Time to upgrade the skills some more! My flying club has gone and purchased another Beechcraft Bonanza. Which means the Westchester Flying Club now has another "hotter" plane. (That is, faster. Which means you just have to get used to the speed at which things happen and keep ahead of the plane.) Fortunately, we're doing a fairly good job of keeping our fleet well maintained and upgraded. Everything makes it's way up to a standard set of Garmin avionics, so mostly aircraft changes are about feel, minor control differences and airspeeds.
Learning the Debonair
The skys were cloudy that day my friends. (No, not kidding. HPN was barely VFR and even if cleared, I'd not go up that close to IFR in a new craft without a trusted instructor.) There's a school of thought that says it may have been wiser to wait for a severe clear day for this task. But I've been flying Arrows for a little while now, this is my home field and my instructor knows me well. So we're going with the other school of thought. Task immersion at high speeds. Oh goodie. Luckily, there's still regional jet traffic going on today and it's a slick runway as well.
We do the usual ground talk, (I'd already gotten hold of the POH and checked out my new airspeeds, emergency procedures including gear failure, etc.), and it was almost time to fly. During the cockpit check, I notice an inch-round knob like thing poking out of the center console near my right knee. "What's this I ask?" Larry leans over to look and says, "Ah, most people don't notice that right off. It's the master circuit breaker." "Really," I say, "It doesn't look much like a circuit breaker." Larry replies, "Yeah, I think a lot of people don't even know just where it is." Which is disturbing. As my obvious next question is, "What do they do in full Insturment (IFR) conditions when they lose all electrical and want to see about trying to get things going again?" "I suppose they're screwed," is the answer.
Someone left something on. The battery's run down to where initial cranking isn't quite doing it. Instead of straining the starter motor or trashing the battery, (an expensive propostion), we decide to charge the battery a bit. It's actually good when things go wrong like this and an instructor is there. Though it hopefully won't happen to me again, I'll know how to do this should it happen.
Wow. This thing's got more power. Keeping this damn thing on the centerline for departure proves to be a challenge. I can sense my instructor is very much at the ready here. Over the past several years, including through IFR training, that's generally not had to happen since the first few times I took off in primary training. That is, my training has been for recurrance and proficiency. Not basic skills. So it's generally more relaxed. (OK, there were moments in IFR training that were hardly relaxed, but still, this is atypical.) Sure, it's part the crosswind, but there's more torque going on here as well. And much faster acceleration than I'm used to. This is a heavier craft, yet I'm letting it get away from me a bit. Not unsafely, just not as clean as I'd like. Off we go with a climb rate I'm not used to. Positive rate of climb and gear up. It's surprisingly easy to maintain airspeed and heading. (Though a bit of trim is really useful here.) By the time I clean up the airplane, I'm practically at pattern altitude and just below the just legal to fly VFR cloud deck. The pattern happens fast and furious and unfortunately, it's a right pattern today. Not sure if that's for inbound traffic or noise abatement, but it's just generally eaier and more standard for pilots, (sitting left seat), to fly a lefthand traffic pattern. Ceiling's at 1600' and there's plenty of traffic here so we have to extend downwind a bit for a regional jet. That's ok, gives me more time to get all the power settings right and so forth.
Ahhhh. Great deal on the first one! There may have been some skill involved, but I think this one was a gift similar to how a first time gambler most often wins. Keeps ya' coming back for more. My first landing in this thing was like a dream. The roundout and flare were perfect and the crosswind a non-issue. Touchdown was as smooth as... (sorry, all the metaphors I'm coming up with are too cheesy. It was just smooth.) Gee, I hope my instructor enjoyed it. As it would be the last of the day like that! The next couple weren't too bad, but not nearly as perfect. The most difficult aspect of the touch are go's are maintaining the centerline as speed builds on the departure roll, and getting the flaps back up. I'm told this is typical and it'll get easier with time. (The flaps aren't a serious problem per se, it's just that Archers/Arrows use manual flaps. You put the lever down and you're done. You don't have to worry about whether an elecrically operating thing is progressing as expected or spend more than a second checking for the very rare, but potentially deadly failure of asymmetric flap deployement.)
Bottom line: This thing lands very similar to an Arrow. Approach speed of about 100kts is about the same. The difference is you round out maybe just a slight tad later.
Lessons from the First Flight
- Have to get used to the vernier controls. Smooth knob is power, Rough Right knob is Prop, bottom is Mixture.
- Use the vernier knobs rather than the "shove" for most adjustments, unless good reason/time not to.
- On short final, just use whole palm to shove the prop full foward, not the vernier twist.
- On the go for touch and go, whole palm SMOOTHLY on the power to open the throttle.
- Gear first, flaps second. If you hear the warning horn, this is one possible reason why. If you're below Vle, you'll be below Vfe.
- On the downwid, adjust the 10 degree approach flaps visually, then set switch to the detent.
- Maintain strong positive control on the takeoff roll. Be right on the rudder pedals and make sure ailerons are where they need to be for wind.
- Same as any aircraft, don't round out too soon on approach. Look DOWN the runway and use proprioception/peripheral vision to judge the flare about 5' up.
Time to schedule another lesson! Just a few more hours to go and then it's time to try out the Bonanza's!