So far, the flight was going well, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that things were going almost too well. It was night, I was a single pilot, and we were climbing out of a widespread, deep overcast in a Citation Mustang. As we climbed through FL240, I started to feel a faint vibration in the seat of my pants. Before I could think about it, a sudden squeal was followed by a loud bang from the rear of the aircraft. The left master warning light began flashing, piercing the darkness of the cockpit with a pulsing red glow. The left fire warning illuminated, and a quick check of the engine gauges along with yaw pulling the nose left confirmed that we had lost the left engine. I reacted from memory, quickly donning my oxygen mask and pulling the left throttle to idle while confirming that the right engine stayed online. We immediately began to slow as I trimmed the rudder and punched the red warning light to turn it off. A few seconds later, the fire-warning indicator went out, so it looked like there wasn’t an ongoing fire.
I declared an emergency with center, pulled out the checklist and struggled in the darkness to find the engine shutdown procedure by flashlight. As I worked through the list, the red emergency warning on the right side suddenly began flashing, and the GEN OFF L-R messages appeared on the CAS panel of the G1000. I barely got the left engine to shut down before I realized that I was facing a dual generator failure—at night in the soup! I quickly worked through the memory items and scanned through the checklist to find the proper procedure. I tried a reset but couldn’t get the generator back online and had to switch power to the emergency bus. That left me flying by hand with just one PFD and a handful of equipment still operating. I quickly realized that this was going to be a night instrument approach on battery juice—and with no generators, there were no flaps, and I would have to remember to lower the gear manually before landing. All of the airports within 200 miles were at minimums, and I had barely 30 minutes of juice left. After that, all the screens would go black. My mouth was dry, and I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed, but I had to focus.
I got my first break when I checked our position and realized that we were almost directly over the big runways at Memphis. Without the generators, there were no speed brakes, so I just pulled the power back, ran the speed up to red line, and started an emergency descent at nearly 3,000 fpm. That gave me time to pull up an ILS approach plate on my iPad. I got the frequencies dialed in and headed for the IAF. Passing through 12,000 feet, I pulled off my oxygen
mask, and that’s when someone in the back shouted that they smelled smoke. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, and I didn’t have time to pull a checklist, so I fished out the smoke mask and struggled to get it and my oxygen mask back on. Approaching the IAF, I managed to run the checklist to manually drop the gear and thankfully saw three greens and no red. I managed to hand-fly the ILS fairly well, and nothing looked sweeter than that first sight of the rabbit as we broke through the mist just a little above minimums. Touchdown was on centerline, and as the nose came down, I gently squeezed the emergency brake handle to gradually stop on the runway.
That’s when the lights came on and my instructor said, “Good job…that’s enough for today. Shut it down and let’s go debrief.” He parked the sim, lowered the bridge, and we headed for the debrief room. It was a tough workout, but it’s the kind of session you come to expect when you do recurrent training in a jet.
Moving Into The Turbine World
When you step into the world of high-performance turbine operations, you’ll face numerous requirements for new sign-offs, ratings and training. The goal is to establish and maintain a high level of proficiency in core areas, including: airmanship, knowledge of systems, communications, situational awareness and resource management. Even after you get all that done, you’ll be required to demonstrate ongoing proficiency in order to maintain both legal currency and insurability. Just what requirements you’ll have to satisfy will depend on the FARs, what you fly, and various insurance-mandated requirements. It may sound daunting, but once you get there, it isn’t all that hard—and sometimes it’s even fun. Still, it’s useful to know what to expect before you even start the process.
For those who start off with a single-engine high-performance turboprop (SETP) like a Piper Meridian, Socata TBM 850 or Pilatus PC-12, the FARs require high-performance and complex sign-offs, as well as a pressurized aircraft 61.31(g) training endorsement. Although in principle, these aircraft can be operated VFR below FL180, no insurance company will provide coverage without an instrument rating. Those sign-offs will get you into the flight levels up to FL280. If you want to go higher, you’ll need RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) approval for your airplane, and you’ll need to get a logbook entry for completing RVSM training. RVSM airspace starts at FL290 and extends to FL410. Traffic at those altitudes is generally moving pretty fast, and with only 1,000 feet vertical separation between opposite direction traffic, the FAA wants to ensure adequate levels of equipment and training to keep everyone safe. It takes a while to get FAA approval for the airplane (ranging from two to six months), but the pilot training, which covers regulations and procedures, can be done online in only about two hours. Finally, if you’ve got your heart set on a twin turboprop, you’ll also need a multi-engine rating along with everything we’ve mentioned so far.
Jeffrey Robert Moss of Flying Like The Pros gives instruction on flying a Citation Mustang jet.
Once you have all of that done, your insurance company will most likely require simulator training and supervised operating experience (SOE) for some period of time depending on your level of experience. The complexity of the systems and the pace of operations in the turboprop world can seem overwhelming at first. So, the period of SOE is a great time to learn from an experienced instructor how to safely handle the systems, the pace and high-altitude operations. Once you demonstrate sufficient proficiency to operate safely and you meet the SOE requirements, you’ll get cut loose to operate on your own.
What About Jets?
Moving into the jet world brings some additional requirements. All turbojet aircraft require a type rating, and the first one is almost always an eye-opener. The type rating comes in two flavors: single pilot and crew. Most folks start at the crew level and move to the single pilot rating after some experience. Don’t be fooled—both are challenging—and you’ll learn a lot of new skills in either case. You’ll train with an instructor to learn steep turns, a series of stall recovery procedures, V1 cuts, single-engine go-arounds and lots of instrument work. In the classroom, you’ll learn all of the systems along with a number of memory-item checklists and all of the operating limitations. In most light jets, initial type training takes anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the airplane and your background. If you go for a crew rating, you have to demonstrate the ability to effectively communicate and work with a copilot. As a single pilot, you’re on your own, and it can seem overwhelming at times.
To fly higher than Flight Level 280, you’ll need RVSM approval for your airplane and a logbook entry for RVSM training.
At the end of the process, you’ll face a comprehensive two-part exam from an examiner who isn’t your instructor. The first part will be an oral covering all aspects of the systems, limitations, weight and balance, memory items and whatever else the examiner wants to ask. The oral is the real deal and covers everything—you either know your stuff, or it all ends right there. Next, you’ll demonstrate that you can fly the PTS to ATP standards. Again, if you bust a minimum, forget a procedure or bobble a V1 cut, you’ll probably get sent back for more training. As flight tests go, type rides are among the most challenging. The FARs additionally require 25 hours of SOE if you train or take your practical test for your first turbojet type rating in an approved simulator. Once you’ve submitted records showing that you’ve met the SOE requirements, you can obtain an unrestricted type rating to act as PIC. The process is set up to make sure that operators of jet aircraft are able to operate at ATP level proficiency before they get the rating.
At the end of the process, most insurance carriers require some additional SOE time depending on your background and experience. Go straight from a Cirrus SR22 to a CJ3 with only 500 hours in your logbook, and you can pretty much expect to fly with an instructor for at least a year—and if you have to ask what that policy will cost, forget about it. On the other hand, the jump from a King Air to a Citation Mustang with over 1,000 hours of logged turbine time might only require 10-15 hours of SOE.
Staying Current And Proficient
All Part 91 pilots have to satisfy the requirements for recent experience set out in FAR 61.57. First on that list are three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to carry passengers [61.57(a).] Remember, that’s specific to the category, class and type of aircraft, so if you hold multiple type ratings, you have to meet the requirement in each type to be current. That also means that you could be current in two multi-engine jets but not in a single-engine Skyhawk.
You also have to meet the night currency requirements to carry passengers at night [61.57(b)] and the instrument currency requirements to be able to operate under IFR as PIC [61.57(c)]. For turbine pilots, instrument currency is particularly important because getting up into Class A airspace is where turbines are the most efficient.
There are some areas in the country where it may be hard to stay current without donning a hood and recruiting a safety pilot, but letting your instrument currency lapse is simply not an option if you operate a turbine. Finally, you have to have had a flight review as specified in 61.56 in the last 24 months to act as PIC.
As far as the FAA is concerned, the standards for currency in a turboprop are pretty much the same as in the piston world—with possibly one small exception. RVSM LOAs (letter of authorization) and operating manuals are approved for each airplane by individual FISDOs. Some (but not all) FISDOs require recurrent RVSM training, so some turbine operators who operate above FL 280 have to periodically re-do RVSM training. It’s not hard, but you have to know the requirements of your LOA.
In order to act as PIC in a jet, FAR 61.58 mandates a proficiency check within the last 12 months. If you’re typed in more than one jet, you’ll have to get checked in each of the types every 24 months. The “61.58” check is basically a “do-over” of the type checkride. It covers the PTS, and you have to demonstrate the ability to fly to ATP standards. Your rating will dictate whether or not you can do the proficiency check as a crew or solo (the details can be found in FAA notice 8900.200).
Some jets not originally type certificated for single-pilot operations (like a few older 500 series Citations) can be operated single pilot through a LOA, which will dictate the specific training requirements. In any case, to get a 61.58 sign off, you can’t go to your local instructor; you’ll need to fly with a designated pilot proficiency examiner (PPE) who’s typed in the aircraft. The good news is that a 61.58 counts as a bi-annual flight review, and you’ll do enough instrument work to renew your instrument currency for another six months. Once you’ve done a few 61.58 checks, it becomes pretty straightforward and even fun.
Whether you fly a turboprop or a jet, all insurance policies will require annual recurrent training, and some will specify that the training be done in a simulator.
Simulator time is “problem time,” where you practice handling emergencies and events best left to a simulator. Both annual emergency training and 61.58 checks can be done at a Part 142 school (like FlightSafety, SimCom, CAE, and others). There’s a lot to remember and it’s easy to get rusty, so many operators train more than once a year, and some train as often as every quarter. High-performance turbine operations in busy airspace can be challenging, and frequent training elevates safety—particularly when something goes wrong.
Getting the ratings, staying current, and maintaining proficiency can seem like a real gauntlet, but with some perseverance, anyone with the means can work through it. Those who have been lucky enough to get there would agree: The view of the world from FL410 makes it all worth it.
John Hayes is typed in the Citation Mustang and is an ATP, CFI, MEI and CFII with over 4,300 hours in numerous airplanes. A founder and past president of TBMOPA and the Citation Jet Pilots, he also enjoys flying aerobatics in an Extra 300L.