Transitioning to a new airplane can be a lot of fun, if you do it correctly. I can remember way back to when I was making the transition to my Debonair, and all of the fun and challenges that were included. This was mostly due to the fact that I was going from flying Cessna 172s, to flying a complex, high performance, retractable gear aircraft like the Debonair. Let’s just say the experience was loaded with opportunities to expand my skills as a pilot.

My instructor was Don, who had been my primary instructor when I received my Private Pilot’s license. Don knew the Debonair line well, and he put me through the wringer to make sure I would be able to handle the plane in all situations. We flew it from here to there, did stalls, flew in slow flight, and even cranked down the landing gear a few times, all to get me ready for solo flight.

I NEEDED TO GET MY NIGHT SKILLS TUNED UP, and shared this fact with Don, who indicated that he was more than happy to comply. It was near dusk, so Don had me set course for the nearby Kankakee airport, which had two nice runways available. The flight to Kankakee took little time, and the sun was fully set as I established my left downwind approach to Runway 4.

Landing the Debonair at night was, as you would expect, the same as landing it during the day … only without the sunshine. After declaring my intentions and scanning for traffic, I throttled back, dialed in the trim to reach the right approach speed, and adjusted my sink rate to place me in the correct place in the pattern. As I turned base, I looked over at the runway, and called out my intentions again.

I had the final nailed, with the plane coming down right where I planned it to — in the first third of the runway. It was at the point where the wheels were just touching down that all hell broke loose…

DEER ON THE RUNWAY, GO AROUND!” Don called out. I did a quick scan of what was in front of me, and didn’t see a deer, so I questioned what Don had asked me. Don’s reply was curt and to the point: “This was a test of your reflexes, and you just flunked!

FLUNKED!?! I had scanned the runway as I was landing, and my eyes had never left it during the flare. I knew there was no deer out there, and since I knew that, I knew I didn’t need to alter my actions. Don’s reply was equally simple: “This is a training environment — in this case, I would have expected you to have listened to me, and taken the necessary actions. Just because you didn’t’ see it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

I’D FAILED THE TEST AFTER ALL. In thinking about what Don said, I started to ask myself some questions…

  • What if the deer was running toward the runway, and I hadn’t seen it?
  • What if I just hadn’t seen the deer, and one really was there?
  • Why did I question Don, instead of just applying full power, and going around?

Needless to say, if there had been a deer on the runway, or running on to the runway, the outcome would have been a disaster. While deer-plane and animal-plane accidents are relatively rare, they can and do happen from time to time, and when they happen, the results are anything but pleasant.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO WHEN FACED WITH A SIMILAR SITUATION? Would you fail as I did, and just continue on, perhaps blindly, or would you apply full power and go around? The decision you make will have a direct impact on what happens to your landing — it will either be uneventful, or, well, eventful.

LANDING AN AIRPLANE IS COMPLEX ENOUGH WITHOUT ADDING MORE CHALLENGES TO THE EQUATION. Think about what you would do, and have the image in mind on each landing. By knowing what you would do in such a situation, you will be better prepared to actually do it, and in doing so, you will be able to pass this test and others.