Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Part 142 Flight Review

Why simulator training could save your life

Like so many aeronautical adventures, this was a quest for a signature. I was going to do my biennial flight review and an instrument proficiency check through an FAR Part 142 school—a simulator school. In other words, I was going to be put through the paces in a "virtual world" and never touch a real aircraft just to see what this experience was like.

To set the stage, I'm a multi-engine instrument-rated commercial pilot and a certified flight instructor with 1,900 hours in my logbook. In the "analog" world, I own and have some 700 hours in a Columbia 350 with the Avidyne instrument panel that obtains its information from two Garmin 430s. With those parameters, the Recurrent Training Center in Savoy, Ill., was selected as the most appropriate school for this adventure.

RTC ( was founded in 1988 by a former air-traffic controller named John Killeen, after he realized how successful simulator training was in reducing accidents with commercial airliners. He was convinced that he could achieve the same results in general aviation, and bought his first simulator. His current operation is housed in a spartan building containing a complement of Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATDs) and Flight Training Devices (FTDs), including simulators for Beechcraft King Airs, a Baron/Bonanza, a Piper Seneca, a Piper Navajo, a Cessna 300/400 series, a Cessna Skymaster and, finally, the Cirrus SR22 simulator, which I would be flying. RTC can handle 10 to 11 students per day, and is generally booked up for a good two months at a time. To date, they've trained 11,000 students.

In The Classroom

Upon arrival, I met my first instructor, Chuck Burmeister, and quickly realized that he's passionately committed to Killeen's vision of safer general aviation through simulator training. I found Burmeister's drive refreshing. Like most pilots, there are signatures in my logbook from instructors who saw me as a vehicle for free flight time as they waited for their slot to open up with an airline. Burmeister was light years away from that and truly cared that I was learning the information being presented to me.

My first questions were all about the legality of Part 142 schools and the differences between the value of the signature from a Part 142 school versus a Part 141 school, or even a Part 61 school. In a nutshell: A Part 61 school means that school is qualified to meet the minimum requirements in the FARs for flight training. A Part 141 or Part 142 school means that a representative of the FAA has personally approved every area of the syllabus to be utilized and each piece of equipment. The difference between the two is that Part 141 is an actual school with aircraft. Part 142 means "flight center," and this facility has no real aircraft, i.e. FlightSafety or SimCom. There's a general belief that students trained in 141/142 schools are better prepared for the rigors and challenges of aviation. What I didn't realize was that this all matters more to insurance companies than it does to the FAA. Going through 141/142 schools can significantly lower your insurance costs. For some aircraft, you can't even obtain insurance without a 141/142 signature in your logbook.
He gave me a couple of undaunted approaches to get my confidence up. Then, he attacked. He failed system after system on each approach. At times, there were multiple failures per approach.
Once the preliminary questions were answered, Burmeister and I discussed the benefits of simulator training over the advantages of training in the air. "Basic instruments are where pilots fail," Burmeister stated. "A lack of understanding basic attitude flying is where most of the accidents in aviation happen. That can be solved and the level of safety increased with the right instruction given by the right instructor. In this modern world, the biggest problem in aviation is that pilots are getting into their aircraft, taking off, turning on the autopilot and hitting GPS Direct at 400 feet. They don't turn off that autopilot again until they're down to 400 feet on the other side. Pilots are losing their basic six-pack steam-gauge attitude-flying skills. They get in trouble. Get out of whack and don't remember how to save themselves. My job is to bring them back to those primary skills. Airplanes are not killing people. It's the decision making of the pilot that's killing people. You cannot buy safety. You have to practice it and exercise it."


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