Reducing the Cost of Flight Training

AOPA Pilot magazine

One of the editors of AOPA Pilot magazine got in touch with me recently to ask if I had any potential article topics for the magazine. I was flattered that someone in his position would even be interested in my thoughts on the matter. I’m nobody special, just one in a long line of aviation-centric writers on the interwebs.

Anyway, I noodled on it for a while and tossed out a few pitches. Some of my suggestions were destined to fall flat — for example, the subject of computers replacing flesh-and-blood pilots in the cockpit. It goes without saying that an article on the phase-out of human pilots might be unpalatable to publications whose primary audience is those very same humans. “Hey, look how quickly you could end up on the street!”

I’ve often thought about how the progress of automation might endanger my career prospects, but I sincerely doubt it’ll make an impact until I’m ready for retirement. Military drones and automated cargo aircraft are one thing, but it’ll be a long time before high-end charter customers — not to mention the Federal Aviation Administration — will be ready to sign off on a conveyance which flies without anyone up front to mind the store.

The AOPA editor related a well-loved joke about passengers being briefed with an announcement that “this is an historic moment in aviation, the world’s first airline flight controlled completely by a computer. Worry not, dear humans, the system has been fully tested, with several layers of built-in redundancy to insure that absolutely nothing can go wrong … nothing can go wrong …. nothing can go wrong … nothing can go wrong.”

Next, I proffered the idea of an article on techniques for reducing the ridiculously high cost of flight training. I know it’s in vogue to say that cost is not a factor in the high student dropout rate, but virtually everyone I’ve spoken to who’s stopped flying (be they a student or a long-time certificated pilot) has told me that there are three reasons for their self-grounding: the cost, the cost, and the cost. It got me thinking about writing an article because many of my ideas for conserving greenbacks differ from those you’ll hear elsewhere.

First off, let me say that there’s no magical technique for reducing the cost to a pain-free level. Unless you go the military route, it’s going to be expensive. It was costly a century ago when Wilbur and Orville were signing the very first pilot certificates, and it’ll be likewise a hundred years from now. The financial investment will always be a bitter pill to swallow. In a perverse way, that makes clearing the hurdle somehow even sweeter when you finally reach the summit.

Having said that, there are some simple techniques students can employ ways to ensure you’re getting the best bang for the buck:

1. Fly frequently. That means three to four lessons per week, if not more. You see, a certain percentage of those lessons will naturally get cancelled due to illness, weather, mechanical issues, work conflicts, etc. So planning 4 lessons per week might net you an average of 3. Maybe less.

People who can only fly once a week will take two to three times as long to earn a certificate because it’s very hard to retain the skill, experience, and information gained from each lesson. Flying frequently is one of the easiest ways to economize, believe it or not. Why don’t more people do it? Ironically, it’s because of the cost. Sixteen lessons a month will eat into your wallet something fierce. By training less frequently, however, you end up spending far more money and time in the end, not to mention raising your odds of dropping out all together because the progress can be frustratingly slow. There’s a lot to be said for momentum, for seeing quick progress, and the excitement, focus, and energy which accompany it.

Can your trainer do this?

2. Fly a tailwheel. A classic airplane like a Cub, Champ, or Citabria will build the highest level of stick-and-rudder skill, and the aircraft themselves tend to be simpler. Unlike most late-model airplanes, there are fewer bells and whistles to deal with so your training time is reduced. Less complexity means less stuff to break. These charming birds also burn little fuel. They’re crazy fun to fly. They are approved for spins (and as regular readers are no doubt aware, I’m a big proponent of spin training) and aerobatics so you can take the unusual attitude training to a more realistic place. If a tailwheel’s not available, a cheap LSA is the next best alternative.

3. Pass the FAA knowledge test in advance. Take a private pilot ground school course online or at a community college where the cost is low. Flight training relies on repetition. By completing your FAA knowledge test (aka “the written”) before jumping into the airplane, you’ll spend less money on ground training from a CFI because you’re learning everything for the second time instead of the first. It also means the knowledge test is out of the way and so is one-third of the FAA testing you’ll need to obtain your certificate.

This is where I learned to fly.

4. Pick a quiet airport. I learned to fly at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, one of the busiest airfields in the country. There are big advantages to training at a busy airport. I’m comfortable with heavily congested patterns, wake turbulence avoidance, complex airspace, flying with highly dissimilar aircraft, etc. But that sort of airport does create longer taxi times, occasional delays, and because it’s in a high-priced metropolitan area, it’s going to cost you more to train there. Getting comfortable with the busier airports can be done once the certificate is completed. If your goal is to obtain your initial pilot certificate for the minimum cost, a quieter home airport can help make that possible.

5. Learn through a club. An equivalent aircraft should be 10-15% cheaper because flying clubs are non-profits. It’s true that without the profit motive, the level of service might not be quite what you’d get at a traditional flight school, but thankfully many flying club instructors are involved in teaching because they love it rather than for the financial remuneration.

6. Lease an aircraft. I’ve had two students who’ve gone this route and it worked out well for both of them. The recent recession has left more than a few aircraft owners with a bird they want to sell, but with prices dropping, oftentimes they can’t move the plane. Meanwhile, they’re still paying for the loan, taxes, hangar, insurance, and maintenance on a depreciating asset.

The upside is that it’s possible to get a great deal on a lease these days. If you’ve taken my advice from item #1 and are ready to train intensively, with the proper terms, leasing an airplane for a couple of months will allow you sufficient time to get it done, and it will remove the need to compete with other renters for flight time in your favorite airplane.

Learn by watching.

7. Ride shotgun. When you’re not taking a lesson, see if you can ride in the back seat while another student is learning. Any instructor will attest to the eye-popping didactic experience you’ll get by simply watching someone else because it’s what they do every day.

From the back seat, you’ll watch someone else botch maneuvers, struggle with navigation, mangle radio calls, and make dozens of other common mistakes. The best part of a “ride-along” is that in some ways, you’ll learn more than the student because you’re not preoccupied with flying the airplane and can process more than he or she can. You’ll also be providing a service to the student: your extra weight will give them a chance to see how the airplane performs with extra weight and a different center-of-gravity location.

Cost? $0.00.

Learning in the 21st century

8. Get the ‘Net. Today you can access hundreds of free online courses from the FAA, AOPA, and others. Initially, web-based offerings were weak and I didn’t recommend them due to low quality, but they’ve improved dramatically in recent years as the importance and utility of the internet has led major aviation organizations to invest in their digital catalog.

Now, you can learn about weather, airspace, aerodynamics, navigation, aircraft systems, and any virtually any other topic you can think of. Totally free! This sort of learning used to require reading from a book, sometimes a very old and dry one. Modern online courses are rich multimedia experiences whose interactive nature and high production values are more likely to keep you engaged. They’re also easier to update than a physical book, so you’re less likely to be receiving out-of-date information.

9. Save up. Build up a sufficient fund to complete training before you begin. This can prevent one of the biggest problems in training: lost momentum when you have to take a long hiatus because you ran out of money. As a 6,000 hour pilot, I can take a month off and not lose much of an edge. But for someone with 60 hours, it’s a lot different.

I’d equate learning to fly with running a marathon. Distance training demands a disciplined schedule for your training. If you take a week or two off from running, once you get back out there you’re likely to find that you’ve taken such a step backward that it’s tempting to quit. The mountain just got a lot taller, if you will. It’s discouraging. Flying is much the same way, except the stumbling block is often financial in nature. You can prevent that by ensuring you have adequate resources before you begin. It’ll also allow you to fly more frequently (see tip #1).

10. Make friends. I’ve been able to fly TravelAirs, Stearmans, SR22s, Saratogas, T-6s, RVs, and many other airplanes gratis because I got to know people. There’s no way I could afford to fly any of those airplanes if I’d had to pay retail. Flying is a social activity, and those who fly like to be around others who are like-minded. So hang out at the airport and get to know people. Act as a safety pilot. Offer to buy lunch. Do some hangar flying. And make friends. You never know where that will lead.

The Lusty Horn

Two outta three ain't bad...

The December issue of NASA’s Callback newsletter tells the tale of several dual flights where simulated emergencies turn into real ones.

If you’re a pilot and don’t subscribe to Callback, I highly recommend doing so. It’s a monthly publication of the Aviation Safety Reporting System and always an entertaining read. This month happens to cover general aviation incidents, but they also grab reports from airlines, corporate operators, medivac, fractionals, and everyone else in the aviation world.

Anyway, as a CFI it’s a bit painful to read this month’s reports knowing that there was an instructor on board who could have intervened to prevent the accident. Part of me thinks “there but for the grace of God go I”, as virtually any instructional flight can end up going badly.

In fact, I say a little prayer every time I climb into a high-performance tailwheel aircraft like the Pitts. Think about it: I’m up there in the front cockpit, unable to see what the student in the back seat is doing. I can’t look at him, and without the intercom wouldn’t be able to communicate with the guy at all. There are a dozen ways that student could destroy the airplane and there would be nothing I could do about it. Literally nothing.

If he jams on a single brake while landing, I can’t turn that brake off — it’s a guaranteed ground loop. He’s the only one with access to the fuel mixture control. If he grabs the canopy release by mistake during a maneuver, there goes a $10,000 piece of plexiglas. Even getting in or out of the airplane on the ground can easily cause thousands of dollars in damage.

Having said that, some common practices among flight instructors have never made sense to me, and one of them is highlighted in this Callback.

In this incident, the pilot of an R182 neglects to lower the landing gear on a simulated engine-out approach during a practical test. In this case the second set of eyes in the right seat wasn’t just an instructor, but an FAA representative known as a “Designated Pilot Examiner”. In other words, a very senior CFI.

At roughly 1,900 feet over [the airport], a simulated engine failure was initiated by the Examiner. I immediately pulled the carburetor heat on, pitched for best glide and started a right turn to land on Runway 36. While circling to land, I went through the engine troubleshooting procedures and made a simulated emergency call over the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). At this point we were on final. The aircraft was high, so I put in full flaps and initiated a forward slip to dissipate altitude. The aircraft landed long with the gear up. As soon as I realized that the gear was not down, I secured the engine (mixture— idle cutoff, fuel selector— off, master— off, ignition switch— off).

At no point during the maneuver did I hear any indication from the Examiner that the gear was not down or that I should initiate a go around. I believe that causal factors in this incident were nervousness and stress associated with the practical examination as well as a poorly executed power-off approach resulting in distraction on final.

A number of actions on my part could have prevented this incident. The most obvious and sure method of prevention would have been to put the gear down immediately after the simulated engine failure. This would have solved the problem at its root. Additionally, during the course of the maneuver, a number of factors led to my inability to recognize that the gear was not down. I failed to complete a GUMP check (Gas on fullest tank, Undercarriage [gear] down, Mixture full rich, Prop full forward) on final. Additionally, better execution of the power-off approach would have allowed adequate time and altitude to utilize the checklist.

Since we were high on final, my concentration was on getting the aircraft down (using full flaps and a forward slip) rather than verifying that the aircraft was configured for landing. Additionally, it is my opinion that nerves and stress associated with the practical examination led to my inability to recognize the gear warning horn. Finally, I should have initiated a go-around maneuver as soon as I realized that we were going to land long.”

During the approach, the landing gear warning horn would have been sounding continuously: beeeeep! beeeeep! beeeeep! The purpose of that horn is to warn the pilot that the gear is not down and locked. So the question is, why did neither pilot hear the horn?

The answer is that they did hear it. They simply taught themselves to ignore it! The pilot attributes the inability to respond to the gear warning horn to “nerves and stress”, but that’s not what caused this accident. It was his training. Don’t believe me? Here’s a YouTube video of the exact same thing happening to someone else.

Did you hear the horn blaring continuously in the background? Do you think you would have failed to notice it? Lest you think that sort of thing could never happen to you, let’s look at what usually causes these accidents.

Typically the student is working toward their commercial pilot certificate and are moving into a retractable gear aircraft for the first time. Several of the FAA-mandated maneuvers for that certificate involve attempts to maximize airplane performance without engine power. Specifically, it’s the steep spiral, 180° power off accuracy approach, and simulated engine failure.

Two outta three ain't bad...

When power is reduced to idle in these maneuvers, the landing gear warning horn begins to sound. However, in order to maximize aircraft performance, the instructor teaches the student to leave the landing gear retracted. During the steep spiral, it typically stays that way throughout. During the 180° power off approach and simulated engine failure, the gear is often left retracted until landing is assured or more drag is required. That could be anywhere from 20 seconds to several minutes. And all that while, the gear horn is beeping away. Beeep, beeep, beeep…

Do you see what’s happening? The instructor is allowing the pilot to desensitize himself to the gear warning horn. It’s no wonder people ignore the horn and make gear-up landings — it’s what they’ve been training themselves to do all along! To be honest, when you look at this training technique, it’s a wonder that gear-up landings aren’t more prevalent.

There’s an easy way to avoid this trap: teach yourself that anytime you hear the gear warning horn, make it stop. It’s that simple. The horn is there to prompt you to do something — so do it! Either increase power or lower the landing gear. Just make the horn stop. That way, when you do inadvertently neglect to lower the gear one day, the horn will function as the safety device it was designed to be rather than an annoying beeping in the background on a YouTube video which has been viewed 29,426 times.

Yes. Yes it could.

I can’t have been the first person to come to this conclusion. In fact, aircraft like the King Air and Gulfstream IV have a landing gear warning horn silence button. I’ve never understood why light GA aircraft like the Centurion and Bonanza don’t; it would save many pilots from expensive and embarrassing incidents. It’s counter-intuitive to think that a warning horn silence button would actually prevent gear up landings, but it’s true.

Instructors, if your aircraft doesn’t have any other method of silencing the horn, please teach your students to lower the landing gear during low-power maneuvers as soon as the gear warning horn sounds. The additional performance you get out of leaving it retracted is not worth the cost of a gear-up landing. If a pilot ever encounters an actual engine stoppage in flight and they want to leave the gear up, by all means go ahead and do it. Take the extra glide distance. Should he or she make an inadvertent gear up landing some day after a bona fide in-flight powerplant failure, nobody will care. Not them, and certainly not you.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 21

It’s mid-afternoon on The Day After, and I’m sitting in my suite looking at a coffee table. There’s nothing on it. Likewise, the bed, floor, nightstands, granite counter tops — come to think of it, the entire hotel room — sits completely devoid of the books, class notes, reference manuals, fold-out diagrams, flow charts, cheat sheets, and Post-It notes which have polluted the joint for more than three weeks. Lord knows how the housekeeping staff managed to clean anything with so much detritus scattered all over the place, but they did it.

And now it’s all gone.

In it’s place rests a single 4-inch square piece of paper, a Temporary Airman Certificate. It’s exactly the same as the old one with the exception of six new letters: “ATP” and “G-IV”. Six letters! Is is possible that all the time, effort, and money applied to this crazy adventure can be reflected with only six measly letters?

If you’re a pilot, hell yes. I keep looking at the certificate and thinking about how much I’ve learned, and how much is still to be learned about the Gulfstream IV. It’s probable that the former outweighs the latter by a ratio which is embarrassing to admit to oneself. Still, I’ll take it.

Rewinding the clock 30 hours (though it seems more like 30 days) finds me and my trusty sim partner rolling into room 333 at Simuflite for the start of our checkride. The adventure began at 10:30 a.m. and didn’t finish until nearly 9:30 p.m. Eleven hours! That seems inordinately long, but when you think about it, a typical checkride for a private or commercial certificate is probably five hours long, and since both me and my sim partner were having our checkrides at the same time, it ought to take twice as long because we have to do everything twice.

What neither of us anticipated was that it would feel a lot longer even than that. A product of test anxiety, not to mention the end of more than three weeks of living out of a suitcase and a flight manual, I expect.

Our examiner, Tod, had been our instructor for a significant chunk of the ground school. We knew he was a good guy, but we weren’t too sure how he’d be during a checkride. When someone takes off their instructor hat and puts on the examiner hat, what do you get? The answer is: it varies. Teaching is technically verboten during a checkride, and examiners are acutely aware that they’re the last threshold to be crossed before the students are authorized to go out into the real world with that 75,000 pound chunk of metal and fly it across the planet at darn near the speed of sound.

The oral portion of the test was surprisingly easy. The questioning was thorough but fair, and for an hour and a half we answered everything to Tod’s satisfaction. I did mangle the answer to a question about when the auxiliary pump would activate during a specific kind of hydraulic system malfunction, but he let it go. Likewise, my sim partner got one wrong as well. It was a question whose answer was so obvious that you didn’t even think about it from that perspective.

We — or should I say, I — was given a weight & balance scenario to complete, along with a few performance calculations. My sim partner is already type rated on the G-IV, so he wasn’t required to partake. Of course, he didn’t know that going in, and had spent the morning doing weight & balance computations in preparation. Murphy’s Law. Tod told him he could take a break while I worked on the performance data packet, but being the good guy that he is, he stuck around and provided moral support while I crunched all the numbers. To be honest, it’s simple stuff once you know where to look for the data.

We were given a half hour to grab a bite, and then it was off to the briefing room to prepare for the simulator flight. I think we both wanted to fly first, but my sim partner was gracious enough to allow me to have first crack at it. We both knew whoever flew last would be awfully tired by the end, and that could lead to a stupid mistake and a checkride failure. I was willing to let him to first, but in the end Tod said I should go first because I was undergoing a more high-profile test.

G-IV cockpit

Lined up for departure on runway 32 at Anchorage (in clear weather)

Tod laid out the approach plates and the checkride scenario. It was a profile we had been well prepared for: start with a cold, dark airplane and do everything necessary to get it up and running. Then, a 500′ RVR low-visibility taxi from the ramp to runway 32 at Anchorage, followed by the Anchorage Four departure procedure, V334 to Kenai, then back to the PANC. In between, we had stalls, steep turns, and unusual attitudes.

About those steep turns. They really had both of us nervous. A single degree of pitch movement will quickly turn into a 100′ altitude loss or gain when you’re flying at 250 KIAS at 11,000′. The G-IV handles like a truck, and rolling from a left turn into a right one requires serious muscle to hold the pitch attitude steady. Most of our steep turns had been fine, but every now and then we’d flirt with the 100′ altitude or 10 knots airspeed change limits, not something which engenders a warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

The testing standards are fairly generous and not difficult to hold to, but the consequences of exceeding them for even a moment could be severe, especially for me. As the one undergoing an ATP certificate and G-IV initial type rating checkride, I was told there wasn’t to be any leeway. My sim partner was receiving a more routine Part 135 check, and as I understand it, even though he was to be held to the same standards for his flying, a minor amount of remedial instruction was allowable on his portion of the test. As it turns out, neither of us needed any freebies, but those steep turns can go bad quickly.

After the airwork, the cockpit filled with the bong-bong-bong and various warning annunciator lights of a Major Problem as the left engine summarily rolled back to zero thrust. I ordered an immediate airstart, and we got the engine back online within a minute. Then it was vectors back into town for the RNAV 7R approach, which I hand-flew to LNAV/VNAV minimums without breaking out of the clouds, so we executed the missed approach and held as published. We returned for the coupled localizer/DME approach to runway 7R and circled to runway 32.

A low-visibility circling approach in a Category D airplane is nothing to sniff at. Most airlines don’t even allow them unless the weather is VFR. What makes this particular approach challenging is the hill northeast of the airport. This terrain rise gives the impression of a high descent rate during the base-to-final turn. If you ease off on the descent, however, you’ll end up too high and either end up back the soup, exceed the descent rate limits, or land too far down the runway to meet the test standards. In addition, the simulator doesn’t have 360 degree visuals. I’d say they’re more like 180 degrees — excellent by any standard, but still less than you’d have in an actual airplane. But I’d worked on the approach over the past two days and nailed it. In fact, it was the thing I was least worried about on the checkride. I could do that approach a hundred times in a row and grease it onto the touchdown zone smoothly every single time.

After landing, we turned around and departed runway 14, aborting at about 50 knots for an uncommanded thrust reverser deployment. After Tod cleared that fault, we taxied to the end of the runway and departed on 32. At V1, the left engine failed and I flew the ILS 7R approach on a single engine, followed by the single engine missed approach and a second engine-out ILS to a landing.

The last item on the checkride was a no-flap landing made from the right seat. Technically all that was required was a takeoff and landing from the right seat, but for expediency we combined it with the no-flap.

By this point we were both wiped out… and my sim partner had yet to even start his flight test. As I noted previously, my nightmare scenario wasn’t busting my checkride, it was causing my sim partner to bust his. There are a hundred ways to do it, from distracting him to setting up the FMS incorrectly. I’m proud to say that despite being tired enough that I couldn’t tell right from left, I held up my part of the bargain and we both finished with what Tod described as “an impressive performance” and one of the best he’d seen from an initial candidate. We shut down by the checklist and exchanged handshakes after mustering the strength to drag ourselves out of the simulator. We were done!

The debriefing was mercifully short, basically an exchange of paperwork and the receipt of my temporary certificate. Speaking of which, one of the guys in my class told me that some countries will not allow a pilot to fly on a temporary in their airspace. That seems absurd to me. The FAA can take as long as 120 days to send out a permanent certificate. Are international pilots supposed to simply not work until that time? I suppose I’ll find out when my next bit of training beings. Oh yes, the training never ends when you’re a professional pilot. There’s Part 135 indoc, international procedures course, RVSM training, the list goes on. And on. And on. And there’s a five day recurrent training class required on the jet every six months to stay current.

Those are things to worry about tomorrow, though. Now is a time to relax and enjoy what I’ve achieved. Oh, and I almost forgot, there was more good news last night: each of our classmates passed their tests, and better yet, a student of mine back home who was taking his private pilot checkride also passed. That last one really took a load off my mind, and as a result I left Simuflite for a final time — until recurrent training is due in six months, at least — a very relieved and happy guy.

Now that the course is complete, I look back on the description of a turbojet PIC type rating as “drinking from a fire hose” as an apt one. They throw a lot of information at you, no doubt about it. But that’s a minor point. How well you’ll do in a course like this is determined as much by personality traits as anything else. Do you have the discipline to study, yet the wisdom to take time off so you don’t melt down? I can’t tell you how many times I was advised by Simuflite instructors not to study on a day off. Can you handle the stresses of a course like this, roll with the punches, accept the disparate personalities of your sim partner, instructors, and classmates? If you can’t, it will interfere with your learning, believe me. Can you function under the stresses inherent in such a course? The pressures experienced in training are not severe, but they are constant. And they’ll be upon you for three straight weeks.

From a experiential standpoint, this course should be quite manageable, even for someone without any pre-existing type ratings, assuming you come to school with well-developed instrument skills and sufficient real-world flying experience. Two of the five guys in my class came in with no type ratings, and both of us did just fine.

My years working as an instrument instructor and the thousands of hours of hand-flying BE-90s and aerobatics provided the foundation, the skills which were so useful during G-IV training. That’s why I urge flight instructors, banner towers, Medfly pilots, and others in so-called “beginning” flying jobs to focus on their current gig. You’re gaining the skills and experience which will get you through training when you land that dream job.

In fact, when compared to the accelerated CFI course I survived in Las Vegas seven years ago, the G-IV Initial was easy. In Vegas, the days were 15-16 hours long, I was living in a lousy hotel, and there was no sim partner to lean on or commiserate with.

As with the CFI course, the key to picking up a new airplane is to have transitioned to many new ones over the years. If you’ve flown the same aircraft for 20 years, learning a new one will be tough. But if you’re constantly moving back and forth between a King Air, Pitts, Cirrus, RV-6, etc. then you’re used to adjusting quickly to a new cockpit. Just one guy’s thoughts on the matter…

So. My initial training on the G-IV is complete. Now, as they say, the real learning begins. I expect I won’t be comfortable in the plane for quite a while. That’s normal. In the meantime, my bags are packed and it’s time to get caught up with the wife and the life I lead outside the cockpit.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 20

The end is in sight! It feels like I’ve been living in this Marriott for a month. It’s a nice place. I’ve got probably five hundred feet of space in this suite. They even do the dishes for me. Still, after shuttling between Simuflite and the hotel non-stop for so long, I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to the persistently hot, humid, and windy metroplex that is Dallas.

Day two of our checkride prep was very encouraging. Only made one major mistake, setting up the aircraft for a full rated power takeoff when I was asked to select reduced, or “flex”, power departure. The flex power takeoffs make a V1 cut much easier to handle. Unlike every other multi-engine airplane I’ve flown, power available after an engine failure is not an issue in the Gulfstream IV. The limiting factor is running out of rudder to counteract the yaw from the dead engine. When you consider that the engines are mounted on the fuselage close to the longitudinal centerline, that’s really saying something.

Selecting the wrong power setting made the V1 cut a lot harder for my sim partner. And that brings up my true worry about the checkride: not that I’ll fail the ride myself, but rather that I could do something which would cause him to fail. That’s something I’d really feel bad about! The G-IV is a two-pilot airplane, so even after my sim ride is done (and I’ll be tested first), I still have to bring my “A” game for his checkride. There’s just no way for one person to do it all. This stuff only works well when we’re operating as a cohesive crew with good communication and attention to detail.

When I look back on the last week or so of sim work, what I notice is that you develop a certain amount of tunnel vision when flying left seat. You’re so busy physically controlling the airplane and running the flight that you can easily miss things. That’s where the co-pilot comes in. No matter who’s in the right seat, they invariably seem to catch things that the captain misses, and when that co-pilot isn’t on their game, it’s the captain who suffers. This checkride will be unique in that regard. In the past, a checkride was something I could pass or fail without affecting anyone else. Now, each of us has the ability to sandbag the other guy on their checkride with a simple moment of inattention. The rated vs. flex power issue from today’s flight is an example of that.

After the sim session was complete, we found out who our examiner would be for the checkride. He’s a Simuflite instructor who taught about half of our ground school days. The guy is a little gruff, but I think we impressed him when we got into the sim for the first time about a week into the course. Remember those checklists I wrote about at the time? We managed to whip through them with excellent CRM, and he commented at the time that it was clear we had been working on our flows and that it was definitely paying off.

The checkride is a long affair. If the published schedule is to be believed, it’ll take more than 10 hours from start to finish. Assuming things go well for everyone tomorrow, will the class be in any condition to celebrate, or will we just say our farewells and head out, exhausted?

After today’s session, my partner and I spent another couple of hours in Simuflite’s dining room, reviewing the aircraft systems and limitations. I remember the first time I looked at that sheet. I thought “are they serious?” Were we really supposed to commit all that to memory? Yes, all that… and more. We quizzed each other until our brains were mush. The only thing I need now is a good night’s sleep.

G-IV Type Rating, Day 19

This 21-day program is rapidly coming (careening?) to a close. As it does so, the teaching stops and the testing begins. The Big One, the checkride, is in two days. To prepare for it, the schedule calls for a two-day dress rehearsal which ideally gives us a chance to see what the checkride will look like, and ensures our instructor that we are ready to undergo the examination.

We had another new guy with us in the sim today. I’ve officially lost count of how many instructors we’ve had since day one. Our class must have seen at least 10 of them, all told.

The day began with a three hour mock oral exam. The instructor didn’t mess around — there was no introduction, no “Hi, my name is…”, no nothing. He literally walked in, dropped a packet of performance data and weight & balance numbers on the desk for us to chew on, and sat down to wait for us to do it. That took a solid hour.

What were those limitations again?

The next two were a series of questions on systems, limitations, scenarios, and so on. I wasn’t expecting a break today, but we got an hour off for lunch. After that, it was a half hour briefing, then into the sim to run through all the normal procedures, airwork, and approaches, including the dreaded no-flap approach, which for some reason we flew from the right seat this time. I noted that this was the first approach I’d done from the right seat in the G-IV, but after thinking about it, I’ve made at least two in the actual jet. I’ve done plenty of right seat flying in the King Air and dozens of other airplanes as a CFI, as well. It was a total non-event.

I flew better than my sim partner did today, but I think part of that was my fault. I screwed him up accidentally on his steep turns by spending too long fiddling with the power levers, so much so that I missed an important call out. Also, he got a raw deal on his no-flap landing because the VNAV profile we’d programmed into the FMS disappeared for no apparent reason. We’d been warned about this “sim-ism”, but hadn’t seen it until now. After five hours in the box, we debriefed with our instructor (who we apparently won’t see again) and then retired to a local restaurant to review some of the performance calculations we’d had trouble with.

Tomorrow should be a shorter day, only 6-7 hours. The checkride day itself is quite long, about 10-11 hours depending on how things go. Our start time for the big day isn’t until 10 a.m. Our classmates, however, drew the short straw and their session starts at 5:00 a.m.