Safety: Moving Up: Transitioning to a New Airplane

At some point, your club might decide to modify its fleet. Whether stepping up to a more powerful, complex plane, or switching to one that is lighter or differently configured, additional training (and some studying) will help you and your fellow club members achieve proficiency in a new airplane.

So where should you start? 

One of the first things you should do is read the Pilot’s Operating Handbook and examine the weight and balance. Even airplanes that are closely related can have significant differences. Are there new or different systems you need to learn? Maybe the fuel system on this new airplane is totally different—are there multiple tanks that you’ll need to crossfeed? What about variations in flaps and gear? Also, don’t neglect a complex glass cockpit or potentially lifesaving autopilot because you don’t want to take the time to learn how to use them.

Beyond systems differences, flight characteristics (of course) vary airplane to airplane. A couple of the most important things to learn about any airplane you fly is how it acts at its slowest controllable airspeeds and how it stalls in varied configurations. Know what to look, listen, and feel for. Does it have unique stall characteristics? Does one wing tend to drop? If you have a stall warning horn, does the horn sound at the expected airspeed? 

Control input might be different, too. How hard will you have to press on the rudder in a crosswind or to taxi? How much elevator for a perfect flare and touchdown? Don’t assume that even airplanes that are closely related will fly exactly the same!

When you’re done with a flight, don’t forget that you’re parking a new plane with new dimensions. Is the wingspan bigger than what you are used to?  Are visual cues when taxiing or pushing the airplane into the hangar the same? Is that old chair in the back of the hangar going to interfere with the elevator of the new airplane?

Sadly, pilots have underestimated the challenges of transitioning to a new airplane in the past and tragedy has followed. In Accident Case Study: Blind Over Bakersfieldknowledge of the onboard autopilot could have resulted in a different outcome. In another case, a pilot flew hard IFR in an airplane in which he had very limited experience. There have been times when a crash has resulted from exceeding the weight and balance in an aircraft new to the pilot. Try not to view learning a new airplane as a chore—instead, recognize it as a necessary step in ensuring a bright future.

Take ASI’s course Transitioning to Other Airplanes.

Related Articles