I’ve been flying and teaching in Beechcraft Bonanzas and Barons for 30 years. Early in my career I ran the Beechcraft factory-authorized Bonanza training program, which centered on a type-specific Flight Training Device, colloquially called a “simulator.” Teaching Bonanza and Baron pilots in “the sim” gave me a great appreciation of the value of simulation, not only for procedures and task training, but more importantly for presenting scenarios and decision-making exercises.
So, when Mike Radomsky asked me to attend and critique his Full Motion Emergency & Instrument Simulator Trainer (FEIST) program at North Las Vegas Airport in Nevada, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I experience the Cirrus simulator and Mike’s approach to type-specific teaching, I also hoped to be exposed to the decisionmaking and practical risk management taught in the Cirrus community, and adapt these techniques to take back to Beechcraft pilots. After all, the American Bonanza Society Air Safety Foundation’s Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program (BPPP) helped COPA get the CPPP started when Cirrus was new. I run the ABS Air Safety Foundation; learning from the mature Cirrus training community would be a good return on that investment.
Mike asked if I wanted to take the SR22 course, or if I’d prefer to follow a more generic emergency-based syllabus, since I have virtually no Cirrus experience (about five hours total). I enthusiastically replied in favor of the SR22-specific program – that would permit me to get the best exposure to FEIST’s type-specific approach and allow me to make a better critique if what Mike teaches maximizes his time utilization as well.
It’s been a long time since I transitioned into a new airplane type – it would be good for me to get into the books to prepare to fly a different airplane.
With that decided, Mike emailed me an SR22 POH applicable to FEIST’s Avidyne-equipped simulator. He also sent me a three-page list of emergency procedures that serves as the “menu” for FEIST training – including engine failures, fires, electrical outages, microbursts, icing, partial panel and lost comm scenarios ... even hung starters, wing fires and midair collisions! Students rate how important each is to cover in training, circling whether each is a high, medium or low priority. As I made my selections, I was excited to have the opportunity to practice these scenarios, and nervous, wondering just what sort of simulator session I was setting myself up for!
Mike recommended a nice and inexpensive hotel near North Las Vegas and kindly picked me up on the morning of my full day of training. We renewed our acquaintance and covered the preliminaries. Arriving at his facility in the same office of the “world headquarters” of COPA, we settled into a briefing room. Mike had laid out a series of handouts and briefing items, and methodically progressed through a very thorough overview, augmented to orient me to the specific systems and procedures of the SR22. I have a lot of experience flying and teaching IO-550s, including turbonormalized and turbocharged variants, which helped a lot; I’d done my AFM homework, and the important takeoff and landing numbers of the SR22 are very similar to an A36 Bonanza. Glide speed is significantly slower in the Cirrus than the Beechcraft, and we covered that in detail ... as well as whether and how to reduce propeller RPM for engine-out glide with the unique SR22 propeller control.
From outside the Cirrus community it sometimes appears emergency procedures are “all about the parachute.” Mike gave a superb briefing that expertly explained that this is not the case. We discussed scenarios that would automatically call for CAPS deployment, including midair collisions, control system failure, and any condition that went to the point the airplane was out of control. I’d reviewed the AFM CAPS deployment procedure and felt ready (and a little excited) to practice it in the sim. Of course, most talk about CAPS centers on engine failures. Mike used an excellent illustration to explain when – and when not – to deploy the CAPS in the event of engine failure. He highlighted the problem of “Region Awareness” – knowing what to do regarding CAPS in an engine failure based on your height above the ground. The minimum demonstrated CAPS deployment altitude in the airplane Mike’s simulator replicates is 500 feet. A loss of engine power in the first 500 feet of climb after takeoff means do not deploy the CAPS. Instead, land more or less straight ahead under control, as if the whole-airplane parachute had never been invented. Mike explained this as the “No CAPS” region. Much of the Cirrus fleet has a minimum 600 feet AGL, and he uses that height as the top of the No CAPS region for customers who fly those airplanes.
From 500 AGL/600 AGL (as appropriate) to 2,000 feet AGL you are in the “CAPS Now” region. There’s too much risk in trying to return to the runway behind you in this altitude range, and time spent troubleshooting the engine is a distraction that makes a stall/spin likely. Consequently, Mike teaches that if power is lost in that region, don’t be a hero – pull the mixture to shut off the engine, then pull the red handle to activate the parachute.
Above 2,000 AGL you enter the “Consider CAPS” region. First attempt a restart. If that attempt is unsuccessful, if you begin to lose control, or if there is simply no good option for landing within gliding range and the engine won’t start, pull the handle, pull the mixture and turn off the fuel. If the airplane descends below 1,200 AGL and the engine hasn’t restarted, you’re back in the CAPS Now region, unless a runway is in glide range right in front of you.
found Mike’s disciplined and methodical approach to be both refreshing (it dispels the “chute-happy” stereotype forced on Cirrus pilots by non-Cirrus pilots) and helpful, as it complements what I teach in Bonanzas: a loss in engine power requires the pilot to “push and hold,” that is, push the nose down to a short-field landing attitude and hold wings level with rudder. Below 500 feet AGL, land straight ahead, plus or minus maybe 20 degrees as needed to avoid obstacles. From 500 to 1,000 feet AGL, you may turn up to 90 degrees to align with your best option, but when reaching 500 feet AGL level the wings and take whatever is pretty much straight ahead. Above 1,000 feet AGL a well-practiced pilot may be able to turn back to the airport (at least the flat airport grounds, if not the runway), again leveling the wings and accepting whatever is straight ahead when reaching 500 feet AGL. In all cases the objective is to land wings level, under control, at the lowest safe speed. My point: there is a common need to teach “region awareness” for engine failures, whether or not CAPS is available.
I’ve always wondered how a Cirrus pilot would handle a pitch trim runaway. I’ve experienced this “for real” in an A36 Bonanza and the pitch forces were enormous. In the Bonanza there is a manual trim wheel you can use to restore the trim setting after a runaway, and as subsequent trim changes are needed for approach and landing. The Cirrus, of course, does not have a manual trim – after responding to a trim runaway there is no way to reset the trim. You’ll have to aggressively fight the trim to successfully land the airplane. Mike said he had not been presenting trim runaway in his syllabus but agreed to try it with me to see if I was able to fly the airplane afterward.
The thoroughness with which Mike briefed the simulator session, and the willingness he had to answer my questions and discuss instructional theory along the way, meant we covered a lot of material before it was finally time to climb into the sim and begin practicing what I learned. I was surprised to realize we had only briefed for about an hour and a half, which Mike said was typical of his usual customer briefings.
The heat is on
As a former simulator instructor with several hundred hours of “dual received” in sims, I’ve found best training results come from acting as though you are in an actual airplane. Start up from the beginning using the Before Start and Start checklists, and do a full Before Takeoff check and engine runup. This was important to “get my head into the game” for the training, but also to acquaint me with the SR22 and its Avidyne panel. A side note: Having no experience with the Avidyne had virtually no impact on the quality and effectiveness of emergency procedures training (EPT). Sure, it’s valuable to spend time working with the specific avionics in the airplane you fly, especially when focusing on IFR procedures, but the simulator’s strength is its ability to let you practice abnormal and emergency procedures that cannot be safely or accurately presented in an actual airplane. Virtually all of the valuable experience is avionics-agnostic, and the fact the FEIST sim’s panel may not look like yours means very little compared to the unique benefits of simulator-based EPT.
Mike positioned the airplane at my home airport near Wichita, and after all the checklists were complete, let me fly a takeoff, pattern and landing to get the feel for the sim – which does a great job of emulating an airplane, but like all Flight Training Devices it takes a very gentle touch. Pilots new to simulation will likely need more time practicing before they can move on to practicing emergencies.
After the first circuit I took off on a simulated trip. Well clear of the ground the engine quit; I used the technique I teach in Bonanzas: Fuel, Fuel, Fuel, Ignition, Air – sequentially switch the Fuel tank, advance the Fuel mixture, activate the auxiliary Fuel pump, check the Ignition, and activate alternate Air, until the engine starts – and the procedure worked.
Next we focused on failures during takeoff – a rejected takeoff due to a failed Primary Flight Display (PFD), then a total of seven engine failures in the No CAPS region with landings straight ahead. I learned how and when to extend flaps and manipulate the propeller speed to minimize the distance it took to get back on the ground and stopped … extremely instructive and translatable to Bonanzas as well.
Mike presented me with a blown tire on a couple of takeoffs, one in which I took off and recovered at a wide-runway airport, the other that caused me to abort the takeoff. Finally I experienced what most of my Beechcraft friends think might be the prime focus of Cirrus training: CAPS deployments. I had control surface failure, a midair collision, a couple engine failures in the CAPS Now region, and a very realistic electrical fire that led to a dark cockpit in low IMC. Without warning, Mike also presented the trim runaway we’d discussed in the briefing. I caught it immediately (I’ve taught trim runaways for 30 years), but after pulling the appropriate circuit breaker the control pressures were almost impossible to overcome to fly an approach. I pulled the red handle. Mike agreed that trim runaway probably requires engine shutdown and CAPS recovery because Cirrus does not include a manual trim control in the airplane.
Pitot failure, blocked static ports, confirming power and acceleration targets to continue or abort a takeoff, alternator failure, an icing encounter, emergency descent, stuck throttle, a microburst penetration … the day was very full. It was a tremendous learning experience, and although it was presented in the context of an SR22, most of the training will make me a better Bonanza pilot as well.
Many pilots don’t realize the extreme value provided by accurate simulation conducted by an expert simulator instructor. This is especially true of single-engine pilots. Without this level of simulation, the first time you’ll experience an abnormal condition or an emergency would be if it happens to you in your airplane, perhaps with your family on board. Wouldn’t you rather have a chance to practice it under controlled conditions first?
Not every Cirrus pilot can take simulator training – there simply aren’t enough simulators available to accommodate everyone. But if you’re quick you can get on the schedule at FEIST or one of the other SR20/22 Flight Training Device centers. If it helps me fly a Bonanza, think of what it can do for you in a Cirrus.
Thomas P. Turner holds an MS in Aviation Safety, was a 2015 inductee to the Flight Instructor Hall of Fame, named 2010 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year, a 2008 FAA Central Region Flight Instructor of the Year and is a three-time Master CFI.