Contributor Paul Southwick advocates for a safe and enjoyable way to extend your left-seat skills and judgement
Pilot safety is never an absolute. The best pilots don’t rest on their laurels. They are always looking at ways to improve their skills and widen their aviation experience. They never let down their guard when it comes to safety.
One of the best ways to improve skills is to add an advanced rating. The instrument rating is often quoted as the most challenging, requiring much study, and flight to an exacting professional standard. A less-promoted route to improve skills, is to undertake a type rating on a more advanced aircraft.
I recently had the opportunity to experience the type rating required for the world’s first, civilian, single engine, personal jet, the Cirrus Vision Jet (SF50).
I visited the Cirrus Vision Centre in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the US, flew the SF50 G2; got put through my paces in the full motion simulators, interviewed the training team, and was given access to all the SF50 training modules and material. We found multiple touch points and aspects of the type rating that improve pilot skills and experience.
For the SF50 buyers and/or pilots, the FAA mandated rating starts about 12 months out from projected delivery and continues thereafter. The course is included in the purchase price, and for other or second pilots, costs around US$28,000 excluding accommodation.
The specialist team at Cirrus makes sure placeholders are ready for the course, and especially that they are current and skilful with their instrument flight rules (IFR) flying. If required, one of the Cirrus team will go to the prospect and fly with them to raise their IFR skills to the standard required to command a 300 knot plus, single engine, seven seat jet, that can fly at FL310.
The “Rating Preparation Guide” sent to placeholders lists common issues in the type rating (and is a guide to areas for improvement) as:
- too many things on the calendar meaning trainees are distracted and cannot focus
- descending below minimums on a non- precision approach
- exceeding the limits on a circling approach
- becoming destabilised during the final segment of an instrument approach
- not landing in the touch-down zone.
Director of the SF50 programme, Matt Bergwall says, ‘We find the best candidates are pilots flying regularly, or pilots who have just finished their instrument rating, as they are up-to-date with IFR procedures. The course is structured to ensure all students are set up for success in the type rating.’
Closer to commencement of the ten-day rating, Cirrus buyers are sent a logon for the online training course. The logically presented, self-paced course is computer based with text; visually attractive coloured images and videos; per cent complete indications; with quizzes interspersed throughout, which can be graded.
The sections are jet systems: the SF50, exterior pre-flight, the cabin, cockpit, avionics, instruments, automatic flight, radar, electrical, primary flight controls, secondary flight controls, landing gear and brakes, fuel, powerplant, bleed air, pressurisation, air conditioning, ice protection, oxygen, fire protection, and CAPS.
In relation to jet flying: atmosphere, weather, icing, respiration, hypoxia, oxygen, and decompression; and for the aircraft: turbine engine, pressurised aircraft, weather radar, high altitude aerodynamics, and jet design.
On the planning side there are: weather, navigation, weight and balance, performance and fuel planning.
The classroom training on site is extensive and includes four full days of lessons and regular tests to ensure material has been absorbed. As well as the intensive theory and pilots operating handbook study, placeholders will spend lots of time practice using the advanced Garmin avionics on fully interactive modules.
There is the flight training footprint (in the simulators) which involves five flying lessons, the fifth being a simulated oral exam and then a flight test of two-and-a-half hours.
The Cirrus training facility is cleverly designed so that in the breaks there is plenty of space and time for students to interface with each other and the instructors on an informal basis. The Cirrus instructors are most experienced and of a very high standard. For example, my simulator session was with semi-retired US Air Force General Matt (Mutt) Manifold.
Some sign-offs finish with the check ride, but not at Cirrus. The new SF50 pilots are required to undertake 20 hours mentoring time in the actual jet before they can fly unsupervised as pilot in command.
This mentoring time is some of the most valuable, not just because it consolidates everything that has been learned, but because it gives pilots access to those valuable tips and advice that only come from flying with an experienced and capable instructor sitting there too—in the aircraft itself.
The added element of the mentoring is the fun. Pilots get to choose, and with the jet they can, fly almost anywhere in the US, in this case with passengers. It’s a time to really test the long legs, speed and capabilities of the jet, in a mix of conditions, with some dream locations added in. The mountains and the beach are usually popular.
San Francisco based, 14,000-hour, Cirrus Platinum instructor, and SF50 rated airline transport pilot (ATP), Eliot Floersch says, ‘All training can make pilots better. The Cirrus rating exposes pilots, under expert tuition and mentoring, including safely in the simulator, to systems and situations they may have not seen before, for example, icing or certain emergencies. The Cirrus type rating is superb, but the benefit doesn’t stop when it’s granted. There are further opportunities at the compulsory yearly renewals, to experience and practice, multiple times, the correct response to many different flight scenarios, in more depth, under expert eyes. It leads to better and safer pilots.’
Quest, makers of the Kodiak, a rugged 10-seat, high-wing, STOL, turbine powered aircraft that can also operate on floats, is based out of Sandpoint, Idaho. Like Cirrus, Quest has many private pilots or non-professional licence holders purchase and/or fly their most versatile aircraft.
Parkwater Aviation is Quest’s long-term partner in both initial and recurrent Kodiak training. With significant aircraft flight and maintenance backgrounds, and thousands of hours of instructional experience, they are the leading experts on the Kodiak airframe.
Given the different role of the Kodiak, the type and focus of the training is different to that for the SF50. The Parkwater mission is ‘To ensure Kodiak pilots are fully prepared to operate their aircraft effectively and safely in a wide variety of environments and situations throughout the world.’
Head of operations Matt McBlair says, ‘Safety is so much part of our training culture. We believe education enhances safety and improves airmanship. That is a big part of who we are and what we do, with high-quality instructors who enjoy teaching about the aeroplane and making use of the simulator to practice multiple procedures. The course, which costs about US$12,000, makes students better pilots and importantly, more effective and efficient too. Through education pilots can hone their skills.’
Parkwater offers several courses. The most popular is ‘Kodiak Familiarisation’ which takes about five days. There are also IFR refresher, Mountain Flying, PT6 Engine Overview, Short Field, and Floatplane courses. The courses are available in a wide variety of languages. Parkwater is the home of the world’s only full-motion KODIAK training simulator.
McBlair says, ‘There is a lot of value in practicing emergency procedures in the simulator that would be too much risk in the plane, for example, engine or electrical failures. Students can really consolidate their muscle movement and mental picture of touch points for emergencies.’
ICON, makers of the two-seat, Rotax powered, A5 amphibian, offers less advanced, but perhaps higher fun, seaplane courses, from their base in Vacaville, California.
Courses are of varying length—for new pilots (~20 hours), those with an existing certificate (~8 hours), aviators with a seaplane rating (~4.5 hours), and instructors. There is a proficiency ride to complete the sign off.
There is preparatory reading, followed by ground school, and lots of water flying at Lake Berryessa. Reading winds and water, slow flight, and how to operate on the surface all improve pilot skills—skills that are transferable to other flying.
Sometimes pilots can learn more by flying faster and higher, but the same is true for a much slower aeroplane, low down. I completed the course in April this year and thought it some of the most fun I ever had in an aircraft, or was it a boat?
But the point, and the safety message, is that taking on a more advanced type rating is a safe and enjoyable way to extend yourself as a pilot. By returning to the student seat, the classroom and the sim, you will learn new skills and sharpen old ones that will serve you well behind the controls of your usual aircraft. You may also unlearn some habits that may have crept into your flying. Whether you go from a Piper Warrior to an Archer, or a Cessna 172 to 182, you’ll be better for the experience.