Your First Type Rating
by Textron Aviation Multimedia Communications Content Producer Mindy Lindheim
The following is reprinted with permission from Textron Aviation and offers a candid look at one person’s experience of earning their first type rating. Others’ experiences may vary.
You’ve been anticipating getting your first type rating for some time now and couldn’t be more excited to earn that new certificate. Then, you get the email you have been waiting for: your type rating school is scheduled! As you open your itinerary, you read through the days to come, and sitting at the bottom of the page is the last date of your schooling and a word that makes your stomach sink as excitement turns to nerves… “CHECKRIDE.”
Scheduling a checkride in an aircraft that you have never flown before is a scary feeling. Having a test scheduled on materials you have not even obtained yet is nothing short of terrifying. When I turned to my peers who had experienced type rating school, I asked them how they had coped with the nerves and their answer – “trust the process” – never satisfied me. How could I trust the process of a school I had never attended? After realizing that “trusting the process” was really my only option to move forward, I’ll share what I learned from my experience and some tips to make your first type rating school go as smoothly as possible.
There’s a lot of preparation you can do before you even show up to type rating school. In my case, due to the nature of my work schedule, I only found out about my class date about a week before attending. Even one week of dedicated prep was enough to set me up for success.
My first order of business was to start studying. When you sign up for your class at FlightSafety, they send you an electronic “FlightBag” where you can access all of your course materials. FlightSafety will send it to you up to 90 days in advance if you are enrolled that early. It includes everything from Operating Handbooks to their own branded course books. I suggest focusing on two things for preliminary studying: all rote knowledge items and the “Required Knowledge Areas,” also known as RKAs.
The rote knowledge is the easiest to digest first. It is simply memorizing various things about the aircraft, and FlightSafety helps you by providing an electronic flashcard series with everything you must have memorized. These items will range from aircraft limitations to emergency checklist items you must know by heart. Learn all of these and practice them multiple times a day. Once you know the whole deck well, it only takes roughly six to seven minutes to review them all quickly. Be sure to review the flashcards multiple times a day, so it becomes fully ingrained in your memory. Even when you are in type school, review these cards on breaks throughout the day and each night. I can guarantee that all of these items will be on your checkride.
The next topics to study are the “Required Knowledge Areas.” These topics are usually labeled as such (found in the “Pilot Client Guide” book in my experience) and are typically easy to find. However, if you cannot locate those or want to go above and beyond, you can study the end-of-chapter summaries and quizzes.
I learned all of this information before showtime by working hard and dedicating a lot of time during the week before my training start date. If you have longer than a week to prepare, I suggest dedicating about an hour each day to studying. Pre-studying is not a requirement but knowing these topics beforehand lets you fully immerse yourself in training and focus on the simulator time, which is most valuable. I felt like I was light years ahead of my classmates who chose not to study beforehand, and I was visibly less stressed throughout my time there in comparison.
Lastly, before you go, be sure to brush up on your instrument flying skills. The checkride is basically an instrument checkride on steroids, mixed with many emergency procedures. So, the last thing you want to struggle with is reading an Instrument Approach Procedure while having a simulated engine fire in low IMC conditions. The tasks add up quickly, so be sure to have a strong grasp on the instrument flying beforehand.
If you feel compelled to read the coursebook in its entirety before you go, my advice is don’t. This is when you need to trust the process. Let the instructors teach you this information in person.
Over the course of my pilot career, I have done three different courses away from home: multi-engine, flight instructor, and now, the Cessna Citation 525S type rating school.
You may be lucky enough to live close to your training center and be faced with the option to either commute from home or grab a hotel nearby instead. Do not be tempted! I highly advise against commuting from your own home. Although that was not an option for me living in Atlanta and training at the FlightSafety International Learning Center in Tampa, FL, I would have chosen the hotel route ten out of ten times.
It makes a huge difference to separate yourself from home-life, family, and friends and fully dedicate yourself to your training. I successfully passed my checkride on my first attempt at each of these courses, partly because I could focus on my training much more easily without home-life distractions.
Now that you are going to stay in a hotel, be strategic about your selection. You want to be close by and minimize your commute to the learning center, but I also recommend finding a hotel with a kitchenette.
Type rating school is long – often over two weeks straight. Eating out is fun and easy, but after a while, it becomes expensive and tiring. Sometimes, you’d rather make a sandwich and relax to a TV show in your socks at home than wait for a table and food at a restaurant.
The first thing I accomplished when arriving in town was a quick grocery shop. Nope, not necessary, but it felt good to have the fridge full. Before the fast-paced, time-intensive training began, I wanted to have my little home-away-from-home hotel suite stocked with a few of my favorite things.
I walked into day one so excited to finally get my hands on these super rad aircraft simulators I have heard so much about, only to realize that the entire first week was all ground school. This first week was brutal, to say the least, and I consumed more coffee than I would like to admit to keep my focus in the afternoons. All the ground school days for my course were full nine-hour days with a one-hour lunch break. I wrote notes all week long in a new notebook I brought along with me – something that helped keep me attentive – but also found that writing things out helped me memorize and process the information.
Upon arrival into class, they handed out hard copy versions of the school materials. Copies of these materials were in the electronic FlightBag, but the paper versions were nice for highlighting and taking notes. My ground school class had only four students. I liked having a small class, and that size seemed typical for FlightSafety. We had a few different ground instructors over these first six days, and I enjoyed learning from different teaching perspectives.
Each night after ground school, I reviewed my handwritten notes from the day and the relevant “Required Knowledge Areas,” or RKAs, from the topics we learned, and then I read as much as I could about the next day’s topics. This was the only time I ever read ahead, and often I didn’t finish reading the chapters before I felt burned out and called it quits for the day. Sometimes, the instructors didn’t stay 100% on the agenda for the next day, and we learned a different topic anyway, so I never stressed about not completing that reading. I did what I could and always made time for those flashcards I covered [earlier]! It is often encouraged to create peer study groups, but during this first week of ground school, I didn’t feel it was helpful to study with classmates and preferred to read on my own.
At the end of the ground school week, we took a written multiple-choice test. I felt very prepared for this test, and the majority of it was material from the RKAs and end-of-chapter quizzes. The test was easy for me, and I missed just one question (due to the silly mistake of reading it wrong.) My classmates also only missed one or two questions.
Week one had officially come to a close, and I was more than ready to start flying the Cessna Citation M2.
Graduating to the Simulators
Finally, with the dreaded but necessary ground school behind us, we could get to the fun part of my Cessna Citation 525S type rating school at FlightSafety International’s Learning Center in Tampa, FL: the full-motion simulators (sims.) The schedule lightened up a bit for me compared to week one, and I only had to show up to school for my sim block, which was 5.5 hours each day, including a briefing before and after the sim session. These bad boys are awesome but also quite intimidating. Sure, they keep the temperatures inside at a cool 68 degrees to keep the computers from overheating, but I can assure you that it doesn’t take long in the left seat to start sweating.
So how does one master the simulators? You start with accepting that it is a simulator, not an aircraft. It will feel and fly a bit differently by nature, and you will inevitably experience some “sim-isms.” “Sim-isms” are quirky little glitches that the simulator will sometimes experience that you have to deal with. Trust me, your instructor knows, and you won’t be penalized for it. Just call out that something weird is happening with the sim and move on. Also guaranteed are bad landings. Given the absence of your usual depth perception, landing smoothly is difficult, and the instructors typically have you fly at night to make it even harder. You are not rated on the softness of your landings, so just do your best here.
The flows (checklists) are the most important thing to know for your simulator sessions. Some FlightSafety Learning Centers have fixed simulators (not full motion) where you can practice your flows on your own time without the need for an instructor. During your free time, especially within the first few days, I encourage you to take advantage of these fixed simulators to work on your checklists and build some muscle memory. The full-motion simulator time is precious; you don’t get extra time in there, and you have a hard-stop end time on your sessions, so you need to make every minute count. I would much rather have a few extra minutes to practice V1 cuts than to waste that time trying to read my checklist line by line.
The only tricky part about simulator week is your sim partner. You don’t get to choose who your sim partner is and that can be tough sometimes with a clashing matchup. I was lucky enough to have a disciplined sim partner who took the course as seriously as I did and was on the same page as me. We were also in the 525S course, which means that we both were taking the checkride as single-pilot checks without a copilot. That isn’t always an option with bigger planes, though, and even for us, that still meant we had the same sim block and had to interact each day. If you are flying the sim with someone, remember that your time in the left seat is your time. You’re pilot-in-command. Don’t be afraid to manage your expectations of them while you’re the one flying. Unfortunately, even in the real world, we don’t always get to choose who we fly with, so do your best to cooperate.
My preparation for checkride was a bit over the top to most. I decided to make a master study guide of all my learnings from my time at school. But I’ll tell you that my simulator partner was very thankful and future me is also happy that I have a great study guide for my schooling when I go back for currency.
I initially decided to make a typed study guide out of frustration. All the information I needed to know seemed to be in different places. I was flipping between flashcards, various books and handwritten notes to study just one topic. That gave me the idea to type it all into one place.
I went through the coursebook chapter by chapter to make an outline guide. I included all of the “Required Knowledge Areas” or RKAs, anything I had highlighted in my textbook, any relevant flashcard items, and my handwritten notes. It was a way for me to review everything and consolidate information at the same time. I worked on it heavily for about three days, and then on the day before checkride, my sim partner and I sat down with the guide and quizzed each other multiple times. I figured I might as well put the work in while my time was dedicated to the training. Plus, now I have a nice study guide to cut down on workload next time I come to Citation 525 training.
This day was nerve-racking, but I also felt prepared. I couldn’t believe I felt ready for this day after only learning this airplane for the past two weeks, but that was largely in part to all the hard work I put into it and the expertise of some fantastic instructors.
Checkride was everything I expected it to be, and thankfully, nothing I did not expect. The oral exam portion was straightforward and what we prepped for. Most of the questioning was situational based, but the examiner also threw in a few private pilot questions, for example, runway centerline light colors at night.
Once I passed the oral portion, we moved into the sim and flew a profile of nearly exactly what I practiced with my instructor the day before. There were no surprises and no tricks, and the examiner was very clear about his expectations of me before we flew the simulator.
After a two-hour simulator session of – you guessed it – emergencies and instrument procedures, I landed the sim poorly for the last time and earned my 525S type rating! An accomplishment that only a couple of short weeks ago felt impossible. I overcame the difficult task by learning to trust the process, trust the people and trust myself to complete the course successfully. After all, it’s just another plane, right?
Lindheim is a rated Textron Aviation factory demonstration pilot. Prior to attending type rating school, she held her commercial single and multi-engine certificates with an instrument rating, as well as Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and Certified Flight Instructor Instrument certificates (CFII).