Transitioning to Unfamiliar Airframes

Transitioning to Unfamiliar Airframes

By Gustin Robinson, CFI-I

As a pilot you will, more likely than not, fly other aircraft besides the flight school’s rental Cessna 172. If your finances allow it, you might even want to purchase your own airplane, with personal access to the skies in your grasp. Or maybe a friend needs your help to get IFR current. No matter how you slice it, all aircraft feel and behave differently, even between different models of the 172. The general essence of flying is exactly the same, though you may
have to alter the techniques you learned during flight school to adapt to the new airframe you are transitioning into.

An easy way to get yourself acquainted with the airframe is to do a quick Google search on the airplane. Keep in mind that not everything you read online is true, but many websites have owner-driven forums that could help you in understanding the characteristics of the aircraft, i.e.high stall speed, sluggish controls, under-powered, etc. Depending on the aircraft you will be
flying, there are usually some YouTube videos in which a pilot may “review” an aircraft, discuss its history, give the pros and cons of performance, and preflight procedures. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures before you trust a video on the internet.

Download a copy of the aircraft’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Aircraft Flight Manual (AFM) and study it thoroughly. The aircraft manufacturer puts very detailed information on systems, checklists, maintenance, and procedures specific to the model. For example, a Cessna 172F and a Cessna 172S are the same airframe, but have vastly different fuel systems.

Personally, when I flew a Piper PA-32-300 for the first time, I followed this home study routine before I ever flew with an instructor. I felt way more prepared than if I would have just shown up for a “lesson.”

Ensure you receive ground training from a Certified Flight Instructor who is familiar with the aircraft type you are transitioning to. If a qualified instructor is not available, try to find a local pilot who is highly experienced in the airframe. Make certain you go over at least the following on the ground:
1. Systems
a. Fuel
b. Electrical
c. Hydraulic
d. Flight Controls (Operation and Characteristics)
e. Landing Gear (Strut Type, Retractable)
f. Cabin Ventilation, Heating, and Pressurization
g. Avionics
h. Powerplant
i. Autopilot
j. Instrumentation
k. Warning Systems, visual and audible
l. Oxygen Systems
m. Emergency Equipment
2. Procedures
a. Normal
b. Abnormal
c. Emergency
3. Performance
a. Takeoff and Landing
b. Climb
c. Cruise
d. Descent
e. Glide
4. Limitations
a. Weights
b. CG
c. V Speeds
d. Kinds of Operation
e. Crosswinds
f. Landing Surfaces

When you and your instructor both feel confident in your ground studies, you should move into the airplane and apply your knowledge. Like previously mentioned, all aircraft are different and present risks that you must feel comfortable in handling, such as an emergency gear extension, an aircraft built with no flaps, or one with non-standard flight controls such as canards. The flight training should include at least the following:

1. Normal Takeoffs and Landings
2. Soft Field/Short Field if applicable
3. Emergency Procedures
4. General Maneuvering, including climbs and descents
5. Descent Planning
6. Stall Awareness, and demonstration if able
7. Traffic Pattern Procedures
8. Special Syllabus

Notes: The FAA released Advisory Circular AC-90-109A to assist pilots in aiding the transition
between aircraft. It is highly recommended to read through.

by Gustin Robinson, FAA CFI-I ASEL

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