Safety: Stepping Down, Tuning Up

In aviation, we typically reserve discussions of transition training for those occasions when we’re moving up into a faster, more powerful or complex aircraft. But does stepping “down” mean that you don’t need additional training? Nope. A new aircraft is a new aircraft, even if the engine’s horsepower is relatively low or the panel simpler.

To safely transition into flying a new aircraft, find an experienced instructor—not just one who promises to read the aircraft manual before the flight and has no actual time at the controls. It may take a little digging to find a qualified CFI, but the search will be worth it in the value of experience you gain.

Consider the concept of stepping “down” into a light sport weight-shift controlled aircraft. Light sport aircraft could be a good choice for your club. Generally, they take fewer hours to learn how to fly and cost less to operate. With fewer moving parts and slower airspeed, how different or difficult could weight shift flying be?

When we put words like “light sport” on an airplane, it can alter our perception of that aircraft’s ability to challenge our piloting and decision-making skills. Surely a designation like that and a lower hour requirement to learn how to fly it means that it is easy to manipulate, right? Not necessarily, and sometimes your previous experience can make transitioning to an “easy” aircraft more difficult.

With any new aircraft comes the potential for a negative transfer of learning. A negative transfer of learning occurs when some skill you’ve learned before impedes or hinders your ability to learn something new. In airplanes this could be anything from having difficulty learning a new GPS or reaching towards the wrong spot for a flap lever, to inputting incorrect controls.

The FAA defines weight shift control (WSC) as a “powered aircraft with a framed pivoting wing and a fuselage controllable only in pitch and roll by the pilot’s ability to change the aircraft’s center of gravity with respect to the wing. Flight control of the aircraft depends on the wing’s ability to deform flexibly rather than on the use of control surfaces.”

WSC aircraft are manipulated similarly to Orville and Wilbur’s warped wing design on the Wright Flyer. So, what does that mean? In the case of WSC, when you push forward (or “down” as we fixed wing pilots have come to think of it) you will actually pitch the nose of the aircraft up. Pulling towards you (or aft, or back) means you will pitch the nose down. Even with experience in many different aircraft, our traditional fixed wing control inputs would be a hard thing to unlearn—and a critical skill to develop for operations close to the ground like takeoff and landing.

Transitioning to something new doesn’t have to be as dramatic as first thought. You may already think that if you can fly a Cessna 182 you might not need instruction to fly a 150…but what if you mistake your airspeeds in the pattern, or get into a situation where you need horsepower that isn’t available? An hour or two of instruction couldn’t hurt, and you don’t have to wait for your next flight review to seek out dual received. Approach every new aircraft with humility and respect—even the simplest design can ruin your day if you aren’t paying attention.

To learn more about light sport aircraft go here:

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