November 2008 Issue

What Makes One Airplane Different From Another?

Spend some time learning about the systems, handling and procedures making each airplane unique.

The trickle-down effect of installation of glass cockpits in increasingly modest airplanes has changed the type of checkout a pilot gets when seeking to rent a machine from the local FBO. Because presentation of attitude, altitude and speed of the airplane, along with health of its various systems, has changed so dramatically from round-gauge airplanes, there has to be a fair amount of time spent with an instructor on the ins and outs of the video screens. This is a very good thing, if for no other reason than getting a firm introduction to the avionics of an airplane before launching into the blue unknown may prevent a few pilots from killing themselves. One hopes the days of "Hey, it’s an airplane, lead me to it and I’ll fly it" soon will fade into aviation legend, along with their associated accidents. The good news is that the newer, more technically advanced airplanes tend to have fewer secret corners in either their systems or their handling as certification rules have become more sophisticated. While some bemoan the increasingly "vanilla" flavor of handling and systems in newly certified airplanes, it’s hard not to appreciate that they tend to have fewer little secrets that will kill the uneducated. However, the reality is that most pilots are still flying airplanes acquiring senior citizen status—the airplanes, I mean—and failure to spend time learning the details of a particular type prior to flying it can prove embarrassing at the very least.

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