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Question of the Month: How Do We Integrate a New Aircraft into Our Fleet?

The offhand answer is the same as how you tickle a crocodile… “carefully”. 

Whenever you add a new steed into your club’s stable, there will be impacts—mostly good, often challenging, and sometimes surprising, but definitely plannable.

We spoke about how to add a new plane to your fleet in the July 2019 edition of Club Connector (Question of the Month: How do we go about adding a club aircraft), where we touched on the importance of transition training, but now let’s go a bit deeper.

Adding an aircraft to an existing fleet might actually be trickier than purchasing your club’s first plane.  Not necessarily in terms of the acquisition process, but handling and managing differences, check-outs, training, etc. We suggest that you think of these things before buying the new aircraft, but even then, there is more work to do before club members can jump in and fly.

Consider a hypothetical club that currently operates an A152 Aerobat (an excellent choice, by the way).  Let’s say that the club is growing, and, following the selection committee’s recommendation, the majority of members vote to acquire a Bonanza (another good choice, but not necessarily in the same club!).  Just because there was majority approval, it doesn’t mean that everyone is happy. Adding another airplane at least doubles fixed costs and unless you add more members, this will have to be paid for by increasing monthly dues.

But what if George (who often reminds everyone that he has been a member more than 30-years), has no intention of flying the Bonanza?  Will George’s dues also increase to cover the increased cost of operations?  This is an important question—and can get clubs into trouble if not handled correctly.   The really important thing here is not to introduce membership tiers. As we riff about in our Flying Club Workshop series (more coming in 2021), “Membership tiers will end in tears”. 

Recall that membership equality is a foundation stone of flying club operations.  Each member has an equal voice in the business and operations of the club, and all members must share equally in the benefits, obligations, and responsibilities of the club.  Each member has one membership, and one vote. In the case where different club members want to fly specific club aircraft, separate out membership dues, that cover the fundamental democratic aspects of club membership, from operational dues that support the different aircraft.  For example, the above club may charge all members $35 per month for basic membership dues and then add a surcharge depending on the flying privileges extended to members.  For those having access to the A152, the surcharge may be $60 to cover its specific fixed costs.  For others, flying the A152 and Bonanza, the surcharge may be $60 + $100, or whatever.  Everyone remains an equal member of the club, but some have more flying privileges, so they pay more.  Simple, effective, and extensible.

Now let’s maneuver to the aircraft themselves and make a bold statement:  Every new aircraft, and indeed every modification to an existing aircraft, must trigger an examination of operations and training – in other words, must drive the need for transition training. We tend to think of transition training as only applying to situations where the new airplane is more complicated than other airplanes on the fleet, for example, if you add a complex and/or high-performance aircraft (see last month’s Question of the Month). Whilst that is most definitely true, it also works the other way around—when the new airplane is considered “easier” than the others, and of course, “easier” is in the eye of the beholder.  Moreover, if you upgrade your standard gauge panel to a G1000 and add an autopilot, transition training will definitely be required, even though the airframe is “the same”.

Perhaps we should say that transition training is always important, as every airplane has its own idiosyncrasies.  But wait, you say, surely a C172 is the same as any other C172, so why should we be concerned with transitioning if we already operate C172s?  Well, the C172 is actually a wonderful example of exactly why you must always consider transition training, even (especially) if it is the second, third, fourth…C172 in your fleet. Call it a checkout if you wish, as the intent is the same.  You must become familiar with the aircraft, its systems, manners, and quirks. 

We know full well that the venerable C172 has undergone many changes over its production run—not surprising when you consider that covers some 65 years!  Some of these changes were subtle, others major like different engines (including fuel-injection and turbocharging), and others were stepwise changes as models changed from A through S, and even then, there were some special edition models, like the discontinued C172TD (turbodiesel).   Throw in the RG and you’ll see that there is no such thing as a standard C172! 

This is exactly why flight schools require a checkout before they let you loose on a new-to-you aircraft, so why would a flying club operate any differently?

As mentioned above, we generally think of transition training when going “up”—but sideways and down are also important.  The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook has excellent material on transitioning to different aircraft, including tailwheel, complex, multi-engine, turbo-prop, jet and light sport.  AOPA’s Air Safety Institute (ASI) has some exceptional resources for transitioning pilots, especially the outstanding course Transitioning to Other Airplanes.

 Bear in mind that some of these “transitions” also require specific endorsements or certificates—which will force training—but others do not.  For example, your club operates a C172 and then acquires a Vans RV-12.  The RV is “easier”, right? Wrong!  With their light weight and low wing loading, relatively powerful engines and very tight-and-light controls, many light sport aircraft can be a handful for over-confident pilots.  Add flaperons (say-what?), a castering nose-wheel, a real stick, and a fun-to-fiddle-with glass panel…well, you get the point.

Compare a pattern in an RV-12 with your C172.   Downwind, throttle back to 4,000RPM (yep, Rotax engines rev higher and the tach indicates engine RPM, not the gearbox reduced propellor RPM), then slow to 70Kts.  Abeam, throttle to idle otherwise you’ll never slow her down. Check the white arc, flaps 1 then flaps 2.  The nose immediately dips downwards—so hopefully you weren’t carrying the muscle-memory of the Cessna upward balloon.  Base at 65, final at 55-60.  Over the numbers at 50 or you’ll float forever.  If you’re doing a touch-and-go, power-up and the nose will pretty much immediately over-rotate.  Remove flaps (quick to do in one go, with the Johnson bar) and the nose immediately balloons upwards, again, quite the opposite from the behavior of your C172. You’ll need to be ready to push to control airspeed and the flight path.  This, one of many differences, is why you need to treat transition training seriously and practice and drill the differences, preferably at altitude.

Here are some other “directions” of transition to think about:

  • Small to bigger
  • Big to smaller
  • Single to multi
  • Conventional to new-fangled tricycle gear
  • Piston to jet
  • Different avionics
  • Different systems
  • Round to glass
  • Glass to round
  • Left seat to right seat (and back…CFIs…)
  • Solo from rear seat (taildragger)
  • Simple to complex
  • Anything to high performance
  • Anything to technically advanced
  • Anything to Ultralight
  • Day to night
  • Cold to hot
  • Flatland to mountains
  • And many more!

 

You might have notice that we added “Anything to Ultralight”.  Many people think that because ultralights are not “regulated” (which of course is not correct—see CFR 14 Part 103 and the November 2019 Question of the Month), then they must be simple and easy to fly.  Well, they certainly can be with the right training, but if you just jump into one of these low mass, high drag vehicles and try to fly it (land it) like your C172, you’ll quickly realize the error of your ways.   We are seeing a welcome resurgence of interest in ultralights (by definition, single occupancy vehicles) and training, both initial and transition, is something that the AOPA Flying Clubs team is working on, as we develop a new ultralight club just north of Frederick, Maryland.  Much more to come on this topic in the near future!

So, what’s a good plan for transition training, you may ask. Well, here are a few suggestions:

  • Be sure to update your Club Management Tool to prevent members from reserving the new aircraft until they have completed the checkout.
  • Study the POH. Not just the one you can download, but the one in the actual airplane. Even better, scan that copy and make it available to all members.
  • Understand all sections of the POH:
    • Engine and propeller details and limitations (Manifold pressure, fuel flow, RPM range, temperature limits and so on).
    • Emergency procedures —and commit them to memory as there will likely not be time to look them up when something actually happens.
    • Normal procedures, including run-up, take-off, cruise, approach, landing.
    • Performance. Take-off and landing tables, fuel burn, climb and cruise performance, etc.
    • Weight and balance information for that specific airplane. Update your W&B calculator to include the new airplane.
    • Systems. Understanding how it all works will help you fly it better and perhaps to answer, “What’s it doing now…?”
    • Supplements. Although at the end of the POH, this section contains vital information for that specific airplane, such as STCs, equipment pilot guides, etc. If these are not in the airplane PoH, add them. This is an airworthiness issue.
  • Pay particular attention to well-documented gotchas. A big one is if you are introducing a low-wing aircraft to a club with high-wing Cessnas, where the big trap is fuel management and fuel tank selection. Cherokees without the “both” position might well catch a few people unawares on a long cross-country flight.
  • Remember that “transition” is inclusive. If the new airplane has a very different panel, then run some ground school classes to educate members. Actually, always run ground school classes, as an hour of study on the ground is worth three in the plane. Use a simulator to explain equipment operation. The point here is that you may be introducing members to different systems and distractions (e.g. round to glass, autopilot, engine monitors, etc.), as well as the new-to-them airplane.
  • Create a transition training/checkout quiz and require every member to take the quiz. This will force people to dig through the POH for answers. Make sure the quizzes are reviewed and corrected to 100%.
    • You’ll need to create your own customized quiz, but here is an example, as used by Steve’s club, The Westminster Aerobats.
  • Create your own checklist(s). This again forces you to study the POH, but also requires you to understand your actual airplane. Always start with the manufacturer’s checklists from the POH and add to them. For example, perhaps the airplane didn’t originally have an avionics master switch, but now it does. When should it be turned ON, and OFF?
  • Steve always creates an “Information Sheet” for every airplane he flies and keeps it with N-number specific checklists. An example can be found here.
  • Sit in the airplane. Get used to the layout. Play with the seat adjustment, seat belts, feel the fuel selectors, and so on.New to, or rusty on, retractable gear? Then “feel the wheel” and know how the emergency gear extension system works, especially if it needs some special tools, or holding your tongue just right as you pump the gear down.
  • Who is going to conduct the transition training and/or checkout? Use a CFI rather than an unqualified self-professed expert. CFIs have specific training in how to effectively instruct and they are always spring-loaded for “events”. You’ll want to be sure the CFI conducting the checkout knows well the make and model, but also has some hours in the actual airplane. Some makes/models may have manufacturer or type club training. For example, Cirrus and American Bonanza Society. One or two club members can attend such courses and then “train more trainers”.
  • The checkout itself should explore ground and fight characters of the new addition. For example, even taxiing in a tailwheel or castering nosewheel aircraft is quite different than one with nose wheel steering, and this can get quite exciting for the instructor conducting the checkout. An example checkout sheet is here, but again, make yours specific to the new plane.

 

Aviation is full of horror stories, but transition training ranks highly amongst the best ways to avoid many of them. Here are a few cases to learn from:

Case 1. Transition from Cirrus SR20 to Cessna 172

            Here is the NTSB Final Report on this accident.

Case 3. Errors of Interpretation

Case 3. Blind Over Bakersfield

 

As always, fly lots and fly safe.

Stephen Bateman

Flying Clubs Initiative
Steve leads the You Can Fly Flying Clubs Initiative, which helps start and grow flying clubs, nationwide. Steve is a CFI, an AOPA staff instructor, LSRM-A and FAASTeam lead representative. Contact Steve at [email protected]

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