At the time I experienced this tale, I had maybe 400 hours total time, along with an instrument rating. I had been renting airplanes from FBOs but was finding my choices—mainly trainers—plus scheduling and weekend minimums weren’t aligned with my growing desires. I needed something faster, with longer legs and fewer hassles. So I anted up to join a local commercial flying club and got checked out in their flagship airplane, a Cessna T210 Turbo Centurion. It had a lot of bells and whistles, including an autopilot for long flights, a Stormscope for thunderstorm avoidance and an IFR-legal GPS for approaches. Life was good.
There wasn’t much to the checkout flight. The CFI and I went out and did some stalls, steep turns and several touch-and-go landings, along with an emergency landing gear extension. Back at the FBO, we chatted about the airplane’s systems, including the turbocharging, and went through the emergency procedures we hadn’t practiced. I had extensive experience with almost all of Cessna’s tricycle-gear singles at that time, so neither its systems nor handling traits were new to me. With a flourish, the CFI signed off the club’s paperwork, endorsed my logbook and was out the door.
A couple of weeks later, I hooked up with a pilot-friend and we headed out in the T210, just to keep familiarizing myself with it. I wanted to get some altitude under it and see what the turbo would do while sorting out the autopilot and making sure I understood how everything on the panel worked. It was a good thing we did.
Shortly after departing Class C Regional and leveling at an intermediate altitude, I began to have difficulty. The airplane seemed to have a mind of its own in the pitch axis, alternately becoming nose-heavy and then tail-heavy. Adding to the confusion, ATC was on the verge of screaming at me for not responding, even though I was verbalizing the correct response while holding down the yoke-mounted mic button. Neither I nor my pilot-friend could figure it out. Shortly, we turned for home, pleasing the controller to no end. The return, which I hand-flew, was much smoother.
Later that day, while going over it all in my head, I realized what was going on: I had confused the yoke-mounted pitch trim button for the yoke-mounted push-to-talk button. Every time I attempted to talk to ATC, I was mashing the trim switch in one direction or another.
What did I learn? I learned that a couple of hours in a new, complicated airplane wasn’t enough. I learned that having a pilot-friend along wasn’t a guarantee of success. And I learned that a 210 can get really nose-heavy if you let it.