Over the course of a pilots career, a glance backward in the logbook will show more than a snapshot of the pilots experience. It will also show the attitude the pilot has toward flying. A logbook filled with nothing but hours in a Cessna 172 reflects a very different pilot than one who has only a few hours in a variety of seaplanes, aerobatic planes, piston twins and a double handful of high performance single engine models.
Thats not to say one is necessarily better than the other, because each pilot has learned some essential lessons that have escaped the other.
After four years of owning and flying a Mooney 201 exclusively, I have spent the last two years flying a variety of airplanes. Ive primarily flown my Lance, but have also spent time in a Pitts, Lake Amphibian, Cessna 182, Bonanza, Citabria, Eagle 150, Micco SP20, Mooney and Fascination D4.
When you only fly one airplane, as most owners do, the airplane and its performance become as familiar to you as those spots you have to shave around. You know the airplanes every squeak and quirk. You know exactly how much to change the trim when the gear goes out or the flaps come up. You know its fuel burn almost to the ounce and its speed to the fraction of a knot. More importantly, you can just tell if somethings not working right.
On the other side of the coin, flying many different airplanes, as renters typically will, means you never take performance for granted. Your scan of the instruments is a bit more vigilant and you are on the alert for such things as checking the brakes before you taxi or a hint of a stall when turning base to final.
Recently I flew a new Micco SP20 at the companys factory in Fort Pierce, Fla. The flight down in the Lance was a snap and, after a factory tour and some hangar flying with company personnel, we mounted the Micco for a demo flight that explored the flight envelope. While we didnt really wring it out, virtually every second of the flight was a test of some aspect of the airplanes handling. By the time we landed, not that many ticks of the Hobbs had gone by, but I was a different pilot from when I started.
My senses were primed to pick up the slightest nuance, true, but my alertness was also a bit done in by the need to focus attention so continuously. After only a short break, it was back to the Lance for the trip home.
I could swear I was flying a different airplane. The trip south had been of the point-and-go variety, while on the trip home I noted every burble of air slipping past the Pipers stubby wings.
Fly an airplane you know, but sometimes, try to fly one you dont. It may show you something youve been missing all along.