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The secret of Klatovy's badass formation pilots

by Gary Wainwright
by Gary Wainwright

I’ve been traveling quite a lot for the last few years for big-way events. I have seen a lot of formation load pilots. Some of them very, very good. Some of them I can only rate as ok. Others just learning the “secrets” of a good formation load pilot (the kind of pilots that give you the climb-out signal while still 200 meters away from the lead airplane… I kid you not).
And then there are the Pink Aviation pilots…

During the Klatovy Challenge 2015 I complimented Thomas Lewertz telling him that the pilots did an incredible job AGAIN, just as they did in 2014 for D100, providing us with some of the best exit frames I've ever seen.

He smiled and said: “Thank you, but all the Skyvan pilots are NEW”…
Me: “WHAT do you mean???!?”
TL: “I mean they are new. All of them. We tend to lose all the pilots from one season to the other to airline companies so we have to train new personnel each season.”
Me: “Ok… that probably sucks, but how can you get them to perform this well in such a short time?!?”
This is how I got introduced with the SIM… How many skydiving operators do you know that have their own simulators in the backyard???

Many thanks to Phillip Artweger, the chief pilot of Pink Aviation for taking the time to introduce me to the SIM (lovingly named also the “Sweat Box”) and for answering these questions:

by Wolfgang Lienbacher
by Wolfgang Lienbacher

When and how did this project start? Thomas told me it was your idea - did he need convincing or was he on board from the start?

Phillip: Actually it was a group decision based on the necessity to train a lot of new pilots in a short time. Thomas sent me on an Internet search to see if it was feasible to build our own Skyvan Simulator and once I found out that we could do it he went for it full on! He assigned himself, myself, Wuzi (our chief Engineer) and two mechanics to the project, and we started working 8-10 hour a day on it right from the start. In 3 months we had the first prototype completed. That should give you a good indication on Thomas’s level of commitment!

What was the project's primary objective? Lower the training costs? Get into the spring with a lot of “flying” time already done?

Phillip: The primary objective was to be able to use the time in winter when we usually don`t fly at all or very little the first selection of suitable applicants and then to train them as far as possible without actually flying the aircraft. Previously it was very difficult to “weed out” the applicants. After we started the training, by the time we came to the conclusion that one pilot might not be suitable for us we had already wasted considerable time and effort that would have been better spent on another applicant.

The other objective is to speed up the training by making it more efficient! Every skydiver knows that during the first jumps one doesn't have much capacity for anything else than the pure AFF program. I mean how many students even remember looking at the plane on exit after their first jump? Overload is very much the same for a pilot. He already knows how to fly (pull up - houses small, push forward - houses bigger) but sitting in a new unfamiliar cockpit with unfamiliar gauges, and procedures can be very stressful. E.g. During takeoff run the pilot has to monitor a lot of different gauges and needs to be able to set power and adjust it to avoid exceeding limits, while monitoring his primary flight instruments and looking outside and keeping the airplane on the runway centerline. All this happens in a short time and when you don't know exactly where to look at then you are already behind the aircraft. This is where the simulator shines! We can make literally dozens of takeoffs / landings until the trainee knows exactly what to do when and never has to search for the information. This translates directly into a much improved progression once we move into the real aircraft.

by Wolfgang Lienbacher
by Wolfgang Lienbacher

How difficult is to train new pilots every year?

Phillip: The Biggest difficulty is that while you have time for it you are usually lacking opportunity (little flying in winter) and once you have the opportunity to fly a lot you would like that the new pilots to be already up to speed :)

PINK Aviation has very high demands on its Pilots due to the nature of our operation. They will be on the road for weeks at a time, all over Europe, flying either at Boogies or maybe dropping military skydivers at night over the North Sea. Complex operation with a complex airplane in complex airspaces. This is far more difficult than flying out of your home base each day.

Previously it took us about half the season to get a new trainee far enough that he could fly unsupervised, but he would have been exposed to the full range of things we do in our operation only by the end of the season. Now we can train different scenarios and the decision-making process involved in intensive SIM sessions.

The airlines call this Line Oriented Flight Training. We do a very similar thing. When the trainee is comfortable with the basic operation of the airplane he gets a task for the next day, for example fly to airfield X to be there at Time Y and have fuel for 3 loads remaining. He is to do a flight planning, fuel planning, time planning including the usual, like when to show up at the plane to do a proper pre-flight inspection, he needs to know how long it takes him to get himself strapped in and the airplane started and so on. These sessions last about 2:30 to 4 hours and include all the usual things thrown at a Para Pilot like weather, ATC holds, unusual request from manifest etc. One can cram the most important experiences of a whole season into about a week of intensive SIM flying.

by Wolfgang Lienbacher
by Wolfgang Lienbacher

How can you train the pilots for formation loads with the SIM? And what do you think is the secret of a very good formation load pilot?

Phillip: I will answer the second question first :) The secrets of a good formation pilot are:
A) discipline
B) knowing what to expect from the leader
C) radio discipline.

We can train these things in the SIM! X-plane has a function where a plane you select is flying straight and level. This is good for showing the trainee sight markers on the aircraft for certain positions (this are the cues that tell the pilot he is in the correct position). Also one can practice intercepts and joining formation on this target. And for more elaborate training of complete formation dropping flights the SIM cockpit. Like this you can practice the whole routine of formation flying as well as the radio phraseology.

What is the project's current status?

Well, we have just received a 3 degrees of freedom Motion platform :) So very soon our SIM will be able to give motion cues like forward backwards and sideways accelerations, pitch and roll and also heave up and down. This will be a major step in realism. It was the only important thing missing. Otherwise we have all the Skyvan Systems programmed to the level needed to simulate all normal operations and about 80% of abnormal and emergency checklists. We are currently working on getting the Flight model as realistic as possible! This means getting data from flying the actual aircraft and then comparing that with the SIM and then adjusting the flight model so it`s doing the same thing. All these tests are not only for us but also for the Qualification Test Guide which we have to produce for the Czech CAA to later on certify the SIM. So far we have been able to match the real aircraft performance with a surprising degree of fidelity which makes me very happy as we have put a lot of time and effort into it!

So the plan is to certify it? Can you get pilots from other operators to train in Klatovy?

Yes, certification as a Class A Full Flight Simulator is the ultimate goal (Class A being the lowest, Class D being the highest level of realism). I don’t know if we’ll be able to achieve that but we will try for sure :). Other than that there are hundreds of little items on the list of things to do or things to improve. We have no chance of getting bored this fall and winter!

As for using it for profit, well there is a very small fleet of Skyvans in Europe and even worldwide there are not that many left flying so I doubt there will be much interest from other operators, but I'm sure we will make the option of using it for hire available. Maybe we will serve as an example to other small aircraft operators that a SIM for their own specialty aircraft is an achievable goal.

So if you ever cross your path with one of the Pink Aviation's pilots (or one of their collegues from Saarlouis - the DZ which provided the 5th plane for the event - a Cessna Caravan) you can be sure you are on very good hands. Their names are: Phillip Artweger, Maxime Rossiere, Jerome Vanoutryve, Jan Diehl, Jan Hauser, Jörg Mayerböck, Tobi Fleischmann and Piotr Jafernik.

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