Transition to Flying a Different Aircraft in 3 Easy Steps

About two months ago I cracked open my dusty civilian logbook for the first time in a long time. I was shocked to see the last date on which I had logged general aviation flight time was in July of 2004! Had it really been that long? My mind immediately went back to that summer. I had just earned my Private Pilot License and thought I was the king of the world. I could take a single engine Cessna 172 into the skies without fear and bring it back to earth in one piece with only minimal yelling from the tower controller. Since then I’ve transitioned to several different aircraft and have honed my pilot skills in the process. Learning to fly another aircraft – especially one with significantly different flight characteristics – can be both a fun and formidable task. Here are three easy steps that will help you make the transition to a different aircraft a smooth one.

1. Gain a sound understanding of your new aircraft and its systems.

 

All ATPs did a great job hooking me up with systems gouge (“Cliff Notes” version of the POH), academics, and simulator time to help me become familiar with the Seminole. The little piston twin doesn’t perform like a Raptor and I couldn’t handle it like one. Also, I needed to have enough of a systems understanding so simple things – like a radio frequency change – wouldn’t become a significant emotional event while airborne. Here is a list of some areas upon which to focus when working to gain proficiency with your new aircraft and its systems:

– Aerodynamic qualities and handling characteristics of your aircraft.

– Engine: Know how to correctly start the engines and apply proper throttle/mixture/prop controls to maintain optimal engine performance.

– Avionics: Know how to set up comm/nav equipment and efficiently interpret the information it provides for navigation. Academics and simulator time can be invaluable and many avionics manufacturers have training modules available online for practice. (For example, check out this link to Garmin’s online simulator: http://www8.garmin.com/include/SimulatorPopup.html)

– Other Systems: Gain an initial basic understanding of the electrical, pitot static, and hydraulic systems (if equipped). A deeper understanding of these systems is always better, but you don’t need to build the aircraft in order to fly it.

2. Establish an Emergency Procedure Baseline.

 

You don’t get any second chances at handling emergencies while airborne. While your general approach to handling an emergency in any aircraft will be similar (i.e. maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, take appropriate action, land as soon as conditions permit), you will need to know the nuances of handling an emergency in your new aircraft before taking to the skies.

In the Air Force, the pilot’s operating manual (affectionately known as the “Dash 1”) highlights immediate action emergency procedures in boldface font. Pilots are required to memorize the “BOLDFACE” word for word and chair-fly the procedures because you likely won’t have time to break out the checklist in certain emergency scenarios (e.g. engine failure during takeoff). Take the time to identify the time critical emergencies you could encounter in your new airframe and MEMORIZE the procedures associated with them.

While it’s not necessary to memorize all of your emergency procedures, you should still familiarize yourself with your aircraft’s emergency procedures checklist so you can easily find the appropriate checklist when stress and adrenaline enter the equation during an actual in-flight emergency.

3. Adjust and chair-fly your crosscheck.

 

There’s no substitute for practicing the procedures associated with flying your new aircraft. When you can’t practice in the air, you need to be practicing on the ground via simulator or “chair flying”. Chair flying is simply running through the procedures in your head in the order you expect to execute them airborne.

If you’ve been flying the same aircraft for your last 100+ hours of flight time, you may not realize how entrenched your crosscheck has become. I found that I had to really concentrate on re-learning the “6-pack” crosscheck in the Piper Seminole after flying an aircraft where the primary instrument reference is the Heads Up Display (the other displays are prioritized for tactical flying…a nice navigation suite was not high on the Air Force’s requirements list for the F-22!)

Cockpits

Take the time to develop a new habit pattern or “flow” in your new aircraft. With today’s glass cockpits and high-tech avionics the pilot has the ability to de-clutter (remove) information from a display or change the display completely to their liking. You should either learn how to customize the displays to your liking or know where to look to glean the flight information you need. Developing a crosscheck customized to your new aircraft via chair flying can help you maintain situational awareness. It will also save you from having to hunt for the data in flight and consequently fall “behind the aircraft”.

Take the time to follow these simple steps before transitioning to your next aircraft. Also, be sure to visit the Transitioning to Other Airplanes training developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. I had a great time transitioning back to General Aviation. It made me a better pilot overall and I had a ton of fun in the process. The more aircraft you can fly, the more you will learn about aviation and the better you will become.

What other things have helped you transition to flying a different aircraft? Leave your comments below!


 

RAB-Dwight

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10 Comments

  1. Brent says:

    Great article Rob! Transition training can be tricky business and going down in aircraft performance can be more challenging than going up. Good stuff!

  2. Ron Rapp says:

    I admire the attitude with which you approached the transition into a lowly piston twin. Coming from such a high-performance fighter, it must be tempting to think that if you can master ACM and such in the F-22, a Seminole would be a snooze. But I’ve found that the older, “simpler”, lower-performance bird can hide some surprises. I think a Seminole could hurt or kill you just as easily as a Raptor… albeit with a lot less panache! 🙂

    1. Rob Burgon says:

      Thank Ron, and you’re absolutely right. I believe one must approach transitioning to a lower performance aircraft with caution and humility. If you go in thinking it’s a breeze, those surprises you talked about can definitely bite you!

  3. Eric Auxier says:

    Rob,
    Great post!
    I like the respectful humility with which you approach this “lowly” flying from your Raptor high chair! Sigh…if only ALL pilots could have such a wise attitude!

    I like your comment about a simple radio tuning becoming an “emotional” event. My mind flashed back to the times in a plane when I didn’t understand a component, and it became a, shall we say, “stressful” episode trying to figure it out, all the while aviating/navigating/communicating! Lesson: study thoroughly ahead of time!

    I also identify with your comments about Garmins and the modern nav/radio stacks. They are designed to make flying simple and stress-free, and if one is thoroughly familiar with the system, they are. If not, back to the above paragraph!

    As I transition back to GA flying from my Airbus, I must say that those radio stacks have become the single biggest intimidation factor! Your lessons are well-taken!

    Eric “Cap’n Aux” Auxier
    capnaux.com

    1. Rob Burgon says:

      Eric, thanks for the words. Your approach to the Garmin stacks is one of a mature pilot. I’ve seen too many young guys with a couple hundred hours say “oh easy, I got this” when transitioning to a different aircraft only to be immediately humbled by some unforeseen circumstance. I bet you’ve transitioned through a aircraft in your time with the airlines not to mention all the GA flying you do. I like your words on the subject at: http://capnaux.com/may-the-bif-wotr-be-with-you/

  4. Karlene says:

    Great post Rob! Having 7 type-ratings I’ve transitioned often. The most recent from Boeing to Airbus with a huge shift in technology. Yes… chair fly. I always say that pilots need a good fantasy life that enables them to sit on the ground and visualize every procedure. It locks it into the brain. And understanding is essential. It’s not that long time pilots won’t have basic stick and rudder skills, it’s the brain work of the new equipment, systems, procedures, etc., that will keep them safe. And always have that baseline. That can even go to setting a baseline for your limits and making a hard fast rule you won’t exceed them. Great advice here!

  5. Mark L Berry says:

    Great article. I remember earning my seaplane rating. The Piper cub instructor kept telling my to add more right rudder! Hard to remember all the basics after so many years in jets, but every airplane deserves our full respect.

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