It promised to be a fun afternoon. I had recently gotten checked out in my flying club’s T210 Centurion, so I grabbed a non-club pilot friend and went flying. We were going to visit some local airports and chase down $100 hamburgers while I got used to flying this beast without an instructor.
Preflight and takeoff went by without a hitch, the gear tucked itself into the wells and soon we were westbound, headed out of Class C International.
This Centurion was very well equipped for the (pre-GPS) era, with a VOR/DME-based RNAV box, a two-axis autopilot and numerous other gadgets. I had several hundred hours under my belt, but rarely had flown anything so nicely equipped. Of course, with the avionics, there were more than a few buttons. But I had been briefed on everything, passed a written quiz and demonstrated to a CFI’s satisfaction I wouldn’t break anything.
The first sign of trouble came when negotiating our route with ATC. I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear me. In the bargain, somehow, the airplane was becoming hard to control in the pitch axis. I couldn’t figure it out, and was fighting the airplane simply to maintain altitude. After a few moments of this, peppered with repeated calls from ATC, even my right-seater was expressing concern. Looking back on it now, what was going on was probably the stupidest thing I had done in an airplane up to that time.
Although I had used both during the checkout flights and had flown similarly equipped airplanes before, for some reason my left hand was convinced the yoke-mounted trim switch was the yoke-mounted push-to-talk button, and vice-versa. So, every time I tried to reply to ATC, we experienced a pitch excursion. Every time I retrimmed, anyone on the frequency could hear me mutter to my right-seater.
It took a few moments—and included one very annoyed controller—but I finally got things sorted out and trained my thumb on what to do and when. We motored on about our business and had a good day.
What did I learn? Pay better attention to what buttons are being pushed, especially with an unfamiliar airplane.