The day always starts with a pre-flight briefing, and this one was communicated so clearly and concisely that I could imagine the maneuvers while he described them. Everything was thoroughly explained, the session ran on time, and there were no surprises. First day I’ve experienced like that in this program. The other instructors are certainly knowledgeable, but as anyone who’s ever worked in the educational field can tell you, there are teachers, and there are teachers.

This was the “hot weather day”, meaning high altitude airports and high atmospheric temperatures. Aviators refer to this as high density altitude. We flew out of Denver, with an altitude of about 5,800 feet (the mile high city, right?). The 35 degree (C) air temperature produced a thin atmosphere akin to what you’d find on a normal day at 9,500 feet. You’re nearly two statute miles above sea level before you even taxi away from the ramp.

Now, the G-IV doesn’t mind those conditions at all… unless an engine fails. Then you might only get a 500 fpm climb rate if you’re at maximum gross weight. Which we were. And you’re surrounded by mountains. And, as can only be seen in a simulator, the area somehow was filled with ground fog and clouds which rose up to the flight levels. A challenging environment, but nothing a properly trained pilot shouldn’t be able to handle.

The Level D simulator creates highly realistic visuals, sounds, and movements. These can be seen very clearly during the windshear encounter. We got one on takeoff and one on final approach. It actually gave me shivers to push the power levers forward and take off into that thunder and lightning. At night, no less. The only time the towering cumulonimbus clouds could be seen was when the lightning struck. And that was fairly often.

The windshear encounter was a downburst of about 5,000 fpm, and even with the high density altitude, the aircraft was able to maintain level flight with full flaps and the landing gear down. To do that, however, I had to pitch up 25 degrees right to the edge of a stall and push the engines well past their temperature and RPM redlines.

It’s surprisingly difficult to push the power levers that far forward, even when your life depends on it. It’s not a physical difficulty, but a psychological one. We’re trained not to do it when flying turbine equipment, lest we destroy a million-dollar engine. But if that’s the only thing keeping you from pancaking into the ground, well, you do what you have to do. The engine is more than happy to run there, but all the gauges turn red, warning alerts are heard, and ominous messages like “ENGINE EXCEEDENCE” and “EXCEEDENCE RECORDED” appear.

Speaking of simulators, at lunch I snapped this photo of a museum relic located in the lobby at Simuflite. It’s a Link trainer. These were built during World War II for use in training allied pilots to fly on instruments. They were the first motion-based flight simulators. Believe it or not, this little blue thing is a direct ancestor of the Learjet “Level C” simulator you see pictured above. In fact, the two devices were both built by the same company — Link!

Back in the G-IV box, another fun maneuver was the no-flaps landing. The landing speeds are, as you might imagine, higher when approaching with the flaps retracted. Add in the high density altitude and you have a recipe for very high ground speeds. High enough, in fact, to push the limits of the tire’s speed rating. Nothing quite like blowing a tire while touching down at a 195 knot ground speed to add a skosh of interest to your day.

The most memorable part of today’s training came during our debriefing. My sim partner mentioned an issue he had been having with a low visibility circling approach. Norm not only took the time to explain his recommended technique for fixing the issue, he asked if we wanted to go back into the simulator and try it! The guy was five minutes away from being done for the day, and he offered to head back into the sim, set the thing up, and let us try it. And we did — for an hour and a half.

Norm was definitely dedicated to our success in the program, and it paid off for us. The circling approaches worked perfectly and are now the lowest stress item on our list.

Tomorrow we’ll have a new instructor in the sim — our fifth. If you include the three guys we had in the classroom, that’s eight different people. I’m not sure I’m a fan of that sort of thing. It takes a while for students and instructors to get to know one another. As I mentioned at the top, the comfort level students have with those who teach them will affect the progress they make in their learning. It’s not a factor you’ll see noted in any syllabus, but it’s as real as any other aspect of flight training. In an ideal world, anyone could have any instructor and if they’re all standardized, the student will progress at the same pace.

Unfortunately we don’t live in that ideal world. We live in this one.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 16-17

I don’t know who that guy flailing around aimlessly in the cockpit yesterday was, but I’m happy to report someone better showed up today.

There are a few reasons for the improvement. First of all, the sim sessions aren’t evenly split between the two pilots. Whoever starts off in the left seat tends to get more time there. I’d say it ends up being about a 60/40 split. Eventually it all evens out because the person starting out in that seat alternates from day to day. Yesterday it was my sim partner who got more time there, today it was me. Second, the instructor started us out with the engines running and all the pre-takeoff checklists completed. That provided at least another 25 minutes of breathing room.

I flew seven approaches, four landings, and three missed approaches in about two hours and fifteen minutes:

  • ILS PRM 27L at SFO
  • LDA PRM 28R at SFO
  • NDB 24R at CYHU
  • LOC BC 6L at CYHU
  • ILS 6L at CYUL
  • ILS 6L at CYUL again
  • LOC 6L at CYUL

It was just what the doctor ordered: repeated opportunities to work on the standard operating procedures for takeoffs, engine failures, single engine and two engine missed approaches. We also saw an engine fire, flameout, APU fire, rejected takeoff, and other abnormalities scheduled for the last session.

Gulfstream claims there are no “memory items” for this airplane. However, I’m starting to wonder if this is more marketing hyperbole than reality. It might better be said that there are few memory items for the G-IV. A memory item is a procedure which must be performed without reference to a checklist or manual, usually because of the severity of the emergency and the need for an immediate response from the flight crew.

A good example would be rapid depressurization of the cabin. Gulfstream jets have these beautiful, large oval windows in the cabin — I think it’s one of the greatest features of the airplane, and much better than the small vertically oriented windows in many other jets. The windows provide a panoramic view of the world outside and reduce the feeling of claustrophobia. They also allow a generous amount of sunlight into the cabin and give jet it’s signature look. I really love those windows!

Well let’s say one of them blows out while you’re flying at 45,000 feet. The pressure vessel would almost instantly depressurize, leaving only a few seconds of useful consciousness for the flight crew before they pass out. There’s no time to be pulling out a checklist or consulting the Quick Reference Handbook. You must immediately put on the oxygen mask and initiate the emergency descent procedure from memory. Eight to 10 degrees pitch down, power idle, deploy the speed brake at Vmo/Mmo, etc.

Gulfstream’s claim of no memory items leaves me confused at times. Perhaps I’m just stuck on a minor semantic point. In ground school, we watched a video of a flight crew responding to an engine fire by running through a QRH checklist. But after landing today, we were given an APU fire and when I called for the checklist, the instructor told us to just shut down the APU (although it should do that on it’s own when a fire is detected), close the APU air inlet door with the master switch, deploy the fire bottle, then switch the cabin outflow valve manually to full open.

I understand his rationale and agree with his reasoning — it’s not the instruction which confused me. It’s the conflict between doing this from memory and the vaunted claim of “no memory items”. Perhaps I take thing too literally.

Today was listed as our “cold weather” day. We didn’t do too much associated with those conditions beyond basic cowl and wing anti-ice. The SAT temperature was -15C, so the engine cowl anti-ice was on the whole time. The Gulfstream IV has a few limitations on the wing anti-icing — basically no takeoff or go-around with the autothrottles engaged when it’s on. Not a big deal, but that limitation does come into play at a very busy time, and we managed to remember it.

In comparing our sim session with that of our classmates, we realized they were given an icy runway. We weren’t. They used the QRH charts for cold weather compensation on their approaches. We didn’t. They ran the engines at 85% LP for one minute prior to takeoff to shed any ice from the fan blades. We didn’t. Okay, that last items is not always required. But it would have been nice to see those things. Alas, with the “to do” list we faced, our cold weather day wasn’t quite as focused on… well, cold weather. I’m sure our sim sessions expose us to things the other crew isn’t seeing.

After the break, I jumped into the right seat and we started over from the beginning. About 40 seconds after takeoff, we heard a loud bang, felt a sharp jolt as the box instantly stopped moving, and the everything went black. My sim partner asked, “What did I do??”. My first thought was mid-air collision or bird strike, but the instructor replied that the simulator had malfunctioned. Just about then, the hydraulics brought the sim back down to level. We were dead in the water.

It took 20 minutes and a tech from Simuflite’s help desk to come out and reboot the thing before we could take off again. I felt bad for the guy. He was already short on time, and now this ate up about 10-15% of what he had left. Once the mysterious black boxes were reset, however, he flew admirably for the rest of the session.

After watching him fly for the next hour, I realized what I like about the way he operates: the more intense things get, the calmer he becomes. Even with an engine on fire and performing a single engine missed approach, he’s very slow and methodical with every move, every word he says. It’s completely counter-intuitive to behave that way. When the fire bell is ringing and the Crew Alert System is filling the screen in front of you with blinking red messages, the natural tendency is to do something now. And he did. But slowly, at a smooth, steady pace with the wheels in his head clearly turning before any buttons were pushed, any commands given, any responses to checklists provided. As a result, he made no mistakes.

Fighting human nature isn’t easy, but I believe in this scenario it’s the key to success. My goal for the next sim session is respond in a similar fashion. We’ll see how it goes.

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…