Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Part 142 Flight Review

Why simulator training could save your life

In addition to the Cirrus SR22 simulator, RTC offers training in simulators for King Airs, Bonanzas, Senecas, Cessna 300/400s and more.
After a catered lunch, Burmeister and I were back at it with him teaching me his personal philosophy of professionalism, which included reading the definition of "professional" from the dictionary—"one who conforms to the standard of a profession or trade."

The next lesson was going to be instrument approaches with a whole lot of socked-in weather. My instructor for this was a patient man named Bill Goebel. He gave me a couple of undaunted approaches just to get my confidence up, and I flew a perfectly functioning aircraft to the runway. Then, he attacked. He failed system after system on each approach. At times, there were multiple failures per approach. For some of the approaches, the only thing that saved me was that I popped out of the clouds and could see the ground with enough altitude left to recover the aircraft.

As far as the realism goes, my shirt was dripping wet with sweat by the time I was told that I was receiving a "C" for that lesson. This time, two hours seemed like a lifetime.

For the second day, I would be working with Kyle Lyons, the school's manager. Ground school was all about being a prepared pilot and how all successful pilots have a structure in prepping for every flight. One of the school's mottos is that checklists aren't "to-do" lists, but tools to ensure that you've done all of your work and when it needs to be done.

Then back to the simulator for more abuse. Even with all the other tasks going on, Lyons set me up with a catastrophic engine failure while solidly in the clouds at 7,000 feet with the bottoms of the clouds at 200 feet above the ground. With this being a Cirrus simulator, the proper choice was to pull the red handle above my head, firing the rocket, which pulls out that big ol' giant parachute...and I just couldn't do it. I'm a pilot. I was going to fly that plane down to the ground. I knew that with a gliding descent of 500 fpm, emerging from the clouds at 200 feet will give me a good 20 seconds to find a solution somewhere in front of me. I put the Cirrus into a farmer's field at 65 knots with wings level and received a "C."

But I was there for the whole experience. I had to see what it's like to pull that handle. Lyons hit the reset button, and I flew the same scenario again. Yeah, I pulled the red handle. This mock-up really simulates the whole experience—right down to the pendulum swinging under the chute all the way to the ground.

As we came to the last lesson of the course, I knew that I really wanted to test the graphics on my home turf. Although my last cross-country was supposed to start from Midway (MDW), Lyons let me start it from Chicago Executive (PWK) so that I could fly the Chicago lakefront, a route that I fly in the real world once or twice a month. The graphics are impressive. Each of the buildings of Chicago's famous skyline is the right size, shape and color and in the right location. The shape and various angles of the lakeshore are completely accurate. Neither Navy Pier nor Belmont Harbor exists in this virtual Chicago. And, most disappointing, there's no Wrigley Field. But the whole simulation is real enough that I found myself worrying about busting Midway's Delta airspace and the consequences of that action before I once again realized this was all pretend.


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