fter four-plus months away from the cockpit I have to admit that I’d feel some unease getting in the left seat of any airplane—let alone a turboprop or jet. My lightning reflexes, instant recall, and infallible muscle memory probably have all dwindled. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
They say that once you learn to fly, you never forget. There might be some truth in that, but there are gradations. After all, flying isn’t at all like bicycling or swimming. You might get away with a few weeks of flying inactivity without any performance deficits, but push past a month and you’re asking for some embarrassment—or worse. Especially when it comes to IFR flying. An MU–2 owner once told me that he felt pretty uncomfortable if he didn’t fly the airplane twice a week. “You might get away with walking away from a King Air for a couple weeks—but not an MU–2,” he said. The faster and more complex the airplane, the faster the rust sets in.
Training outfits such as FlightSafety, Simcom, and others are making it easier to stay current by offering virtual courses via the Zoom/Webex/Microsoft Teams route. Sure, remote learning has always been available through the years, from books to tapes to CDs. In the 1960s, AOPA Pilot contributor Barry Schiff even taught Morse code using vinyl records—33 1/3 rpm albums, to be precise.
But the personal connections available through internet-delivered courses offer a lot more promise. Instead of passively sitting there and seeing or hearing an instructor drone on, you have a real-time, near-face-to-face experience.
To find out for myself, I took Simcom’s live remote ground training course in the TBM 910. This is an eight-hour, two-day session that’s the first part of Simcom’s recurrent training. The second part finishes up at Simcom’s Orlando training center, where I’ll have another eight hours of training—in a simulator this time—spread over another two days. Once you finish the ground training you have 60 days to complete the simulator portion.
It all starts with Simcom sending you links that let you download manuals and other reference materials—including flow charts, flight profiles, and checklists—to your computer or iPad. Class begins when you click on the Webex invitation link. For me, that’s when Simcom’s Cale Bullock came up on my laptop. The other trainees in the course were Catherine Guschewsky, who runs car dealerships in Wyoming, and Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium World Communications and a member of AOPA’s board of trustees.
Bullock went through the TBM 900 and 910 systems, reviewed single-pilot maneuvers, and gave a risk management overview. Special attention was paid to the importance of stabilized approaches, use of the inertial separator, unporting of fuel in uncoordinated flight, and accident case studies. The animations used to explain the bleed air and air conditioning systems were excellent.
Quarantining taught us that telecommuting works, and it has some significant advantages. When it comes to flight training, the same can be said about live remote learning. Both strategies may well alter the way many of us work and train in the future. Live remote may well be part of the “new normal” way of doing business. As for me, the next step will be two days in Simcom’s TBM simulator, where we’ll find out how much rust I can knock off.