Multi-Engine Instructor Program
While I'm not currently earning a living as a pilot, I have continued to pursue all of the requirements to become an airline pilot. At 1100 hours, I figured I was far enough along in my capacity as a pilot to get back into twins and instruct part-time for a local airport and cargo company.
Although I have been qualified to fly twins for over a decade, in order to instruct in a multi-engine airplane, an instructor needs a multi-engine rating on his instructor certificate. In pursuit of that, in June of 2002, I enrolled in a MEI course at ATP, Inc.'s Trenton, NJ location. This is the story of my experience in that program.
Why ATP, Inc.?
I obtained my original multi-engine privileges for my private and then my instrument rating and commercial at a local airport that ran a simple 2 day multi-engine course in a Piper Seminole. Unfortunately, that operation had long since shut down when I decided to go for my MEI, so I began browsing the rec.aviation usenet newsgroups for advice.
I happened upon a story written a few years back of how a guy went to ATP for their 250 hour career course, where pilots live, eat, and breathe airplanes for 6 months and go from a private single-engine certificate (required for admission) through Commercial/Multi/Instrument with 250 hours total, most of that multi-time in the Seminole. The one thing I took away from the story was that the ATP folks enforced rigid operating procedures and standards on their pilots. Since I believed I would perform better in a structured environment, I set about to call ATP Inc. and inquire about their programs.
Why the 15 hour course?
ATP Inc. offers two MEI courses, a 2-day program ($895), targeted at people who just want to add the ME rating to their instructor's certificate and have the requisite 15 hours of PIC multi-engine, and a 15 hour, 5 day program ($1995) targeted toward CFIs that want or need the extra time to prep for the MEI. Since I hadn't flown a twin as PIC in almost a decade and had only 25 hours of multi time to begin with, I decided to take the 15 hour course. The plus was that as a fully-rated ME pilot, I'd get to log ALL of that time as PIC...not just the checkride so for the extra $1K, it was a no-brainer.
Preparation is 9/10ths of the job
After I reserved the course, ATP put a $300 hold on my credit card and sent me the course materials, which really amounted to nothing more than a flight training supplement of about 25 pages, and a couple of sheets describing the course curriculum, prerequisites, typical daily schedule, etc., all of which I had previously downloaded from a private company FTP site in PDF format (username and password were given to me by the person I spoke with when I scheduled the course).
I then set about to do my homework, which involved MEMORIZING the flight training supplement. Since I already had experience in the Seminole, I found this relatively straightforward.
In my usual anal-rententive fashion, I went a few steps farther by buying a Piper Seminole POH ($20) from Essco for the 1979/80 vintage aircraft since I was told the new 2001 Seminoles are based only at higher-volume training sites such as ATP HQ in CRG. Since all of the ATP Seminoles were guaranteed to be equipped with HSIs and at least one Garmin GNS430, I already had time in the older model, and the Trenton base was only about 40 minutes from my house, I was completely content with scheduling there.
Going completely overboard, I then went through the process of reviewing each ATP checklist in detail, comparing it to the POH for accuracy, and jotting down notes where I found inconsistencies to later bring to the attention of the ATP instructor. This ultimately produced complete, custom checklist suite for the airplane. I did not intend to bring this into the instructional environment for several reasons, however...
First, it was clear after a quick glance at the procedures that someone at ATP had given the same critical thought I would normally apply to any manufacturer's checklist deficiencies. The end result is that ATPs checklists are probably the best checklists I've seen for that airplane. They still lack some of the subtle details of my custom checklists and contain some duplication across certain procedures that I don't think is necessary, but overall, they're a good set of checklists, and in retrospect, were quite up to the task of helping me fly the aircraft safely and authoritatively. Second, I figured that the ATP instructors were familiar with their procedures and I felt it would not work to my advantage to change the way they did things. And, lastly, I really went about the process only as a learning aid, simply because I've found that I learn more about the aircraft by trying to understand the WHY behind the WHAT (the content) of the checklists (e.g. why a troubleshooting checklist would call for a check of the boost pumps before the fuel selector, etc.).
All I can say is that ATP is not kidding when it says you need to prepare before you arrive...in order to get the most of your training experience you really need to be up to speed on the aircraft. This degree of preparation will NOT go unnoticed. For example, the instructor seemed intrigued when I mentioned that I did this prep AND, in the aircraft while going over cockpit procedures I mentioned that I noticed that they had recently added a new item to the run-up checklist in order to more thoroughly check operation of the propeller governors.
Down to business
Day 1 of 5: June 10th.
I arrived as suggested at 8AM and met my instructor Jon. He was a graduate of the ATP career program, and frankly, it showed. He knew the airplane and throughout the course of the day did everything a good pilot and instructor should do.
We got started with some idle chit-chat while he looked over my credentials and I explained my background and motivations for taking the course. I expressed to him some of the concerns I had over my previous training experiences in the Seminole, including engine failures, single-engine go-arounds, VMC demos, and mixture cuts at low altitude. After some detailed discussions, Jon ultimately assured me that ATP ops placed strict limits on what we could do in the interest of safety, but that the course would touch on all areas required by the PTS and even give me some experience in areas such as full feathering and airstarts that my previous courses of study restricted for historical reasons I won't bother to explain here.
Jon also explained that as an MEI candidate I would naturally be asked to instruct him or the examiner in the finer art of multi-engine aerodynamics (the bulk of the ground work for any newbie multi-engine student), so I hit all of the critical factors in a brief period of "psuedo-instruction" while using the flight manual supplement as a cue-card reference, and I wound up "teaching" him some of the finer points of a generic multi-engine aircraft. That review done to his satisfaction, Jon presented me with a set of checklists specific to the 1979/80 Seminole model we would be flying, spiral bound in a 4x5" form factor, and indicated he was ready to go out to the aircraft for a cockpit procedures review session.
We then grabbed the checklists and walked out to N3060K, my deathbed...er...testbed for the next 5 days and went through the usual familiarization process of a full preflight (performed according to checklists, of course). The preflight done, we hopped into the cockpit and walked through each procedure from startup to shutdown, including all of the nicely organized procedures for the various maneuvers I would be required to execute during training and ultimately explain and demonstrate to the examiner. This took only about 30 minutes, but was critical to my later success in transitioning to the aircraft once again.
After a brief break to go grab our necessary flight gear and paperwork, Jon and I unchocked the wheels, did a brief walkaround to check for any damage that may have occurred when we went inside, hopped in (Jon first, of course), and I began to run through the before starting procedures...for real this time. The checklist items flew by and in a surprisingly short time, I had the aircraft ready to taxi with Quebec.
The first flight consisted of a takeoff to the practice area and a climb to 4500 feet, at which point we went through several maneuvers...from steep turns, slow flight, approach to landing stalls (to commercial standards, i.e. from an established slow descent), a Vmc demonstration, to a drag demo. Ironically, the Vmc demo is one of the easiest maneuvers from a procedures point of view but it was the only maneuvers I managed to goof up a couple of times. We did it until I seemed to know what I was doing, and returned to the airport for a full-stop landing. Jon had indicated he wanted to do a few takeoffs and landings, but he relented when I told him my right hand was beginning to cramp from wrestling those heavy Piper controls for almost an hour and a half. My first landing in the Seminole after a 10 year hiatus was a firm arrival, but nothing dangerous or potentially damaging to the aircraft...it just wasn't my usual "sqweek...sqweek...sqweek" Cessna or T-tail Arrow landing. Total time: 1.7 Hobbs.
One particularly interesting thing about the flight had nothing to do with the actual flying. In each ATP aircraft there's a two-way pager with integrated keyboard that is used by the ATP instructor at the beginning and ending of every flight to send flight data (tach & hobbs times, etc.) to the ATP dispatcher at HQ. I thought that was kinda neat...and a bit "big brother", but hey, what can I say...they're serious about tracking their aircraft operations.
After we taxied back to the FBO we went back to the office to debrief while Jon ate a sandwich he brought and I bought the typical pilot's lunch...a Nestea Iced Tea (Sugar), and a bag of Peanut M&Ms (fat, and more sugar). Jon and I then discussed the flight and he and I agreed that it went very well, especially considering I hadn't touched the aircraft in so long. He later said in an off-handed comment that I definitely would not need to spend the entire 13.5 hours of "dual" doing maneuvers and suggested we think about planning a cross country for later in the week. Cool!
We went up for a second flight, this time with information Romeo (yea, I had to quote some Shakespeare) and another 1.7 hours, this time focusing on normal and short takeoff and landing procedures as well as touch-and-go's, something I'd never done in the Seminole before because of field length restrictions at the airport I previously received training. All of my landings were subpar in spite of tweaking various variables on the approach and landing, so we abandoned those and went back out to the practice area for another round of abuse...er...I mean, practice. In retrospect, I probably should have had Jon flip-flop the airwork and takeoffs/landings, since by the time I reached the practice area my arm was cramping and my feet were aching from nearly 3 hours of "aggressive" flying.
We closed the day with another debriefing and Jon and I arranged to meet at 10:30 the next day because he had another student starting on a Commercial/Instrument multi program and Jon needed to do a couple of hours of ground school as well as the usual cockpit procedures review with him before I arrived. To help the other student familiarize himself with the ATP procedures, Jon asked if I wouldn't mind having the student back seat with us, and I said "sure".
Day 2 of 5: June 11th
The day began with introductions between myself and Jon's other student. Since they were ready to fly, I got my essentials together and walked out to the aircraft with them.
Everything went pretty well today in spite of the fact that the visibility was down to about 7 miles in haze. At our cruise altitude of 4500 feet there was no horizon to speak of so steep turns were done effectively by instrument reference. We then went through all of the usual maneuvers like slow flight, which terminated in an approach to landing stall, a Vmc demo, and a drag demo. The Vmc demo was my worst maneuver of the day as I let the heading go beyond the maximum 20 degrees. No surprise...I simply wasn't active enough on the pedals and I wasn't keeping up my scan while performing checklist items. We did it a second time and I improved to a degree, but it certainly wasn't as good as the first time I did it (can you say, "learning plateau"?).
The one new maneuver we did today that I really enjoyed was a complete shutdown of the left engine and a full airstart procedure...something I had never done in previous training programs.
The thing that surprised me when we did this was how the aircraft yawed to the right as the left propeller feathered and came to a halt (the result of my heavy right foot). This was a clear demonstration of the sheer amount of drag created by a windmilling prop and the reason for feathering a failed engine. This also served to demonstrate that the Seminole, even when loaded to 100 pounds under gross weight WILL climb on one engine at altitude, PROVIDED IT'S FEATHERED! Granted, the climb rate wasn't spectacular, and some might argue that we had a generally unstable airmass helping us upwards, but what the hell...we were able to maintain altitude, which is something all those single-engine suckers can't. Thanks to the other student, who I briefed on the use of my camera before we took off, here's a good shot of the dirty deed from the back seat (you can't see me in this picture, but I'm the one in the right front seat sweating bullets).
Upon returning to the ATP office shortly before 1PM, Jon and the other student took a brief break before going up on their own for a couple of hours, and Jon told me to come back at 3:30. Rather than fill up with lunch at the airport terminal, I bought a couple of vending machine grade cup-cakes as well as a couple cans of Nestea Iced Tea and grabbed the most comfortable reclining chair in the pilot's lounge. I spent the next 2.5 hours flipping through the 300+ Dish Network channels and reviewing procedures.
Jon apparently got back a bit early because the other student had already been debriefed and left for the day by the time I got back to the office at 3:30. Jon mentioned to me that the visibility had gone down to 4-5 miles and the other student really didn't have much of a horizon or sufficient visual reference to get comfortable with the aircraft. Since the temps were dropping, it was bound to get worse before it got better, and we both agreed that airwork under the circumstances wasn't a hot idea. He suggested we either do an hour or so of pattern work or call it a day (he left it totally up to me). After discussing my total time acquired at that point (5.2 hours) in relation to what the course had to offer (13.5 sans checkride), I suggested we do some pattern work, and if things got too bad, we'd just cut it short. He agreed, and we hopped in the airplane for another session.
We departed between several biz jets, and wound up sharing the pattern with various aircraft and helicopters for seven circuits. We wound up doing single-engine approaches and landings as well as short field takeoffs and landings. For the first time, I made consistently great landings. In fact, I was kinda surprised, since I had been landing a bit firm otherwise. Turns out that the trick to landing the Seminole is to carry power into the flare and reduce the throttles at a rate that brings them just above closed (1/4-1/2" open) as you start your flare...kind of like landing a jet. If you chop power earlier and raise the nose, you'll just bleed off airspeed, drop like a brick, and eventually plop down on the runway. The Seminole, therefore, lands nothing like its cousin, the T-Tail Arrow, which can be flared almost like a Cessna (in spite of it having a T-Tail that consistently stops flying earlier than the main wing). In the Seminole, like a lot of higher-performance aircraft, the real key is energy management and airspeed control. If you maintain the speeds ATP specifies and use power to control the descent through the flare, a greaser landing is almost guaranteed...I ought to know...I made about 4 of them in a row. Wahoo!
After taxiing back we went up to the office and Jon complimented me once again on the fine landings. Due to weather concerns, he said he wanted to fly with the other student in the morning and asked me to show up around 11:30AM for...drum roll please...a cross country, my second ever in the Seminole! We settled on Groton, CT and told him I'd file for the trip and see him tomorrow.
Day 3 of 5: June 12th
I woke up to another day of 3-5 mile visibilities and some low scud. The scud was supposed to lift to 4000' or so and the visibilities were supposed to rise to 8-10 miles, but the real question of the day was when and where the thunderstorms would fire up. Given that our chosen destination (GON) was under a warm front that was moving very slowly southward with its associated low pressure system and there was a temperature differential of 25 degrees forecast between Boston and New York City, I figured that if anything would cause thunderstorms to fire, this front would...and probably right around the time we tried to depart for the trip home.
Jon called around 9AM this morning and asked if I could come in a bit later -- around 1PM -- so he could get two flights in with the other student. I said that was fine but suggested that would probably eliminate a cross country due to the weather. He offered to play it by ear. I arrived a half-hour early and watched a bit of the Wings channel in the pilot's lounge before another check of the weather revealed a couple "reputable" pilot reports made by some commuters in the vicinity of our destination that remarked "TCU building fast", so when I consulted with Jon we agreed it would be better to stay close to home today. We then launched with a plan to do the usual ritual of maneuvers and a couple of instrument approaches...including my FIRST IFR GPS approach!
The Vmc demo went a lot better this time because, as I told Jon, I thought reducing power from cruise (20") to 18" -- rather than ATP recommended 15" -- would give me more speed before commencing the demo and thus more time to execute it properly. Jon immediately said he recommended this to his other student earlier in the day and itworked well. The drag demo also went pretty well, and the only other thing I had to do several times was right-hand steep turns (!). I later figured out that because of parallax I couldn't see the exact bank angle until Jon pointed out that I was flying the left turns at 50 (per PTS), but my right turns at 60. Once I reduced the bank angle to 50, grabbed the yoke with two hands and tried to keep everything stabilized once I got in the "groove", I did a near perfect 360. Enough maneuvers...on to the approaches.
The first approach was a VOR 29. The setup involved descending from our maneuvers altitude of 4500 to 2000, getting the approach brief and checklist done in a relatively short timeframe since we were less than 10 miles from the VOR. Though a straight-in approach, we terminated it with a circle to land procedure to test my ability to hold MDA, airspeed, and stay close enough to the field to keep it in sight, yet far enough away to keep the bank angles reasonable. For some strange reason, I remembered all the ATP-required calls and managed to put the aircraft smoothly down a much shorter runway than I'd been using this week, on airspeed, just a couple hundred feet beyond target (acceptable). Once we taxied back to the departure end, we briefed for a GPs 24 approach back into TTN.
We launched and called approach to get vectors for the approach but because they were getting very busy with all of the IFR inbounds (due to the incoming weather), we had to shoot it on our own. The cool thing was I got to fly the procedure turn and watch ourselves fly (according to a standard rate turn and timing) a near perfect pattern. Of course, I'd flown behind a moving map for 10 years so seeing this top-down view wasn't new, but this was the first time that the position reference was approved for IFR.
After calling Trenton tower on an 8 mile final, we were cleared for a straight in approach behind a King Air doing touch and goes (!!!). I made the usual call "leaving MDA" and found the approach timer alarm sounded as we crossed the threshold, indicating a perfect approach time. We touched down smooth as ever (hey, I think I have landings licked!) and taxied clear facing north on Alpha taxiway. As I cleaned up the aircraft I made a comment to Jon about the darkening skies..."glad we didn't go to GON today...good call on the weather!". Back in the office about 20 minutes later, the skies fell and the field went down to less than a mile in heavy rain and wind. Another call to flight service regarding tomorrow's weather indicated we may have to file to get anything done, so more approaches and no airwork. I told Jon I thought we'd plan a round-robin flight from TTN to Atlantic City NJ (ACY), and then to Wilmington, DE (ILM), to hone my complex aircraft single-pilot IFR skills.
Although we only got one flight in today, it brought my total so far up to 7.8 hours, about 5 hours short of the 12.5 hour goal (though I must tell you that this is an average and not a guaranteed figure in the ATPprogram). At this point in the program I felt very comfortable with all of the maneuvers and Jon continued to make incidental comments that I was "very quick" on procedures and general operations. Engine out operations, the foundation of all ME operations, seemed almost routine.
Day 4 of 5: June 13th
Glad we practiced a few approaches yesterday, as I awoke to 1100 overcast and 3-5 miles.Jon scrubbed the flight with his other student since they needed good VFR and called me to do some IFR. I told him I'd file the route we spoke about and I managed to get all of the planning done, take a shower, and drive to the airport in less than 2.5 hours (which sounds like a lot of time until you have to plan and file three legs in an unfamiliar airplane and blow 45 minutes on the road). Thankfully, duat.com's flight planner helped cut my planning time by about 75% since I didn't need to copy all of the headings, leg distances, etc. to my own planning forms.
We had to wait for IFR departure for approximately 15 minutes but once off, were treated to a good IFR training day...a low deck had obviously formed because all of the low level moisture deposited from the thunderstorms last evening but there was insufficient instability to carry that moisture much above 2500 feet.
The tops were around 2500 and another deck started at approximately 6000. In spite of being betweeen layers level in cruise at 4000, it was definitely IMC since my peripheral vision could not discern any horizon. (The picture was taken later in the flight when the visibility between layers had improved). I had to maintain a continuous scan to keep the aircraft flying straight and level...but that, my friends, is true on any good flight in the soup.
The first leg to ILG (Wilmington DE) went really well, except that the vectors for the ILS 1 sucked. We were kept way too high, and then vectored inside of 2 miles of the marker. I wound up intercepting the localizer and meeting the glideslope just outside of the marker and I just barely got it slowed to ATP's Vlo speed of 120 knots early enough to drop the gear, meet the glideslope, slow to Vfe (111), drop the flaps, call the tower, and execute the landing checklist. If it could have been viewed externally, it would have been a very smooth, gradual interception (almost "autopilot-like") in both axes, but it was clearly not according to my personal preferences or ATP's procedures). It was a completely safe approach, however, and that's ultimately all that counts.
The second leg took us to ACY (Atlantic City, NJ), and down the ILS 13. This controller was a bit better on the vector and actually gave us a 30 degree intercept almost 15 miles from the marker (close to our inbound course...hence we got lucky). I gave a cloud tops report as we descended back into the soup at 2.0 and got bounced around in the tops of the clouds while we waited for the localizer and glideslope to come alive. We popped out at 1000 and landed uneventfully...another greaser.
We were planning to top off fuel, but after seeing we still had 38 gallons a side (easily 4 hours @ ATP standard power of 55%, 22"/2300 RPM), checking the price of fuel ($2.74), and figuring the trip back wouldn't be more than 40 minutes, we decided to pass on the fuel. We just went into the FBO lounge, discussed the route for the last leg home, and chatted a bit about life.
Back in the aircraft, we taxied for a full length departure on 13 and passed a Spirit Airlines jet outbound. Once ready to go, I did the SOP pre-takeoff briefing except I noted the runway length (10000 feet) and emphasized the gear would stay down past midfield and 300-400 feet AGL because we could easily chop the throttles and land on the remaining runway if we lost one.
By this time, the usefulness of the Garmin 430 in the IFR environment was clear. This is a totally amazing box. I had only played with the simulator a couple of times and I was surprisingly adept at controlling it in real life. Admittedly, I had Jon working the knobs most of the time because I hadn't reached a "comfort level" with the box and the airplane doesn't have an autopilot. It's all too easy to become consumed with flying the box instead of the aircraft, and I wasn't about to fall into that trap. That said, it was completely intuitive (which is more than I can say for the King or UPSAT boxes). Perhaps the only problem I have with it is that when the comm breaks squelch the receiver volume seems ramp up so slowly that the beginning of each controller's transmissions (usually our tail number) were either clipped or at such a low level that I wound up missing a couple of calls.
On our climb out north of ACY, I noticed during my scan that the right engine fuel pressure had dropped to almost zero. I (literally) said "Whoa...right fuel pressure low" and Jon instinctively flipped the right side boost pump on. The engine didn't skip a beat at any time, but since the fuel pressure rose to normal when we put the pump on, we knew it wasn't a faulty gauge. Once level at our final cruise of 5000, we decided to troubleshoot the problem (to the extent possible) by turning the pump off briefly. Sure enough, the pressure dropped almost to redline again, but here's the rub...the engine continued to run smoothly. To be safe, we turned the pump back on and continued to our destination but I still don't know what caused that. Interestingly, after landing back home we turned the pumps off and found the pressure normal. Very strange. And, if you don't believe me...look at the picture!
After getting back to the office, we wrote up the 8710 form for my checkride (scheduled for 9AM Friday morning). Unfortunately, it looked at this time like I would have to scrub the checkride simply because weather was forecast to be a repeat of today and I needed good VFR (5000 ft ceiling, actually) for the Vmc demo. Incidentally, the PTS states the minimum for the Vmc demo is a recovery at or above 3000 feet, but it goes on to state that this altitude is superceded by the POH if it specifies a higher altitude...and sure enough, Piper recommends 4000 feet...which means that to be safe I'd have to start it at 4500. Factor in VFR cloud clearance of 500 feet, and there you have it...5000 ft minimum ceiling. Ugh. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
The plus is that Jon happily signed my logbook approving me to take the MEI practical test, so "technically speaking", I'm an MEI at this point. I need only have that blessed by an FAA representative....if I can get the weather to cooperate...
Day 5 of 5: June 16, 2002
I prayed for good weather....and I got it...on Sunday. Had to scrub the checkride on Friday, but I couldn't have asked for better weather today...4500 thin scattered and 75 degrees. A bit breezy, but otherwise an excellent day for flying. I got up at 5AM, left the house at 7AM, arrived at ATP Trenton in a record 40 minutes, and spent the next hour and twenty minutes arranging all of the paperwork, logbooks, weather, picture ID (driver's license) and pilot certificates for the examiner's anticipated arrival at 9AM.
Since the phrase "uh, but the instructor told me it was in license" won't cut it when I'm with an examiner or officially PIC, I decided to find and read the work orders associated with all required inspections to prove to myself (and ultimately the examiner) that the aircraft met the standards of Title 14 CFR on that date and with that tach/hobbs time. Fortunately, ATP includes copies of all maintenance work orders in a 3-ring binder that goes with the aircraft along with a summary page in the beginning that clearly lists the status of each inspection. Definitely the way to do it, and a refreshing change from most FBOs.
My examiner Joan arrived, we shook hands, and got right down to business. In an effort to break the ice, I asked if she knew a couple of fellow pilot friends of mine, and she said "yea, quite well, actually". Also, later, while taxiing out I happened to drop the names of my designated examiners over the years, and she knew them too. I think this relaxed her a bit...knowing that I was something of a "known quantity".
The oral was pretty straightforward. Given that I had about 37 hours in the Seminole at this point, I knew the POH, so after answering a few general knowledge questions including details on the gear system (what holds the gear up?) and fuel systems (how many fuel pumps does the aircraft have?), she moved on to have me talk more about issues of control and performance specific to a multi-engine airplane.
I started by saying the most important speed on a multi-engine aircraft is Vmc and went on to describe the seven factors that the FAA (and ultimately manufacturers) use to specify Vmc. Joan then asked me to put a couple of columns next to that, one labeled "C", for "control" and another "P" for "performance". She then defined a scenario for each of the seven factors and asked me to explain how each would affect control and performance (I put a "+" next to it to indicate it would better control or performance, and a "-" to indicate it would detrimentally affect it).
She also asked me to draw an airplane and explain the four factors that determine the critical engine. I explained this okay, but she commented I could have said something like "this is what happens when the non-critical engine fails, and this is what happens when the critical engine fails". Really a matter of presentation, and I couldn't disagree with her.
Joan then started to talk about how important it was for me, as an MEI, to stay on top of the student and train as realistically and consistently as possible, but with all due consideration to issues of safety.
She continued in that area of questioning by posing a few "what if" scenarios like "what if you fail an engine on the takeoff roll, your student doesn't react properly, and the airplane is now quickly heading for the side of the runway and the proverbial ditch?" I told her I would do whatever was necessary to regain control of the aircraft including forcefully removing the students hands from the throttles, if necessary...or failing that, just kill the other engine and get active on the rudder pedals. She then told me that she once had to forcefully remove an applicant's hands from the throttles when she froze (she had never been taught an engine failure in that way, at that time in the takeoff roll, and just didn't adapt well).
Okay, play nice and don't kill us.
At this point, she emphasized that when we go fly I would be PIC *and* the CFI...meaning that I would be in full command of the aircraft and the instructional session. She went on to say that she would take the first takeoff, I would fail an engine on takeoff (my first mixture pull!! wahoo!) and she "should" recover the aircraft. If she didn't recover properly by maintaining (or regaining) directional control within a reasonable timeframe, I should be prepared to take over the aircraft.
It was at this point that the reality of what I was about to do hit me squarely in the face. I really was going to be the CFI in a multi-engine airplane...the fact that she was an examiner with far more experience really didn't come into play...my judgement was being tested just as much as my book knowledge or raw piloting skill. She concluded by saying "if you think you've had students try to kill you in a single engine airplane, you ain't seen nothing yet!".
We then discussed her preferences with respect to HOW to simulate an engine failure. The end result is that she recommends:
- Mixture cuts on the takeoff roll (before 50% Vmc per the PTS)
- Throttle cuts between as low as 500 AGL and 3000 AGL
- Throttle (or mixture ) cuts above 3000 AGL (depending on my comfort level)
That groundwork laid, she said "okay, let's go fly".
The Real "Real World"
Thankfully, the practical test closely matched my training routine except that I tended to relax *more* on the checkride. The maneuvers I botched during training (right steep turns and the Vmc demo) went off without a hitch. I also did a near-perfect approach to landing stall taken through the stall horn to the buffet from a slow descent, per commercial PTS, losing only about 75 feet in the recovery, all the while explaining what I was doing. She made a few "presentation" notes on my drag demo, and then told me to head for the airport and shutdown an engine of my choice.
Interestingly, I had never actually feathered the left engine in this N-number aircraft, and was surprised to see that the prop wouldn't fully feather...it just kept rotating at perhaps 75 RPM (you could almost count the blades), shaking the airplane in a really annoying way. I even tried slowing the aircraft to 80 knots (a speed below which the other aircraft I'd flown had properly feathered) but that little effect. Joan was concerned about this, since it indicated the prop wasn't fully feathering, and flying a light twin with a prop that won't fully feather is just asking for a disaster. After we brought the engine back to life (which of course did not require the use of the starter) she commented that she would talk to Jon and suggest ATP ground the airplane until that could be fixed. However, she later conceded that she had seen this before, had spoken with the propeller manufacturer (Hartzell) and was told that it could be considered "fully feathered" (e.g. completely within spec) if the blade angle is within 15 degrees of full feather...thus she didn't know if that could be considered grounds for grounding the airplane...in spite of the fact that it was a decidedly unsafe condition from a pilot's point of view.
The engine restarted, I then called the tower and asked for a touch and go. I explained and performed a short field landing while mixing with a bunch of clueless weekenders that couldn't seem to fly a square traffic pattern and keep the downwind under the 50 NM cross country limit. Joan offered to retract the flaps on the landing roll as a safety precaution, and I departed again to set up a simulated engine failure at about 600 AGL. A jet wanted to depart behind us, so the controller asked us to start our crosswind early (normal noise abatement requires a straight-ahead climb to 1000 AGL). so Joan suggested we delay the simulated failure until after we rolled out on crosswind and I did as requested. I then went through the ritual (mixtures, props, throttles, flaps up, gear up, identify, verify, feather, mixture cutoff), and flew the entire pattern to a single engine landing. Joan added the requirement that once I reduced throttle on the operating engine I couldn't increase power again, and once I added flaps or put down gear, I couldn't retract them. She also told me that in a situation like this that I should commit myself to a landing, because a single engine go-around in a light twin is an accident waiting to happen (a fact of which I was fully aware since I have done my unfair share of single-engine go-arounds in previous training programs).
Once we landed, cleaned up the aircraft, and called ground for a taxi clearance, she extended her hand to shake mine, and congratulated me on a good checkride. About 30 minutes later, she gave me one of these...
Overall, given that I passed on my first try, I'd have to give the ATP 15 hour CFI ME program a thumbs up. I really have only a few comments...
Scheduling can be tight at some of the outlying bases such as Trenton. Jon *is* ATP Trenton. He handles all scheduling, flight instruction, proctors written tests, and performs all of the chores of running a remote office. Get a string of bad weather days, and he might be faced with the need to work with two, three, or more students in a day. Given that the average flight instructional session is almost two hours, and the goal is to do two flight instructional sessions a day per student, you can do the math. There's not much time left over for multiple flights in a given day when he's backed up and the only one there. I did make some comments to him about this during the course of training and I did overhear a couple of phone messages left by ATP HQ regarding the scheduling issues, so at least they appear to be aware of the problem. I would presume that a sustained increase in enrollment at this facility would justify an additional instructor and maybe another aircraft (for a total of three), but that's only a guess.
As a result of scheduling conflicts, I wound up logging only 11.2 hours total, out of a maximum of 15 hours. I know for a fact that had Jon not been occupied with another student on at least one of the days, I would have logged another 1.7-2.0 hours. The upside is that I got to do some instrument work that is not specifically included in the 15 hour curriculum (it's strictly a VFR course unless you are seeking a CFII). I got instrument current again...just in time for an upcoming Ferry flight to Florida, and saved the cost (and, frankly, the annoyance) of flying yet-another-single-engine-bugsmasher.
The total cost of the course was $1995 + $300 examiner's fee (in cash), so when I divide that across 11.2 hours I get roughly $204/hr, which is probably a fair price for the Seminole with instructor at a traditional FBO and a ride with the Feds at the Allentown FSDO (no examiner fee). Therefore, I don't feel cheated financially, but I wonder how they would have handled the shortage of logged time with an instructor candidate who really needed the 15 hours.
I would recommend anyone taking this or any other ATP course to ask how many people are available at your particular training location, how many aircraft are based there, and how they might handle the above scenario. Remember, ATP does NOT provide refunds, and you will be expected to acknowledge that fact on the enrollment form on the first day...so you can't say you didn't know or demand a refund later.
Also, be advised that, like at most FBOs today, you'll probably be taught by a pilot that has relatively low time. It's also quite likely that the pilot will be a graduate of the ATP career program (at least until the air transportation system picks up again). That's good and bad. Good because he'll know ATPs procedures as well as the Seminole inside and out, since they typically get 130 hours in it before graduating, but bad because no matter how good an instructor is, and no matter how much time he's logged, flying in one specific environment limits the instructor's "worldly knowledge". I will admit, however, that Jon was knowledgeable, patient, and yet exacting in his expectations. Those are, of course, the markings of an outstanding instructor, and that he is. Frankly, I couldn't believe it when he told me in casual conversation that he had less than 1/2 of my logged time. He taught and flew like a far more experienced pilot.