Sun ’n Fun is in full swing in Lakeland, Florida, this week and one of the main reasons people attend air shows and fly-ins is to do some comparison shopping for aircraft. The experience isn’t complete without a test flight, but you need to be prepared to get the most out of the event.
First, realize you will have limited time in the aircraft, sometimes no more than 20 minutes, if that.
Most of the manufacturers and distributors that offer demonstration flights ask that you sign up for them in advance. These flights are usually done early in the morning before the event opens or later in the evening after the air show and most of the departures have taken place. Be flexible. Sometimes the demo flights will be conducted at an airport away from the show grounds. It’s important to find out if that is the case so that you can arrange transportation, if need be.
Sometimes the flight will involve the salesperson, a pilot and a passenger or two in the back of the aircraft. Be prepared for this. Sometimes the manufacturer will have a rule about not performing certain maneuvers, such as a full power-on stall, if the aircraft is fully loaded or there is a density altitude situation. Ask about this in advance so that there are no surprises.
Although it is impossible for you to memorize all the V speeds of each aircraft you intend to fly, try to familiarize yourself with as much technical information as possible before you step into the cockpit. Before the flight — such as when the aircraft is on static display — try to get into the cockpit so you can get a look at the panel layout.
Don’t get caught up in the avionics or play “find the instrument” during the flight. Instead, focus on how the aircraft feels and responds to control inputs. Let the salesperson work the radios.
Make sure the demo flight is done so that it conforms to the intended mission of the aircraft. If you are evaluating an airplane to be used for a flight school, check its slow flight and stall characteristics. If you are evaluating it for your go-visit-the-grandkids-in-another-state airplane, check its cruise capabilities.
AFTER THE FLIGHT
Most salespeople won’t let you get away without giving you marketing material about the aircraft’s specifications. Hang on to this so that when you are away from the show and out of the heat of the moment you can review the information and compare it with other aircraft. Also, get a business card so you can easily remember who you dealt with if you have a question later.
Make notes immediately after each flight on the marketing materials you were given. It’s a lot easier to do it right then than later when you are trying to remember which aircraft felt like what.
Ask about financing options. Some companies even have aircraft trade up programs.
If you can, seek out pilots who fly the same make and model you are looking at. You can leave notes for them on their airplanes at the show or, when you get home, go on the Internet and look for type club chat rooms. Most pilots will be very flattered that you are asking their opinions and will be happy to share them with you.
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