Safety: Flying Multiple Aircraft

An old cliché says that variety is the spice of life. And that cliché also applies to aircraft: a variety of airplanes can spice up any pilot’s flying. Maybe it’s a plane with a lot more horsepower. Or one with retractable gear, or a step up to twin-engine aircraft.

While this can be great fun, it also comes with increased risks. If the pilot doesn’t know the new airplane inside out, it’s easy to get confused about things like controls and avionics, and make mistakes that could lead to trouble.

Maybe your club is fortunate to already have access to a diverse airplane fleet, or planning on expanding in the near future. Whether adding a second Cessna 172 or a Piper Seminole, transition training for stepping up, down, or sideways is always critical to flying safely.

Even if the planes are similar models, they may – and likely will – have different POHs, avionics panels, and checklists. Pilots who think that all it takes is a checkout to be proficient in a new type of plane are badly mistaken. Does the pilot know, for instance, the wing loading of the new plane? Has she memorized Vs and Vso so she doesn’t have to check the handbook in the event of an emergency?

Pilots who regularly fly multiple types of airplanes are used to these challenges, and have a lot of wisdom to share. That’s one of the takeaways from the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s latest There I Was… podcast, featuring AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker. Baker has flown more than 10,000 hours in more than 100 airplanes.  In it, he shares what he has learned in his four decades as a pilot.

When transitioning between planes, one of the first things Baker does is become intimately familiar with what he calls the plane’s “critical ingredients.” He says he asks these questions: “Where’s the fuel and how do you read it? Where’s the engine monitoring? What are the flight controls like and where are the trim and flaps?”

Baker expanded on the importance of the three factors of fuel, fire, and flight controls. “These are the critical things in any aircraft; you’d better know where they are, what the readings are, what the indicators are, and exactly how to interpret those three critical issues. Those things always remain, across every aircraft.”

Avionics is another important area, especially with the new requirement that all planes have ADS-B equipment by Jan. 1, 2020. There will likely be differences between the various types of ADS-B units in planes, and it will be important to know the differences before takeoff.

In addition to listening to the podcast, pilots considering flying more than one airplane – or even flying multiple ones currently – should consider taking the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s online training course, Transitioning to Other Airplanes, which will help get them up to speed.

Flying different planes can be fun and adventurous; but not knowing what to do when something goes wrong in a new plane shouldn’t be part of the adventure.

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