More Information‎ > ‎Newsletters‎ > ‎

Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

Of Simulators, Pigs, Saunas and Punching Bags

Early in June I went to FlightSafety in Texas to get recurrent in two different types of Citations.  There are a couple of points in the previous sentence that might cause someone to question my sanity.

Texas in the summer?  Yes, it’s warm, but there is air conditioning in the hotel, the restaurants, and in the FlightSafety building.  Not that it makes a material difference when you’re in the simulator sweating like a pig in a sauna.

Double recurrent?  Isn’t one enough?  When you fly multiple types of jets, the choice is one airfare, or two, and as much as I love flying, I only like it when I have the wheel – something the airlines won’t let me do.  OK, so pilots have control issues – a world class understatement, in my experience.

Sanity issues aside, I find it amazing that many pilots sigh and wish they didn’t have to go to recurrent training.  Well, I’ve had training experiences that were so scripted and identical to the previous year that even a person with less than perfect recall would be able to finish the sentences of the instructor, and pull the condition lever on the second engine start, because that’s the one with the “hot start”.

That has definitely not been my experience at FlightSafety, San Antonio.  The instructors are much more creative with their scenarios.  Granted, there are some things that are required in the process of getting a Part 61.58 endorsement – you pretty much do an ATP check ride in the jet you go there to train in.  So, you WILL do steep turns (45 degrees of bank on instruments, not visual), stall recoveries, unusual attitude recoveries, and a variety of autopilot and hand-flown precision and non-precision approaches, missed approaches, holds, and circles to landing.  Some of them are done with two operating engines, some with only one.  You also have to experience a variety of system failures, fires, blown tires at takeoff speed, and the occasional thrust-reverser deployment (in the planes that have them).  Now put all of those together in a seemingly random distribution, and I’m really glad that my medical examiner doesn’t get to see a record of my pulse rate or blood pressure whilst (as my British friends say) all this is going on. 

As most of you have figured out, a pre-requisite for being a flight instructor is a degree of mental telepathy (how else would you know when a student isn’t ready for something?), and these guys have it in spades.  As an example, my classmate in the CE-500 recurrent course was using the course to get his type rating (he’d had a lot of previous experience in the plane, but wasn’t type rated in it – an aggressive and optimistic way of doing things).  The two of us (with no instructor present) had an interesting discussion about why it’s SO important to look for the verification of EVERY action you take in the cockpit.  See an earlier article called “The Scoreboard” for more on that subject.  At any rate, as part of that discussion, I pointed out the importance of watching the ITT (Inter Turbine Temperature) on engine shut-down, because sometimes, things don’t go the way you want, and you get a bunch of fuel into the engine, causing a hot shut down.

Oddly enough, we got one of those in the next sim session, and despite my warning, my classmate wasn’t watching for it, but I was.  Now I’ve been to recurrent training in a variety of planes, on the order of 40 times, and this was only the second time I’d seen this scenario, and for the second time, I pressed (in this case, I called for him to press) the engine start button on that side to keep from running the temp well past the red line, thus (in a real airplane) saving the owner somewhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000 – which, BTW, isn’t covered by insurance.  I think telepathy is as reasonable an explanation as any.

Now, here’s the point at which the student becomes what seems to be a punching bag.  When you do something really well (significantly fewer than one out of 100 victims – uh, students – in the sim will catch that hot shut down) the instructor starts taking it as a challenge.  I guess it’s appropriate, the instructor is there to TEACH something, and if you demonstrate that you know what he was trying to teach, he’ll just find something else you either don’t know, or haven’t seen in a sim; instructors DO so enjoy a challenge.  Plus, as the victim – uh, student – you’ve paid for a certain amount of sim time, and if you’ve completed all the required maneuvers and have lots of time left, the instructors (mandated, I’m sure by the Center Director), feel obliged to make sure you get your money’s worth.  I suspect they also enjoy the challenge of doing something other than the scripted stuff.

So, the things I saw over the next couple of days in addition to the standard stuff (I won’t say that the instructors compared notes, but I won’t rule it out, either) included the Air France total-pitot-system-failure scenario, but instead of having it occur in cruise, my instructor lead me down that path on an instrument approach on the runway side of the final approach fix.  There was a blown tire after V1, but before Vr, resulting in loss of directional control (but since it was after V1, I still had to take off), an aborted takeoff, and a tire fire on one of the main tires, and a double engine failure at 10,000 feet and 30 miles from the runway – no restart, just make the runway.  Now, I have a commercial glider rating, but I don’t have a twin-engine glider rating, so it was, well let’s say “interesting”.  We also did unusual attitude recoveries from situations so extreme that the gyro tumbled, and that’s a trick in a ProLine 21.

I figure I was punch-drunk, because I actually enjoyed it.   I can’t wait to see what they throw at me next year.

I’ll probably go in June, again.  OK, so I restricted my learning to the classroom and the simulator, and didn’t learn anything about the weather.  I can be slow sometimes.  Or just of questionable sanity.