I really don’t recall when I first transitioned to complex aircraft. I do remember flying my buddy and instructor Jerome’s V-35 and wondering if I could get much farther behind an airplane than I was in that one. Operation wasn’t baffling, although I felt really busy a lot of the time, but the whole airplane just seemed to be about a mile in front of me and all I was doing was trying to keep up! Years later I made my first solo decent into our freighter base and found myself bumping red line in a PA-60 as I tried desperately to get to pattern altitude for a downwind entry. I recall the tower calling me and advising that I had probably just missed the turn toward the airport in the haze, “We show your airplane 8 miles south of the center line for 26 still headed south; how far behind that are you?” I never even saw the airport go by! It was their snarky way of letting me know that I was really not “all that” just yet.
After a few more weeks in the cockpit the flow got better, the atmosphere relaxed, and I quit hanging on quite so tightly. I was finally becoming comfortable with the operation of all the bells and whistles in the array before me.
It’s funny how things in the cockpit that look so daunting can become so friendly once you find your way around the “office.” When you first dare to fly a complex beast it seems that everything has to happen at once. Soon though, understanding creeps in and you develop that “feel” that comes with the familiarity of having done the same things over and over.
Back in the dark ages of aviation when I started multi engine training I had an instructor who took me down to the airplane and strapped into the cockpit. My first hour of multi training was spent in the cockpit with an aircraft manual learning where every single instrument, gauge, and switch was located. I thought the guy was a jerk; but you know what, he really had a pretty good idea of how to make my transition to ME painless. I did as he asked and dutifully committed each and every item, its position and its purpose to my memory bank. For my second hour, he took away the manual, turned off the hangar lights and gave me a flashlight to work with! The long awaited first flight was much easier as a result of his training technique.
The point is, if you are transitioning to a new airplane or a more complex airplane the task can sometimes feel overwhelming or disorienting. As they say, “All good things, come to those who train,” so put in your time, work slowly and logically with a good instructor and the mystery and apprehension will fade quickly. Soon you will be operating the airplane like a pro as you overshoot your final or delay your let down too long. Learning to think ahead of the airplane will come with practice but may take some getting used to.
With just these thoughts in mind I figured it might be nice for some of the pilot types out there if I did a bit of “cockpit familiarization,” gave everyone a look at what there is to see in the pointy end of a complex airplane, and talked a bit about how to operate one.
I know it sometimes feels like everything is happening at once, I know there are lots of dials, gauges, and switches to keep track of; but in the end . . . it’s just another airplane with its individual quirks and learning the airplane and flying it, well that’s just one more rung in the ladder for a committed aviation junkie.
C’mon along on a cockpit tour of a complex aircraft in Part I of “Flying the Screamin’ Eagle.” Keep an eye out for Part II where we use all of these cockpit controls to defy gravity and play with starts, take offs, climbs, descents, and landing.
Come be my co-pilot, you are going to have a great time!
Author: Tom Speerstra
Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and Pappy “the dog” Boyington.