Pol­ish­ing off the rust of fly­ing a Fal­con 10

MAN­AG­ING MY RE­TURN TO THE COCK­PIT

Flying - - Contents - By John King

“Mak­ing power … air­speed alive … 80 knots … V1 … ro­tate … pos­i­tive rate.”

Martha, as pi­lot mon­i­tor­ing, was mak­ing the call-outs for my first take­off in our old Fal­con 10 in more than a year. And the take­off wasn’t pretty.

When it’s lightly loaded, the Fal­con 10 takes off like a scalded cat. Early Lear and Fal­con 10 pilots used to tape a $100 bill to the cock­pit floor be­tween the two pilots and tell pas­sen­gers in back they could have the cash if they could get to it be­fore the air­plane reached 10,000 feet. The money was safe.

“Speed check. You need to pitch up more. We’re get­ting too fast to raise the gear.”

The ini­tial tar­get pitch-up on ro­ta­tion for take­off for this swept-wing jet is 16 de­grees. That pitch at­ti­tude is de­signed to give the best an­gle-of-climb speed in the event of an en­gine fail­ure. But if you don’t lose an en­gine, you need to keep bring­ing the pitch up to about 25 de­grees or your speed will get out of hand. I had paused too long be­fore pitch­ing on up. It was clear that I was al­ready be­hind this high-per­for­mance jet.

“You need to pitch back down some. You over­shot. We’re get­ting too nose-high.”

I was also over-con­trol­ling and miss­ing my tar­get pitch at­ti­tudes. In the Fal­con 10, a lit­tle bit of over-con­trol­ling goes a long way.

“Speed check. Now you’re get­ting too fast. We haven’t got­ten the flaps and slats up yet. Pitch back up — aim for 25 de­grees again.”

I was cer­tainly keep­ing Martha busy. She has a great abil­ity to man­age high work­loads in flight, and in this case she needed it. With at­ten­tive mon­i­tor­ing and timely di­rec­tion, she soon got both me and the air­plane un­der con­trol.

I was de­lighted to have my FAA med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate back and be fly­ing again, but I was shocked at how much pro­fi­ciency I had lost in just a lit­tle more than a year. Af­ter all, I had flown this air­plane reg­u­larly for 15 years. The re­turn was a hu­mil­i­at­ing per­for­mance.

I was in the same po­si­tion as thou­sands of rusty pilots who now have the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to fly­ing as a re­sult of Ba­sicmed med­i­cal­cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­forms. I am es­pe­cially for­tu­nate to have an in­struc­tor who is knowl­edge­able and cur­rent in the air­plane, and ded­i­cated to get­ting

me fly­ing again. Find­ing just such an in­struc­tor would be a good strat­egy for any pi­lot re­turn­ing to the cock­pit.

The good news is the rusti­ness doesn’t last for­ever. It didn’t take long for Martha’s thought­ful coach­ing to get me back into shape. She had a great plan and ex­e­cuted it per­fectly. First, she ar­ranged for me to do re­cur­rent sim­u­la­tor train­ing at Flight­safety, along with her and her other copi­lots, in the mid­dle of my hia­tus.

Then, when I was first back in a pi­lot seat in the air­plane, she ar­ranged for one of her other qual­i­fied copi­lots, Barry Knut­tila, to sit right be­hind us in the jumpseat to mon­i­tor for er­rors and dis­trac­tion. Barry, in ad­di­tion to be­ing CEO of King Schools, is type-rated in the Fal­con and fre­quently serves as a pi­lot in it.

In a two-pi­lot op­er­a­tion, the se­cond pi­lot is sup­posed to be back­ing up the cap­tain’s si­t­u­a­tional aware­ness and check­ing for er­rors. In this case, Barry filled that role while Martha du­ti­fully watched over and in­structed me.

In ad­di­tion to the over-con­trol­ling on the first take­off and be­ing be­hind the air­plane, as I con­tin­ued to fly I dis­played other signs of rust, some of which took me right back to my stu­dent-pi­lot days. For in­stance, with the in­fin­itely ad­justable pi­lot’s seats and ped­als in the Fal­con I couldn’t seem to find the “per­fect” seat po­si­tion for land­ing. I hadn’t had that anx­ious feel­ing since my very first solo flights.

Be­fore we got in the air, Martha re­viewed our cock­pit flows and our stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures with me. It was in­valu­able help, but I still found I was oc­ca­sion­ally for­get­ting to fol­low some of our SOPS when they would have made things a lot eas­ier — most no­tably fail­ing to set up the flight di­rec­tor be­fore tak­ing the run­way in­stead of fum­bling with it in the air.

Af­ter giv­ing me a half-dozen or so legs to build pro­fi­ciency in the pi­lot-fly­ing seat, Martha moved me over to the copi­lot seat, which is ac­tu­ally the busier po­si­tion in our air­plane. That’s where my rust showed up the most. Once again, I tended to for­get SOPS that would have made things eas­ier — such as fail­ing to set the de­par­ture con­trol fre­quency in standby when putting the tower fre­quency in the pri­mary po­si­tion.

It was in the right seat that my loss of mus­cle mem­ory be­came the most ob­vi­ous. In our op­er­a­tion, the copi­lot does most of the cock­pit flow checks, moves the switches and fol­lows up with check­lists. Pre­vi­ously, my hands went to the proper switches with­out my hav­ing to think about it. Now I was hav­ing to search for them.

The place where the need to think through each step slowed me down the most, and put the most pres­sure on me, was in the op­er­a­tion of the avionics. When ATC gave us re­vised clear­ances, I of­ten found my­self fum­bling around and hav­ing to ask Martha how to do some­thing I could have done with­out think­ing about be­fore. I was thrilled when I got that skill back again.

In most cases my lack of pro­fi­ciency wasn’t risky. It was just in­ef­fi­cient. For in­stance, in plan­ning ev­ery flight we fill out a take­off and land­ing data card. We call it a TOLD card. We write down the con­di­tions for the take­off and land­ing — weight, tem­per­a­ture and pres­sure alti­tude. Then we show the speeds to fly and the take­off and land­ing dis­tances re­quired com­pared to the run­way avail­able. When I re­turned, Martha went through the card with me and re­minded me of the short­cuts for filling it out. Even with Martha’s tu­tor­ing, for a while, it took me longer.

There is one pi­lot­ing ben­e­fit from my en­forced ab­sence from the cock­pit. Dur­ing the hia­tus, I rode around as a pas­sen­ger and ob­served the fly­ing of other pilots. As a re­sult, my fly­ing is now smoother and my land­ings are bet­ter — in fact, I’ve had a long string of re­ally great land­ings — at least up un­til now.

It is a great thrill to be shar­ing the cock­pit with Martha again. We have al­ways got­ten deep sat­is­fac­tion from be­ing a well-func­tion­ing crew, but we are es­pe­cially en­joy­ing it now. It is as if we are danc­ing a beau­ti­ful and mean­ing­ful bal­let to­gether. Af­ter a lot of hard work on both our parts, Martha re­ports I am now fly­ing at the level I was be­fore I in­vol­un­tar­ily left the cock­pit.

Fi­nally, it will be no sur­prise to any­body that, like all pilots re­turn­ing to the cock­pit af­ter a forced lay­off, I am get­ting greatly re­newed joy out of ev­ery as­pect of my fly­ing. Ev­ery minute is just de­li­cious.

I WAS IN THE SAME PO­SI­TION AS THOU­SANDS OF RUSTY PILOTS WHO NOW HAVE THE OP­POR­TU­NITY TO RE­TURN TO FLY­ING AS A RE­SULT OF BA­SICMED MED­I­CAL­CER­TI­FI­CA­TION RE­FORMS.

Get­ting back to the left seat of a com­plex air­plane such as the Fal­con 10 af­ter a lengthy hia­tus is not an easy feat.

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