Flight Safety International: Pilot Valhalla.

FullSizeRender 73Flight Safety International has been the standard of quality in flight training for over 60 years. Their reputation mostly comes from superior quality training in “big iron” e.g. larger corporate jets. They train around the clock and around the world (just like the aviation market they support) and hire the best people in the industry. Their quality and unimpeachable integrity obviously comes at a considerable cost for the client. For the top shelf Gulfstream 650, an initial type-rating is around $100K (but two are included usually if you buy the $65 million jet).  Clearly, most people do not arrive at these doors unless their corporate flight department is paying for the training. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to train at FSI and expand my skills and knowledge. The fact that my company insists on FSI over cheaper and  lower quality training options is also a testimony to the company’s commitment to safety and quality.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 9.14.24 PMFlying the Pilatus PC-12NG is also a privilege. This Swiss aviation company has a reputation for quality, and their unbreakable yank and bank turbines have been the choice of the military around the world for many years.  Starting with their legendary Air America Porters landing on postage-stamp-sized Lima Sites in Laos, the PC-6 military trainer and later PC-7 and 9 have been the choice of most foreign countries for military pilot training. The Beechcraft T-6 “Texan II” currently used by  the US Air Force and Navy is a modified version of the Pilatus PC-9.

PC12NGCockpitTheir first Pilatus passenger transport, the single-engine PC-12 was initially very controversial with only one big Pratt and Whitney PT-6 turbine up front (our company owns the second one imported into the US). Prior to the arrival of this airframe, all Part 135 (on demand charter) in the US required two pilots and two engines to carry passengers (by regulation) with very few exceptions. The success and growth of the Pilatus market and the incredibly reliable PW engine, led to the development of the PC-12NG  (Next Generation) and new regulations. This plane is approved for single pilot, single engine Part 135 charter on demand. Airlines like Plane Sense have built a whole regional markets based on this airframe (though they usually fly two-pilot Part 121 or Part 135). The Swiss single has earned a well-deserved reputation for quality, comfort and reliability. They have been recording record sales due to the success of the PC-12.

PC-12-NG-SpectreThe fact that Flight Safety has a prop-driven plane in their training livery is a bit of an aberration. The only reason this program exists at all at FSI (I have been told) is again due to the military and specifically the Navy Seal program’s utilization of the PC-12 Spectre. Their unique requirements needed a first class preparation since these guys were not trained as pilots in the military.  Through a collaborative process with Flight Safety to train their pilots, a simulator was created and the PC-12 program was born. The PC-12NG is one of the most sophisticated (and expensive at $4.2 million) simulators in the Dallas building. Banks of servers and continuous meticulous maintenance are required to keep these simulators happy and functioning to FAA standards.

IMG_0012 3The FSI training process actually starts a few weeks before the class date with training materials arriving via a very slick iPad app from the company. As soon as I established an account and logged in, 8,000 pages of training materials arrived in digital form. They actually give you an iPad Air with this course if you do not have one! It’s a very slick presentation and absolutely first-rate materials. The manual on the Honeywell APEX avionics system alone is 1,200 pages. For this is a fully automated, electronically-driven machine, so totally digital training is so appropriate. Since I already had one I asked for paper copies instead and cluttered up the hotel room with endless paper products.

FullSizeRender 69As a pilot I always wanted to train at FSI and try my hand at “real flying.” I still have to pinch myself every day I walk in the door here for training. It was an even better experience since one of my former students, Justin Maas, worked here and was a highly-respected instructor for a couple years before he went to Gulfstream. What a nice surprise to arrive in the aura of this talented pilot! Better yet, our paths happened to cross for a week here and I got to try out the amazing new G-280 (with a full-functioning HUD) for a little trip around the pattern with Justin. Nothing like starting out your week with a little time in a $4,000 an hour jet (and feeling like a total klutz). In a distinct swap of roles, FullSizeRender 77guess who was in the right seat assuring the safety of flight? Justin was at FSI doing his required 6-month requalifications in the G280. What an amazing pilot (and person) to hang out with; great times! His stories of international trips in the Gulfstreams for his corporate flight department are quite amazing. Their job is to demo some of the extreme things a Gulfstream are capable of to impress their clients. Certainly all safe but definitely on the edge.

IMG_8928So the first week of any initial training at FSI is all about learning the systems of the airplane. The enduring joke is “I want to fly it not build it” but the reasons for the excruciating detail in this plane is obvious. The classroom delivery of the material is first class but the volume is almost overwhelming. It involves 8-9 hour days for a week and studying every night to keep up. My master’s degree was a good preparation for workload but the technical detail is daunting. Finally yesterday we finished with the last testing (and I passed!) so we get in the sim for “flying” starting on Sunday.

EdSimonFlightSafetyA shout out to my instructor, the very talented and passionate Ed Simons. He is a total airplane nerd, part time PC-12 pilot and a professional educator. He digs deep into the maintenance manuals to understand and convey every important detail of PC-12 operation. Additionally, with all his hours training everyone from Canadian Royal Mounted Police to Seal Team Six, he has a wealth of real-world tips and stories to keep the presentation interesting. I can’t say enough about the quality of the instructors here. On to the sim and let’s hope I am still smiling next week!

Part 135 Indoctrination Training

Our pilots are required to participate in a minimum of 36 hours of “indoc training” to familiarize them with the General Operating Manual of the company. This is how we are approved to do business and extend and interpret the regulations of CFR 135. Our “GOM”  is eight chapters and the last is probably the most important: “Operation Specifications” which is how we are approved under the regulations to legally fly charter. Much of this is straight out of Part 135 with our particular procedures delineated so everyone’s role and responsibilities are laid our clearly. Some parts are amazingly similar to GA flying, e.g. 91.175 and 135.225 are almost the same.

IMG_8780The overriding concept to master in CFR 135 seems to be “operational control.” When conducting a flight under CFR 91 a General Aviation pilot is in charge of everything. We plan, dispatch and terminate a flight at our own calling. When flying under CFR 135, the Director of Operations builds the flight and engages the players. The PIC is obviously a key player, flying the plane, but not last word. The interplay between maintenance, pilot, weather is orchestrated, monitored and tuned to create a safe and efficient flight. We fly under very specific operation specifications that define roles and procedures. “The regulations specify, the GOM modifies, and the op. specs. authorize” is a mantra we have recited numerous times mastering this pile of paper. Today I passed my last test and was signed off as completing initial indoc training.

There was some great camaraderie embedded together for 36 hours of powerpoint (deadly) and discussion! There is also lots quizzing to see if you are retaining the material. There was a good mix of “been there, done that” pilots in recurrent and “newbies” like me. What I very much enjoyed is that much of CFR 135 is the very important “extras” we apply to flying in the Part 91 recreational flying world to make it safer…the briefings and double checks, flight following and maintenance sign-offs. When we conduct a careful recreational flight full up with briefings and intense effort, we approach the level of detail in CFR 135. This is however regulatory and a more carefully orchestrated system of compliance and safety checking with very specific requirements.


One very nice treat for me midway through training was getting some time with the PC-12NG I will be training on next week. This plane was in KSYR for a charter and the owner and pilot took me through the beast. What an awesome machine. We apparently fly four of these in different configurations all over the NE and as far west as Denver. Also, on Friday we got the very good news that three more of our pilots were approved by the FAA, one in a PC-12NG and two our Lear 60s. Onward to Dallas.

BTW, this was waiting for me up in SYR as I arrived at the FBO and got the shuttle over to the airline terminal. The people here seem to be very competent and caring. Like all pilots I am an achievement junkie. It’s always nice to see some progress in the right direction.