Movin’ On Up (Part II)

Moving up to larger, more capable, aircraft can be intimidating, but airplanes are airplanes and some simple truths about them always hold true. The rules of physics still apply, and the intensity of their application is still independent of how many little old ladies you helped across the street last year or how much time you donated to local charities. If you’ve been flying “trainers,” you’re used to a fairly tight performance envelope. As you move up, and performance grows, so too (usually) does the performance envelope. More capable aircraft often have a wider range of behavior consistent with their expanded performance envelope. Some attention to details (beyond those covered in Part I) will help.

    • Speeds. Maneuvering speed and cruise speed aren’t too far apart in a two-seater. Adjustments to forward velocity can take a bit more doing if there are two more seats in the back though.

Strategy: You’ll probably discover the need to take concerted action when you want to slow down below VA. Speed brakes may or may not be an option, but the best plan is foresight. You’ll have to mentally plan ahead to make sure the airplane is doing what you want it to do when you need “it” to happen.

    • Endurance. You may have half again as many more horses (though your new cruise speed might only go up by the cube root, or about 15%), and although you’ll be flight planning for a higher hourly fuel burn, your tanks will likely be proportionally larger.

Strategy: You might have an extra hour of endurance for cross-country trips. That might be more than your passengers would prefer. (Not everyone wants to pee in a bottle to save half an hour of travel time.)

    • Climb. As a general rule, the aircraft you transition “up” into will climb better, solo, but carrying more people usually means saying goodbye to climbs resembling those of a scalded ape. A heavier plane needs a longer ground roll to get going and a longer ground roll to stop.

Strategy: Going one rung up the ladder usually means slowing down — at least in the vertical — at maximum takeoff weights, sea-level climb performance can often drop significantly. Takeoff distance and obstacle clearance may change dramatically with loading. Just because you got into the field all by yourself doesn’t mean you can get out of it after you’ve picked up your friends. Careful preflight planning must conservatively calculate takeoff distances, obstacle clearance and aborted takeoff procedures … don’t forget to do the equivalent calculations for your safe arrival at the destination, too.

Your checkout would also involve ground and flight training and a high-performance logbook endorsement for airplanes with more than 200 hp, as well as another one for a “complex” airplane having a constant-speed prop and/or retractable landing gear. (The rule also mentions flaps, but that’s more of an afterthought, compared to the other two.)

Giving props. For those of you who might not know, a constant-speed propeller or “controllable” propeller usually uses engine oil pressure within a piston inside the propeller hub to control blade pitch. The oil flow to the piston is managed by a governor, which maintains a constant propeller rpm by varying the pitch of the propeller blades. Springs within the hub oppose that oil pressure, and are affected by centrifugal force; as the oil pressure drops, the prop pitch flattens, and (all other things being equal) the rpm’s, torque, and horsepower increase.

The gear. Such a crossing can and always does bring a thrill when there’s a handle on your panel having a little wheel on it. What the handle means, because it really doesn’t add much airspeed over modern and well-designed fixed gear, is that you now have the responsibility to remember to lower the gear. You’ll have to do that every time you raise it, or you’ll be meeting an insurance agent. If your instructor started you out with a “GUMPS” pre-landing check, even though you were flying a Cessna 150, bravo! You already know about undercarriage and propeller controls … you just have to remember that now they actually apply to something.

The comfort zone. One of the first things I discovered (particularly in a 210) was that demands were placed upon me to think faster. Plus, I needed to follow checklists to make sure nothing was forgotten. Mating the two (thinking faster and running checklists) takes up a lot of time and if you haven’t planned for that time, you will run out of it … and that will be bad. When your envelope of comfort is pushed by an aircraft’s greater performance, things can go wrong … just as quickly as an aircraft with greater performance can fly you into weather you’d rather not be in. Take baby steps. Get used to a high performance aircraft on short trips first, then increase the trip lengths as you get comfortable. It’s one thing to be behind an airplane over familiar terrain. It’s altogether different if you’re behind an airplane over unfamiliar terrain in unfriendly weather.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Traveling in style comes with a price … and it’s not just financial. If you want to go faster, you will have to expend more effort to master more complicated systems, and carry a healthy respect for the nuances that define your more capable aircraft’s abilities. The newspapers may not announce your new endorsements to the world, but you may yet make headlines exercising your new privileges if you’re not attentive enough. Be safe. Be careful.