-Brett Paulus, JAC Member
I graduated High School and two years later I was a Police Officer. I was 19 years old and working my dream job. Almost 19 years later I feel like I have done everything I set out to accomplish in this profession. I was a patrol officer for a few years then went into a special investigation unit for a few years. Finally, I landed the position I dreamed of as an undercover narcotics detective for almost three years. I am still a detective but now I investigate everything from assaults, robberies and homicides. I truly enjoy the work I do but about three years ago I realized something kind of alarming. I can buy and sell drugs, I can investigate and build cases against some of the worst humans in the world, I can send bad people to prison for the rest of their lives but what is all this good for when I retire. I realized law enforcement has a shelf life. When I retire, the skills I’ve acquired aren’t good for too much unless I want to become a criminal! It was time to start setting up a backup plan for retirement.
On January 15th, 2021, I earned my first PIC type rating in a Cessna Citation Ultra (with differences training in the Citation Bravo) that covers nine different Citations. I did all this while working a full-time job and being a father with two small children.
So many people ask how I was able to earn a type rating and find a job without having the magical 1500 hours. In March of 2020, I saw on Facebook that a new charter company just opened at Monmouth Airport. I knew that with my current profession I would have to find a part-time pilot job close to home with a flexible schedule. I sent a message to the owner of the company, briefly introduced myself, and asked if I could meet him in person. I was sort of hired on the spot but in more of an
administrative position because I was still a low-time pilot. I found the job, the job didn’t find me, and it took unconventional methods to get it. The airlines aren’t the only option but you’ve got to get creative and make your own moves.
Over the next nine months, I helped him manage the company while still building my hours. Finally, someone we knew decided to purchase a Citation and we were hired as part 91 pilots.
In January we went to California to earn our type ratings. I really had no clue what to expect. We received the training manuals and I started to study way ahead of time. The type rating was about two weeks long and it was far from a walk in the park. The school we picked was sort of an accelerated course. Meaning, we still had to know every detail but it was going to be like drinking out of a fire hose.
The first week of training is ground school. Class is eight hours a day with a strict 45-minute lunch break. Ground school is mostly about the systems of the airplane. You need to know every detail about every system, how they work, why they fail, and what to do when they fail. After eight hours of sitting in the classroom, we would get a quick dinner then study for at least three more hours. I’d go to bed, wake up around 5am and study again until class started at 9am. Without all this studying, you would probably fall behind in less than a day, your training would be extended and there is a chance you’d fail your oral in the check ride.
On every insurance application I have filled out they always ask “have you ever failed a check ride”. If you indicate “yes” to a type rating check ride there is a chance you might not be insurable. It would be pretty embarrassing knowing I could have avoided that outcome if I studied a little harder. The insurance companies have added standards far more restrictive than the FAA recently. Even though you might have the time and qualifications, insurance might shoot you down because of something they don’t like.
After you finish ground school and pass the written exams you move onto the simulator. My partner and I decided that we would be each other’s sim partners. Normally you get 15 hours in the simulator with an instructor or assistant in the right seat. We were warned that 30 hours in the simulator is a long time but if we could handle it the training would be worth it.
The simulator is there for a reason, they will make the airplane catch on fire, depressurize, lose all electrical power, kill engines in LIFR and fly the missed approach to do it again. After the second day, we realized why they warned us about being each other’s sim partners. It is mentally draining constantly battling the failures and learning how to swiftly and effectively manage the emergencies.
Before you go to school you need to have the memory items and limitations seared into your brain. The Citation memory items and limitations are about three pages long. All the memory items are basically immediate actions you need to do before getting to the checklist when facing an emergency. When something bad happens you first fly the airplane, then the memory items are happening pretty much right away. If a thrust reverser deploys on takeoff after V1 you really don’t have the liberty of taking your time to work the problem. You need to quickly and swiftly manage the problem so you don’t roll over and die.
Now not everything they do in the simulator is on the check ride. Its their job to throw you all sorts of bad scenarios so that you can at least experience what will happen. Like losing an engine on take-off out of Aspen at max takeoff weight when density altitude is 14,000ft. I had to do a high-altitude endorsement which included stalls at 45,000 feet, steep turns, cabin decompression, and an emergency descent.
After a few days of training, you finally get the mock check ride. If you fail that ride then you get stuck dealing with more training. Pass it and you move on to the actual check ride.
Our oral was mostly based on the annunciator panel. The examiner would point to one of the thirty annunciator lights and ask why it would turn on. Watch out because if you’re the type that likes to talk too much, you’ll lead yourself right down the rabbit hole to a question that never ends. After telling him why the light is on, he asked to describe the system behind that light and your expected to know exactly how it works. There are no hints, tips or byes if you get a system or answer wrong. The ride is over, come back tomorrow with the right answer.
Now here is another reason why studying like crazy is so important. Your instructors are writing in your training file every day. If you’re struggling in an area, they will notate it in that file or possibly recommend additional training. When its time for the check ride guess who’s got that file with them? The examiner has it open right in front of him so they know your weaknesses. So, have no weaknesses during the check ride and you’ll be fine.
The simulator portion of the check ride itself sounds pretty standard for most type ratings. You’ll know the check ride profile so there’s really no surprises. Our check ride took place at Kennedy, at night in IMC and went like this:
Engine start malfunction
Aborted takeoff before V1
Normal take off on a SID to do slow flight, stalls, unusual attitudes and steep turns.
An ILS approach, followed by a flap’s failure, to a missed approach due to a go around called by the tower.
On the missed approach we got an engine fire as soon as we went full power.
Single Engine ILS with a failed autopilot and landing.
Normal takeoff with an engine failure at V1 (point of no return you’re taking it to an inflight emergency.
In flight engine restart.
Takeoff with a SID, no autopilot, LNAV only GPS approach (the simulator doesn’t have WAAS-a lot of airliners don’t have WAAS either) to a missed approach.
VOR approach with a circle to land
After a lot of studying and a long check ride I passed. We went to bed, woke up the next morning, jumped in our Citation Bravo and flew home from California.
The first flight home was wild! I was so used to seeing MASTER WARNINGS all week so I was anticipating that the airplane was just going to catch on fire as soon as I took off. When we finally got to cruise, I was able to relax a bit and realized I’m flying a mechanically sound airplane. Its not supposed to fall out of the sky like the simulator.
Since January I have flown to Anchorage, Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City, the Caribbean, Cabo San Lucas and a bunch of other random less exciting states. Flying the jet is fun but I still think the most fun is getting into a single engine piston to go get lunch.
There are so many avenues to make a career out of aviation other than just going to the airlines. The freedom we have to fly GA in the United States is somewhat rare when compared to other parts of the world. Not that my opinion matters much, but my number one thing I would tell new pilots is don’t rush your way to the airlines. Don’t rush through your ratings! Take a step back, enjoy the process, and venture outside of flying around the same few airports.
Watch Brett's flight from Alaska to Salt Lake City: