Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What to expect in turbine training

As airline hiring begins to ramp up, many pilots will be going to class on a turbine airplane for the first time. Training on a jet or turboprop airplane is unlike the previous flight school experiences that most pilots have had in their piston-engine general aviation careers.

Prospective turbine pilots might go to training at an airline’s training center or, if they will be flying a corporate airplane, at a commercial flight training facility such as Flight Safety International or SimCom. Airline new hires can expect to be in training for about two months before they have the chance to fly an airplane. Students at commercial training centers can cut the time to two to three weeks, depending on which airplane they will be flying. Even though this may seem like a long time, the massive amount of information that the student must learn within a few weeks has caused turbine training to be likened to drinking from a fire hose.

Airline training generally starts with indoctrination or “indoc” classes. Indoc is an introduction to the company and its corporate culture. These classes also include topics that are common to all of the airline’s fleets such as company operating rules and standard procedures. How to fill out weight-and-balance forms, do performance calculations, and read dispatch releases, are subjects that are often covered in indoc. Other regulatory information such as company hazardous materials (“haz mat”) and security policies may also be discussed.

After indoc, the class will split up into groups assigned to different airplanes for systems training. Commercial training classes begin with this phase of training. In systems training, the students will learn about the inner workings of their new airplane. Turbine airplanes are incredibly complex and have a variety of interrelated systems. Students can expect to cover general information about the aircraft and engines as well as in-depth studies of the hydraulic, pneumatic, fuel, and pressurization systems.

The systems class also includes training on how to recognize and handle malfunctions. This is commonly accomplished through identifying the failure and accomplishing the appropriate checklist. Systems training will teach the pilots how the failure affects the flight and how and why to deal with it.

Some problems, such as fires or engine failures, require immediate action. Typically, these types of problems are associated with memory items, short emergency checklists that must be committed to memory. The pilot first accomplishes the memory item and then continues to the appropriate checklist. Turbine students can get ahead of their training by memorizing these memory items before they go to class.

Aircraft limitations should also be committed to memory before going to class. The limitations are rules for the airplane that cannot be violated. Limitations include speed limits for aircraft operation and for extending the flaps and landing gear as well as maximum operating altitudes. Engine starter limits, such as how many start attempts are allowed, for the engines and APU (auxiliary power unit) are also common limitations. Not all of the limitations will make sense at first, but as the systems class progresses the reasoning behind the rules becomes apparent.

At the end of the systems class, the students will take a written test. In most cases, the test is multiple choice and features questions that have been covered during the class. There might also be questions about the memory items and limitations.

After successfully completing the systems training, the turbine students move to simulator training. The best preparation for “the sim” is to become familiar with the cockpit layout and “flows” and “callouts.” Students can become familiar with the cockpit though the use of cockpit posters that are normally issued with their study materials. If students know where switches and controls for different systems are located in the cockpit, flying the simulator is much easier.

Flows are brief lists of items to accomplish from memory in a defined order at different phases of flight. Typically, a pilot executes a flow and then follows up with a checklist to ensure that no items have been missed. There are usually flows for engine start, after start, taxi, before takeoff, after takeoff, and after landing. When students practice these flows using their cockpit posters, it helps them to build a muscle memory that will aid them in the cockpit.

Callouts are the scripted lines of each pilot for different phases of flight. Like lines in a play, each pilot has lines that must be said verbatim and at the appropriate time. No ad-libbing is allowed. By memorizing and practicing these lines in advance, the student can concentrate on the job of flying the simulator and not struggling to remember what to say.

For some airplanes, sim training actually starts in a wooden mockup of the cockpit. These mockups allow students to practice flows in a low stress environment and to become more familiar with switch placement. Instructors may also walk students through a typical flight profile with their checklists in these mockups.

Next, the students move to the simulator, a large box on moving legs that contains a reproduction of the aircraft’s cockpit. Computer screens replicate the outside view in great detail while the legs move to give the pilots the feel of a flying airplane.

Sim training starts with normal operations to let the pilots get the feel of the airplane and become more familiar with the cockpit and checklists. The first sessions will cover territory that is familiar to the student from other airplanes. They will learn to take off and land as well as practicing stalls and steep power turns, maneuvers that the students have performed since their earliest days as flight students.

The training quickly moves into the meat of the course, emergency procedures that cannot be safely or efficiently performed in a real jet. There are rejected takeoffs in which the pilot aborts a takeoff and stops on the runway. There are missed approaches where the pilot flies an instrument approach to minimums and “goes around” without landing. The students practice emergency descents to simulate a cabin depressurization at high altitude. However, the signature maneuver of turbine training is the dreaded “V1 cut.”

V1 is defined as takeoff decision speed. In essence, once the aircraft reaches V1, which is computed for each takeoff, the decision is made to continue even if a problem arises because there is insufficient runway remaining to safely stop. Therefore the V1 cut, simulating the failure of an engine at V1, represents the worst case scenario for a turbine pilot. At V1, the aircraft is slow and still must accelerate to a safe takeoff speed. This is defined as Vr, rotation speed, the speed at which it is safe for the pilot to pull back on the control wheel and allow the airplane to leave the runway. Compounding the problem of speed is the fact that an engine failure makes the aircraft hard to control. Since the engines are mounted off center, either on the wings or tail, the operating engine will push the aircraft to one side unless the pilot takes action.

The basic procedure for handling a V1 cut is the same in most airplanes. The pilot uses the rudder to maintain directional control on the runway while allowing the aircraft to continue to accelerate. When a safe takeoff speed is reached, the pilot allows the plane to fly and climbs out at V2, the turbine equivalent of Vyse, the best single-engine rate of climb speed. At a safe altitude, the pilot levels off and continues the acceleration. When a safe flying speed is reached, the pilots retract the flaps used in the takeoff and run the appropriate checklists. Pilots will practice in-flight engine restarts as well as landing with an engine inoperative. Turbine students will get plenty of practice at V1 cuts.

A few other miscellaneous maneuvers round out simulator training. Students will practice landing the airplane without flaps. If the company allows its pilots to circle-to-land from an instrument approach, this maneuver will also be practiced in the sim. Students may also do a LOFT (line oriented flight training) in which they practice a typical flight from start to finish… without engine failures.

The culmination of the entire training process is the checkride. The checkride is composed of an oral exam and a flight test. The oral exam can include anything covered in the training so far, from indoc to systems to flight maneuvers. It is almost certain to include the memory items and limitations that the student memorized earlier.

The flight test is conducted in the simulator and covers most of the maneuvers learned earlier. The flight test normally begins with stalls, steep turns and “unusual attitudes,” recoveries from extremely high or low pitch attitudes and steep banks. It will include practice precision and non-precision approaches with one and two engines. There will be missed approaches, rejected takeoffs, and, of course, the dreaded V1 cut.

After successful completion of the checkride, the student will finally get to fly a real airplane. The first flight that the recent training graduate makes will be with a load of paying passengers on his IOE (initial operating experience). The new turbine pilot will fly with a Check Airman for a predetermined time (often about 25 flight hours) before being released to fly with other line pilots.

Turbine training represents a large commitment in both time and effort for pilots, but it opens the door to a new world of high performance aviation for pilots who can complete it. The training can be made easier if the student has a good foundation of basic aviation skills and knowledge before the first day of class. The best preparation for the training is to study hard and memorize limitations, callouts, flows and memory items early.

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