“Too much airplane, not enough pilot.”
We’ve all heard that before, referring to an accident where the pilot lacks sufficient knowledge of an airplane’s systems or flight characteristics or he gets behind the airplane because it is too technologically advanced for his capabilities and proficiency level.
That’s why pilots who fly high performance airplanes often rely on type clubs to help them improve and maintain their skills.
One of the oldest type clubs to offer its members transition and proficiency training is the American Bonanza Society (ABS).
“When the Bonanza was introduced in the 1940s and 1950s, the pilots were transitioning from Cubs and Champs,” said Tom Turner, ABS executive director. “At the time, the pilot community hadn’t figure out how to transition from the slower, less performing airplanes. Eventually, the industry did figure out how to do cross-training to curb the accident rate.”
Now ABS has a sophisticated program that offers a variety of training, from online courses to individual training for pilots, CFIs and mechanics.
While ABS provides training for other Beechcraft aircraft, such as the Baron, Debonair and Travel Air, most of its members are the owners of the very popular single-engine Bonanza.
But even there individual training is necessary.
“The systems vary greatly from one airplane to another as Beechcraft have been in production for so many years,” Turner said. “We match the study of systems to the serial number of the client’s airplane.”
Online training helps owners learn their aircraft’s systems, as well as “what to do and what not to do” in their airplane, he noted.
Before the invention of the Internet, initial training was often only offered once a year. That proved to be a challenge, because a new owner might have to wait months before he could attend training, Turner noted. “Approximately 20% of accidents happened within the first year of airplane ownership,” he said.
ABS also combines online and in person training through its Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program (BPPP). Pilots take the initial classroom training online, then arrange to fly with a BPPP instructor near their home. These instructors are certified to teach the standardized ABS curriculum.
ABS also offers live BPPP clinics at locations around the country, which include four hours of flight instruction with a BPPP instructor, as well as up to two hours of briefings and a variety of seminars. Cost is $595.
“We do it at a break-even cost as we are a not-for-profit organization,” Turner explained. “It’s usually a pretty full day.”
One of the specters that hangs over the Bonanza crowd are stories of the stall characteristics stemming from the V-shaped tail. According to Turner, these characteristics are a topic revisited at pilot recurrent training, which is also offered by the ABS.
“Throughout the ground schools it is emphasized that the aircraft has both predictable and sometimes negative behaviors,” said Turner. “We are going to show you the hazard areas and not only what a stall is like, but other tendencies, such as the Bonanza’s tendency to go into a steep spiral if not properly managed in a stall situation.”
Bonanza pilots aren’t the only ones who take great pride in keeping their skills sharp. The Mooney Aircraft and Pilot’s Association Safety Foundation also holds proficiency seminars for its members.
According to Paul Kortopates, a Mooney owner and proficiency program instructor, pilots are motivated by different factors to attend the seminars, noting there are many who attend annually and biannually.
“Some benefit from discounts provided by their insurance carriers or earn added insurance in the form of accident forgiveness,” he said. “But probably for most, it’s the desire to keep up with the latest changes and polish our VFR and IFR skills.”
The three-day Mooney program begins with ground school, which covers topics ranging from aircraft systems and emergency procedures to aviation physiology. The flying portion of the program is tailored to the individual pilot, but VFR maneuvers are stressed. For pilots who hold instrument certificates, IFR procedures are added.
“Some trainee pilots may request and receive night recurrent training,” he noted. “At the conclusion of the program, eligible pilots will receive an Instrument Proficiency Check, flight review and several FAA WINGS credits for the executed maneuvers.”
“The actual flight review activities are generally tuned by the instructor to the specific needs of the participant,” he continued. “For example, a longer time Mooney pilot may wish to spend more time refreshing emergency maneuvers, such as simulated emergency power off landings, while a new Mooney owner may wish to concentrate on polishing his or her landings.”
The seminars are held regionally across the country five times a year from February through October.
“The Mooney Safety Foundation also sponsors a program in Denver approximately every three years that offers a mountain flying curriculum,” he added. “This enables plots to receive ground lectures on mountain flying and then to experience the joy of flying their Mooneys in this environment.”
Sometimes transition training means relearning basic decision making skills. For example, instead of flying the airplane all the way to the ground in an emergency, pilots of Cirrus aircraft have the option of deploying the built-in ballistic parachute.
All Cirrus aircraft come standard with the whole-airplane parachute, one of the first certified GA planes to do so. In 1985 Cirrus co-founder and designer Alan Klapmeier experienced a mid-air collision, while training under the hood with a CFI, that killed the pilot of the other aircraft. He and his brother Dale set to designing an airplane with that safety feature built in — and the Cirrus was born.
Today, it is no longer about the parachute, according to Ivy McIver, regional sales manager and a demonstration pilot for Cirrus.
“The parachute may have sold the airplane for the spouse years ago, but today, after 43 successful chute deployments and 87 lives saved, the pilots are recognizing the value of having an alternative way to get the airplane to the ground in an emergency,” she said.
Many of them are learning those alternative ways through transition training provided at the Cirrus factory in Duluth or at Cirrus Training Centers around the country. Others learn from seminars and clinics offered by the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), which is made up of pilots who are fiercely loyal to Cirrus and their airplanes.
A focus at many COPA events is how to get the most out of the plane’s cockpit technology while flying. One of the first GA aircraft to offer a glass cockpit, today’s Cirrus sports Perspective avionics, a Garmin product that provides the pilot with a great deal of information.
Proficiency training also is offered at the various COPA events. For this training, pilots are paired with Cirrus-certified instructor pilots.
“The transition curriculum is tailored to the pilot receiving training,” said McIver. “For the lower time pilot, say one with just 60 hours, we will focus on VFR maneuvers, slow flight, stalls, steep turns, short and soft field landings, pattern work, and emergency procedures.”
Emergency procedures include what to do if the Primary Flight Display fails in flight — highly unlikely because of two alternators, says McIver — to make sure the pilot knows how to transfer the information from the PFD to the Multi-Function Display (just push a button). That training also reinforces the pilot’s ability to use the back-up legacy gauges and ensure he can still keep the airplane level and upright.
Cirrus also offers Partner in Command training for the non-flying significant other of the pilot.
“The emphasis is on correctly using the autopilot and emergency parachute. It is a common fear among non-flying partners that they will have to land the airplane should the pilot become incapacitated,” said McIver. “We show them the Level Button, which is a blue button on the panel. With one push it will roll the wings level and capture the altitude in case pilot gets distracted or incapacitated. And then, we have the additional safety feature of the parachute.”
McIver noted that although pilots have to demonstrate their proficiency in emergency landings every two years or so during the flight review, a non-pilot doesn’t have that requirement and it is a bit much to expect them to be able to get the airplane on the ground safely managing power and pitch and direction.
“It’s much easier for them to slow the airplane to 140 knots and then they reach up to pull the handle,” she said. “That is something that all Cirrus pilots should brief before all departures.”