ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial

Flying VLJs: New Twist in Training

By David Jensen | March 1, 2006
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Like a piece of decorative tile inserted on a wall, the very light jet (VLJ) fills a distinctive slot in the mosaic of civil aircraft. In the airplane size and performance continuum, this new breed of aircraft fits conveniently between the turboprop and piston twin at one end of the spectrum and the larger, faster corporate jet at the other end. VLJs offer the performance of a bizjet yet are priced to entice the well-heeled individual seeking personal transport.

The pilots who will operate VLJs are expected to be a mixed group, approaching these aircraft with a variety of backgrounds and levels of flying experience. This disparity has prompted the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) to establish special guidelines for VLJ training. (See These guidelines recognize that training for pilots of very light jets–certified for single-pilot instrument flight–must often entail more than transition training. In the guidelines’ introduction, the association explains:

"Traditionally, training has been conducted with the objective of passing the necessary Practical Test Standards (PTS) without regard to obtaining proficiency. With the advent of next-generation very light jet aircraft, potential candidates will come from varied levels of experience, ranging from the relatively inexperienced to the veteran professional aviator. It is imperative that all candidates successfully completing VLJ training demonstrate a level of proficiency and operational knowledge beyond that required to merely `pass the check ride.’ As a result, the concept of a mentor pilot is an integral part of the guidance contained within this document."

Starting This Year

Recognizing the importance of flight crew proficiency, two VLJ manufacturers are developing unique type training programs that include the mentor concept. They are scurrying to meet deadlines: this year the Cessna Citation Mustang, fitted with the Garmin International G1000 avionics package, and the Eclipse 500, with the Avio avionics suite, are set to begin rolling out of factories for initial deliveries.

Both training programs will use Level D, full-motion simulators with through-the-windscreen daylight, dusk and night viewing. And both programs will offer customized instructional packages, as well as mentor services. Eclipse Aviation, which has partnered with United Airlines, plans to begin deliveries and pilot training in the third quarter of 2006; Cessna Aircraft Co., joined with FlightSafety International, intends to start deliveries and training in the fourth quarter.

NBAA defines the VLJ as "a jet aircraft weighing 10,000 pounds [4,536 kg] or less and certificated for single-pilot operations." Cessna likes to distinguish the Mustang from other VLJs, citing its external-access baggage areas and toilet. Most other VLJs have passenger and cargo areas much like those of a sports sedan. Still the Mustang’s takeoff weight of about 8,000 pounds (3,630 kg) and certification for single-pilot operations under FAR Part 23 fit it easily within NBAA’s concept. The Eclipse 500 weighs a more diminutive 5,640 pounds (2,558 kg).

New Mustang pilots, too, may differ somewhat from those likely to operate VLJs. NBAA’s guidelines assume the following prerequisite certifications: a private pilot’s license, multiengine rating and instrument rating. The association further lists "preferred prerequisite knowledge and skill" in basic autoflight procedures, basic flight management system (FMS) procedures, and weather radar.

The typical new Mustang pilot may be at the upper end of the VLJ experience spectrum. "We’ve looked at our order books and found that many of our pilots will be jet-proficient," says Chad Martin, Cessna’s manager of pilot and maintenance training. About 80 percent of Mustang customers are owner/operators–the anticipated buyers of all VLJ types–and the remainder are flight departments. FlightSafety recognizes, however, that Mustang customers also will include pilots with little experience in jet aircraft and cockpits equipped with integrated avionics suites. Hence its special training program.

Mustang Training

Initially, Mustang training will be offered solely at the FlightSafety/Cessna Learning Center in Wichita, Kan. Six months after the Wichita program’s launch, FlightSafety plans to have the same training package operational at its facility in Farnborough, UK, according to Mike Croitoru, manager of the FlightSafety/Cessna Learning Center.

The Mustang program continues a more than 25-year relationship between the two firms, according to Croitoru. FlightSafety trains the pilots of all new Cessna jets and some of its small piston-powered aircraft.

The training package will include Cessna’s and FlightSafety’s first mentor program and use the first Level D simulator to include the G1000 package. Olathe, Kan.-based Garmin will provide the hardware and software, plus technical guidance for the program. FlightSafety’s Simulator Systems Division in Broken Arrow, Okla., is building the simulator and a flight training device (FTD).

To assure the program meets all the requirements of FAR Part 142, FlightSafety/ Cessna is working closely with the local FAA Flight Standards District Office, as well as the FAA Industry Training Standards Office in Washington, D.C. "FAA approval for the type rating is fairly straightforward," says Martin. "However, because of our customized training approach, we’re seeking approval to provide multiengine class rating in the simulator, in addition to the type rating training for the Mustang model."

The FTD will be approved to the Level 4 standard and conform to FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 120-45. Fitted with the exact hardware and equipment of the Mustang, the FTD provides tactile input from actual knobs, switches and controls. It will include the G1000’s three displays–a multifunction display flanked by two primary displays–and present aircraft configurations, such as fuel load, weight and center of gravity (CG). The instructor will be able to create malfunctions identical to those available in the motion simulator. He also will be able to "freeze and reposition the G1000’s mapping features display, as well manipulate weather selections," says Martin.

Students taking the Mustang type training will begin each day with ground school training. They then will apply that training, using the FTD. "The course structure is still being defined," says Croitoru, "but we will include using the FTD prior to each two-hour simulator session."

New Mustang pilots who are not familiar with glass cockpits will have the opportunity to take ancillary courses to ensure they maximize the time spent in the simulator during initial type training. FlightSafety/Cessna will provide a customized training path to proficiency that may consist of pre-training courses on high-altitude operations, multiengine training, G1000 avionics familiarization, and even flying on the routes normally flown by the pilot.

For G1000 familiarization, student pilots may be sent to Independence, Kan., where the Mustang will be manufactured. FlightSafety/Cessna also has G1000-equipped Cessna 172, 182 and 206 models on hand for a three-day course on the avionics suite. (The G1000 is optional on the 172 and 182, and standard on the 206.) Kenneth Smoll, Cessna’s manager of pilot training for the single-engine piston aircraft, says the Garmin suite in the Mustang and in the piston aircraft are virtually identical. "Managing the system, flight planning, waypoint information–all the information you need to get from point A to point B–are identical," he explains. "The only difference is the Mustang will have a new autopilot, and the trim and flap position indicators don’t appear on the Garmin displays in the piston aircraft."

The eight hours of ground school include use of the Garmin PC-based trainer, to familiarize the student pilot with the G1000, and a panel mockup that provides tactile feedback and a "simulator mode," allowing the student to pull up menus, enter flight plans, and set airspeed and altitude. Each student in a class has a PC-based trainer on which to perform tasks meted out by the instructor.

In its Cessna FITS (FAA Industry Training Standards) Accepted Instructor program, instructor pilots in the field are trained to teach the G1000 course.

Training in the course concludes with three 1.5-hour flights: a VFR/orientation flight, instrument procedures flight and a flight covering G1000 procedures in case of an avionics failure. Recurrent training may offer a deeper knowledge of the G1000, including the use of the wide area augmentation system (WAAS) navigation function and VHF radios with 8.33-KHz channel spacing, both of which are software upgrades. Recurrent training also will review systems and cover the execution of various flight scenarios, such as over-water operations, non-U.S. flight and operations into unfamiliar airports and airspace. FlightSafety/Cessna also is working on distance learning, which will be provided on a computer disk or through the Internet.

Avionics training for the Mustang extends little beyond the G1000, says Martin, "because the system is so integrated." One exception is its full authority digital electronic control (FADEC), and for that FlightSafety/Cessna plans instruction similar to that provided for the FADEC-equipped CJ1+, CJ2+ and CJ3.

While it develops the curriculum, FlightSafety/Cessna also is establishing a core of mentors–experienced pilot instructors who will help new Mustang crewmen build their proficiency as they fly. The center has decided to tap mentors from within its staff. "What is unprecedented," says Martin, "is that the simulation instructors and ground instructors–both having a wealth of knowledge–also will be the mentors."

Each new owner receives the Mustang Entitlement Package, which includes one pilot and maintenance initial course. Additional courses will be based on FlightSafety’s retail rate, which has yet to be finalized. Mentor services will not be included in the Mustang Entitlement Package, but will be based on "a reasonable daily rate," says Martin. Mentor expenses will be billed separately since they can vary, depending on where the mentor must travel.

Mentor services can be part of recurrent training, too, and will be available for a daily fee. "Owners will be encouraged to contact FlightSafety to review new flight profiles and to schedule post-type rating mentoring services," says Martin.

Eclipse Training

At the United Flight Training Center (UFTC) in Denver, new Eclipse owners will receive both their initial flight skills assessment and type rating transition training. Eclipse Aviation and United will provide the pilot and instructor training for the Eclipse 500. Eclipse has designed a six-phase training program that, like the Mustang program, begins with a flying skills assessment to determine what "supplemental enrichment training" will be needed to ensure success. If, for example, the new pilot has not flown a jet, he will have to log a minimum of 25 hours of jet time accompanied by a rated pilot.

In Phase 1 student pilots will become familiar with the Boeing 737 flightdeck in a cockpit procedures trainer and then climb into UFTC’s Boeing 737 flight simulator to test their instrument skills and ability to adapt to jet flight, says Don Taylor, Eclipse’s vice president-safety, training and flight operations. During the 1 to 1.5 hours in the 737 simulator, their piloting review will include an ILS approach and an intercept of a radial to a VOR.

Another phase involves the Eclipse Aviation Jet Basics Self-Study Course, during which students learn at their own pace from six modules: Introduction to Jet Engines, High-Altitude Physiology, High-Altitude and High-Airspeed Aerodynamics, High-Altitude Flight Planning, High-Altitude Weather and Weather Radar, and the self-based study final exam.

Phase 3 provides hands-on training in unexpected situations. This includes high-altitude physiological training by Eclipse, using a reduced oxygen breathing device to learn about the effects of hypoxia. The third phase also includes upset recovery training, for which Eclipse, in 2004, acquired an Aero Vocochody L-39 Albatross, a tandem-seat jet trainer built in the Czech Republic that also is used as a chase plane.

Students do not have to complete the first three phases of training in succession. But all segments must be completed before proceeding to Phase 4, the seven-day, Part 142 type rating transition course included with the purchase of the aircraft. This phase comprises 16 hours of Web-based, self-paced study focused on Eclipse 500 systems, ground school instruction, FTD and then simulator training, and flying the aircraft.

Flight Training Device

Made by Odessa, Fla.-based Opinicus Corp., the FTD will first be approved and used as a Level 6 training device. But it will include a motion system and, by early next year, be approved as a Level D simulator.

The FTD will include the Avio avionics suite developed by Eclipse and Avidyne. Like the Mustang, the Eclipse’s uncluttered cockpit panel will have a primary flight display on each side of a multifunction display. And like the Mustang, the Avio package is integrated and intuitive. Student pilots will be able to upload electronic check lists and determine the aircraft’s weight and balance. The system provides safeguards, such as ensuring the appropriate flaps and landing gear configurations for takeoff.

After about a week of training to achieve a Part 61 type rating, the Eclipse pilot will transition to Phase 5 and either be approved to fly as a single pilot or be required to fly with a trained mentor pilot. Finally, with Phase 6, the Eclipse pilot will enter into a regular, recurrent training program.

Rather than establish a group of mentors internally, Eclipse has been accepting resumes, including ones from "a lot of airline captains and corporate pilots" who want to use their off time serving as a mentor, says Taylor.

When is a mentor no longer needed? "That’s up to the mentor and how comfortable he feels about the pilot’s progress," says Taylor. "But if the customer is displeased with his mentor’s decision, we will assign another mentor. The results have to be mutually beneficial."

What if a pilot/owner never becomes sufficiently proficient? Eclipse Aviation has introduced three words, which are often heard in retail stores but not in aviation: money back guarantee. "We take our responsibility to create an environment for pilot success very seriously," says Eclipse chief executive officer, Vern Raburn. "So seriously that we have committed to refund the deposits of any customer who cannot successfully complete our [training] program."

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