About the Author

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Southport, Manitoba, Canada
Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Little Airplane Checkout

At some point in every flight instructor's career, they have to provide a currency check to a big-airplane pilot who wants to rent a little-airplane to go joyriding. That may seem a little counter-intuitive to someone from outside aviation. The little-airplane is normally easier to fly and invariably has simpler systems and operates at lower speeds. If the big-airplane pilot is current on some larger type, forcing them to do a "checkout" on a simpler little-airplane may—at first glance—look like a bit of a cash grab by the flying school/club.

However, there are some pitfalls in moving back to a simpler airplane. These pitfalls are potentially dangerous, and the checkout can be a lifesaver. In my own experience, every single big-airplane pilot that I've helped get current on little-airplanes has made all three of the (potentially fatal!) mistakes discussed below. The good news: These are all easy fixes. They can be straightened out with a quick trip in the circuit.

Two-Handed Flying

In a multi-crew environment, the Pilot Flying (PF) often flies the big-airplane with two hands. This makes it easier to manage the larger control forces and to fly the numbers more precisely. However, it has the disadvantage of not leaving any hands free for the throttle, radio, flaps, gear, etc. But in a multi-crew aircraft, all of this stuff can be managed by the Pilot Monitoring (PM). Moving back to a little-airplane, which is operated single-pilot, requires that the flying be done with one hand on the stick/control column—leaving the other free to manage the rest of the aircraft—with particular emphasis on the throttle.

Very Excessive Control Forces

As noted above, big-airplanes tend to have larger control forces than little-airplanes. When we spend any amount of time flying one aircraft type exclusively, we begin to take the control forces involved for granted. This is a problem when we transition to a new type with significantly different control forces. Moving from a big-airplane to a little-airplane, the control forces are significantly reduced. As a result, there is a tendency to massively over-control the little-airplane.

This problem goes away very quickly after the little-airplane gets flying. A little bit of exposure to the new control forces provides for a quick adaptation. But that first takeoff and early climbout can be very exiting!

Crazy-High Roundout

Every aircraft has an eye-to-wheel height. Big-airplanes have a large eye-to-wheel height. Little-airplanes, not so much. In a little airplane, sitting in the cockpit with the wheels on the ground, your eyes might only be 5 feet off the ground. In a big-airplane, the eye-to-wheel height can more than 20 feet (a lot more in some cases). That's quite a difference. Big-airplanes also tend to use up more altitude in the roundout. The net result, big-airplane pilots are very high off the ground when they start the roundout—perhaps as much as 100 feet for some aircraft types. Meanwhile, in little-airplanes, the roundout starts when your eyes are 10 to 15 feet off the ground. Rounding out at 100 feet is a very excellent way to break your airplane. This makes the first one or two landings in a little-airplane conducted by a big-airplane pilot rather exciting (almost as exciting as that first takeoff!).

Happy Flying!

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