Halldale Group Industry Reporter Amanda Towner tries out her nascent flying skills in TRU Simulation + Training’s (TRU) XLS+ Full-Flight Simulator (FFS) at the company’s training center in Lutz, Florida.
We are approaching the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport runway in Washington, DC. The control tower is near, and beyond that I can make out the Monument. David Smith, Vice President, Business Aviation, TRU, pilots us on our flight, teaching me a three-minute course in the basics while I absorb what I can.
It’s my first time flying anything. I keep the yoke steady, pulling up if we drop below the point I am told is too low. We coast along on our flight path, and I sit back a little more in my chair, feeling immensely small in this cockpit that engulfs me and yet makes me feel tightly packaged. I could really only compare it to sitting in an SUV, but without seeing above the dashboard or feeling comfortably in-control of the wheel. Although the simulator is to spec with the aircraft, I wasn’t expecting it to be so compact, and I couldn’t imagine calling it home for more than a few hours while traveling. If I stretch my arms, I would end up hitting the pilot.
I had quite the time getting in the cockpit earlier, feeling like a clumsy racecar driver as I climbed in. Standing behind the chair at an angle, I stepped one leg out in front of the seat and, holding the headrest for any kind of balance, somehow swooped the other leg out in front before collapsing into the chair.
Now my legs hit the console of buttons to the left and right of me and I feel the need to be very still and alert so I do not accidentally press anything.
I cast my eyes over its technical architecture, feeling both overwhelmed and ignorant of all the knowledge that’s needed to fly this thing. I only know about two instruments from Smith’s briefing: the altitude indicator and the vertical speed indicator, both of which I keep my eyes on.
All of a sudden an alarm sounds and I turn to see the left engine button blink red: fire.
“What do we do?” I say.
“We land with one engine,” says Smith.
Our altitude is at 800 feet or so. “What do we need to be at to start landing?”
“About 500,” he says.
The DC runway is getting closer and we are flying over the Potomac River now.
We are still too high. I push down harder on the yolk.
Smith begins the landing protocol, flipping switches and levers around me while I wait for the impact.
After we land, the instructor behind us changes our route, and with the convenience of the simulator, we are now approaching a different airport – John F. Kennedy International Airport.
I can see buildings below us this time, and there are cars busily moving about. I peer out over my side window just as Smith informs me to “climb.”
“Climb?” I stare blankly at him.
I hear the instructor’s warning about hitting the buildings just as Smith says “pull up.” I hold my breath and tug up abruptly as we narrowly miss hitting one of the buildings. Relief washes over me, followed by the embarrassing realization that I almost made us crash into a building. The fact that pilots can learn how to fly a different type of aircraft in just two weeks of training really marvels me.
Earlier, during take-off, I pulled up too fast and, had we been in an aircraft, would have made the wing stall. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be getting my “wings,” and, more importantly, that I should be getting my wings clipped.
We are over the Jamaica Bay now and the landing strip is right in front of us. As we near the runway, Smith takes control of the landing procedures and we land successfully. If I was a passenger on this ride I would have clapped.
I exited the XLS + FFS and Smith continued my tour of the facility.
The XLS + is just one of seven FFSs housed in the training center, as part of the Flight Safety Textron Aviation Training (FSTAT) joint venture between FlightSafety International and TRU Simulation + Training, a Textron Inc. company. It also features five Flight Training Devices (FTDs), with one more being delivered later this year. The XLS + FFS and all of the devices at the training center are built here in about 14-18 months, on the manufacturing side of the building.
This type of simulator in particular, modeled after the Citation XLS+ business jet, is used at the center to train roughly 30 percent pilots for private or small business, and 70 percent professional pilots. It could be a pilot’s third or fourth type rating.
Out of the two weeks of initial training, students will have eight days of ground school, where half of the day is spent training on the computer and with an instructor – understanding basic systems functions, components of the electrical system, viewing alerts and schematics, callouts – and the other half is spent in the FTD to train for confidence, comfort and instinct in flight operations. For recurrent training, there are only two days of ground school, and pilots can complete the coursework online and then come in to the center for their checkride.
A class was in session during our tour, and I got to see some of the material presented in the lecture. The instructors, I was surprised to find out, only taught courses on aircraft they actually had seasoned experience in.
The FTD training starts on the first day so instructors can understand where students are immediately struggling and can make them familiar and proficient with the components before the FFS phase. The training involves scenarios mostly on safe operations, but also includes some critical events and malfunctions so that students can learn the cause and effect to the actions they perform in flight.
When students move on to the FFS, they spend anywhere from 2-2.5 hours in training each day with the instructor – my experience was about 20 minutes. Instructors can simulate malfunctions, like the engine fire we had, and configure or position the FFS as needed to test the student’s decision-making abilities. The types of scenarios that can be simulated vary across each device, taking into account the particular specifications of the aircraft, including the number and type of engines, avionics and navigation equipment.
In addition to scenarios, the device replicates the exact amount of thrust a pilot would feel in the actual aircraft using its acceleration vector, which is what I was most interested in experiencing for the first time. On take-off I really felt the challenge of pulling up on the yoke and experienced the pressure of acceleration on my back. We encountered between 1-2G, but the simulator could have safely reached accelerations of up to 3G. Interestingly, pilots are required to go through annual medical assessments, which show they are physically fit and still capable of handling the plane and the amount of force it produces – something else I had not known.
All of the training comes down to the oral examination and the checkride, which is a pass/fail final exam that can only be attempted two times.
At the end of our tour, Smith left me with an inspiring message: to be continuously sharpened by training and to increase safety each year. Due to the amount of stress that students go through during training, TRU is integrating a variety of student performance tracking-features into its next generation of training devices. TRU hopes that by implementing this new technology, the company can supplement training to help students cope with stress and help improve their performance as well as safety in the cockpit. The company expects to provide more information on this development later this year.