many different kinds of airplanes.
Specifically there are categories of airplanes in
You can get a pilot licence or permit for any category of aircraft.
For powered fixed-wing aeroplanes, there is the also the concept of “class” which refers to:
single-engine land (SEL),
multi-engine land (MEL),
single-engine sea (SES),
multi-engine sea (MES).
It is worth
mentioning that “high performance” has a totally different meaning in
Additional training is required for you to legally fly aircraft in a different class (eg getting your seaplane or multi-engine endorsement), or something really zoomy. But what about different types of aircraft in the same class?
For example, let’s say you learned to fly in a Cessna 172, and you’re the ace of the base in it. Can you jump into a Cessna 182 and act as pilot-in-command? Legally, you sure can, because it’s a non-high performance, single-engine land aircraft, which your Private Pilot Licence says you are qualified to fly. Is it smart? Well, that depends upon how you adapt to some new stuff in the C182 such as a constant-speed prop and cowl flaps. Most people would get some instruction in the C182 before they attempted to fly it solo, and that’s probably a pretty good idea. Hint: nose up trim on final.
example: you learned to fly in a
C172. Can you jump into a tailwheel C120/140/170/180/185 and fly it solo without any
additional instruction? Sure, you
legally could, but you would probably wreck it the first time you tried to land
example: you learned to fly in a
low-wing Cherokee. Could you jump into a
retractable-gear aircraft like a Bonanza or Mooney and check yourself out? Well, yes legally you could, because there is
no endorsement for retractable-gear aircraft in
wonder why there isn’t more regulation of pilot licensing in
The problem is that it can be very, very difficult to get this kind of specialized flight instruction. You might have to go a long way from your home airport to find a flight instructor who is experienced in flying a particular type of SEL tailwheel aircraft, or SEL retractable-gear aircraft. It gets even harder to find an experienced flight instructor if the tailwheel or retractable-gear aircraft is MEL. Or if it’s both tailwheel and retractable-gear MEL.
What to do in this situation? Well, probably the best thing for most pilots is to simply NOT fly it, to avoid wrecking it and possibly killing themselves. But after you fly enough types, you start to realize that there isn’t really much new under the sun.
Looking at a type of aircraft that you have never flown before, you want to look very carefully at its systems. You must understand in perfect detail how the fuel system works, because no fuel means you crash. How many tanks are there? How are they plumbed and selected? Fuel pumps? If the gear is not welded, you must learn intimately about its operation. How is powered? What are the speeds? Commit the emergency gear extension procedure to memory. Read the POH carefully. Research the type on the internet (but try to filter out the inevitable internet bullshit). Spend time in the cockpit learning where everything is and how it works.
Many times I have been forced to check myself out on unfamiliar aircraft types. I do this with great care, because this can bite you in the ass if you are not very very thorough in your preparation.
One aircraft I checked myself out in was the tailwheel PT-22 Ryan. Extremely rare WWII trainer. Aluminum fuselage, wood and fabric wings. Kinner radial engine. No cruise performance data whatsoever. A complete whore to start in the cold – no primer. The delivery pilot dropped it off at a grass field and proceeded to get incredibly drunk so he was at his finest for his airline flight home the next day, leaving me to check myself out in the Ryan the next day. Wonderful.
I know a little about radial engines, so I pulled it through a bunch of times to make sure the bottom cylinders weren’t hydraulic locked from draining oil, and proceeded to prime it by pumping the throttle and pulling the engine through until fuel ran out the bottom.
Most engines will start if you prime them enough that fuel runs out the bottom onto the ground. Crank them, and sooner or later enough fuel will be pumped out that it has a burnable mixture in the cylinders, and it will start. Just be careful about a fire on start. In retrospect, I should have just squirted some fuel in the exhaust stacks, a trick I learned later from reading a WWI book. Anyways, I got it started and as with any radial engine, I let it idle for a long time until it was nicely warmed up, and off I went.
Now, how long a leg should I fly? Well, it has a 24 gallon tank, and a 160hp engine.
Here’s a simple formula for you, derived from BSFC: knock a zero off an engine’s max hp rating, and that’s your gph on takeoff at WOT. 16 gallons in this case. You cruise at around 65% power, so 2/3 or 16 is around 11 gph. If I fly 1.5 hours, that’s around 1.5 times 11 or 16.5 gallons, leaving me around 7 gallons or 40 minute reserve, IF AND ONLY IF I lean the mixture properly, which is max airspeed in both fixed-pitch and constant-speed prop aircraft. Max airspeed is best power which is around 100F degrees rich of peak, which is fine with me.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what the Ryan burned. And I didn’t need any fancy performance manuals to calculate it, which is a good thing because it didn’t have any.
Other Funky Aircraft
Simply because there weren’t any experienced flight instructors around, in the past I have been forced to check myself out (and teach myself aerobatics) in many other weird, wonderful and bizarre aircraft, such as:
Clip-wing 3-blade 700hp hot-rod Harvard Mk4
450hp Stearman (nose-heavy!)
Piaggio Royal Gull (felt like a Seabee)
Beech 18 (NOT a fire-breathing dragon in the least – just wheel land it)
Cornell PT-19/26 (total pussycat)
and many, many other homebuilt types. Often these aircraft have been sitting for a long while (or it’s their first flight ever, or first flight after heavy maintenance) and you can reasonably expect them to have mechanical problems in the air. Remember what I said about systems knowledge? Well, you’re going to need it to cope with the inevitable problems which are going to crop up.
Transitioning to new types
The ability of a pilot to quickly transition to a new type of aircraft is something that is envied but not particularly well understood. There is certainly no training or rating or endorsement for it, which is a pity, because it is a skill that is generally highly prized amongst pilots.
I remember reading about a WWII test pilot who flew both fighters and bombers, which amazed everyone at the time, because “everyone knew” that you flew either fighters or bombers, but not both, and certainly never on the same day! But this phenomenal pilot could, even if he couldn’t quite articulate what he was doing.
The secret is in control theory. Stop groaning. Let’s look at open loop and closed loop control. A good example of open loop control would be the engine computer on my motorcycle. It simply takes throttle position, engine RPM, etc and uses that to set the ignition timing and fuel flow. A good example of closed loop control would be the engine computer on my car. It has oxygen sensors in the exhaust as additional inputs, so it can take the fixed map parameters and modify them to fine-tune the mixture. It could also have a vibration sensor in the cylinder head to detect detonation and back the timing off if that occurs. Closed loop does a better job of controlling the engine.
Closed loop control is obviously superior to open loop control, because it quickly optimizes the inputs by observing the outputs of a system.
Low-time pilots, whom have only every flown one type of aircraft, are often “open loop” in that they have a series of rote inputs they apply (often using a gigantic checklist), generally without paying much attention to what happens as a result. These pilots pften have trouble converting to a new type. They even have trouble flying a circuit in strong wind, because they refuse to compensate for the effects of the wind on their circuit legs. They might stall/spin on turns to final, because they aren’t paying attention to the airspeed and ball.
Closed-loop pilots, even if they don’t know they are doing it, are continually observing the results of their flight control inputs, and adjusting their flight control inputs to make the airplane do precisely what they want. It may require one ounce of force, it may require 100 lbs of force on the flight controls, it doesn’t matter – do whatever it takes with the flight (and engine) controls, to make the airplane do what you want it to. It’s that simple.
Work very hard to become a closed-loop pilot. Pay attention to the effects of your inputs. Demand precision from yourself in your control of the aircraft, in terms of airspeed and position.
Also, fly as many different types of aircraft as you can. Each different type will teach you a lesson or two, which you can apply to future types. And become a systems geek – learn all can about the electrical and hydraulic and pneumatic and mechanical systems in your aircraft. It will make a huge difference to your ability as a pilot, not to mention your continued survival in the future.
email@example.com Oct 2011