The Comanche Pilot Proficiency Program (CPPP) is worth doing.
I enjoyed meeting new pilots and owners, and very much benefited from their knowledge of these airplanes. Watching the weather, I decided to fly the Twin Comanche out to the training as soon as I landed from my Piedmont trip. Six days away from home – five nights in a hotel. I was exhausted and feeling it.
Day one – ground school.
We covered a variety of topics on landing gear, vacuum systems, electrical systems, Power Plants and Props. Kudos to the ground instructors. We even had Cliff, the owner of Heritage Aero, with all his first hand knowledge of warbirds and Comanches. Cliff’s sessions were interesting and valuable and kept my attention in a warm classroom running until 7pm. Steve did an interesting Human Factors piece as well.
There were some spirited discussions that came up in the course. I didn’t agree with some of the assertions and couldn’t keep my mouth shut.
One thing that was stated was that with two pilots logging time as PIC (Safety Pilot and Pilot under the hood, for example), only one was the actual PIC. There were some nuances around this assertion, but I didn’t agree with any of it. These were distinctions without a difference, and would only confuse the new people in the room. The instructor was not as versed as I would have liked him to be, and he didn’t get much help from the experts in the room. NOT a major ding for the course, but an annoyance. I would have done this differently.
The perpetuation of the landing myths concerned me. After buying my own twin, I had been spooked by pronounced experts into thinking this airplane was harder to land than others. That this airplane was somehow special or needed special care. I was told I should consider getting a smaller nose wheel, and that retracting flaps immediately after landing was essential to control on landing.
This kind of thinking made it more difficult for me to figure the airplane out at the beginning. Only after I discarded all this new baggage did I realize that piloting experience is what is required. Fly it like a Cherokee – and you’ll do just fine. In a retractable – the idea of reconfiguring flaps on the runway is workable in a Comanche – but will burn you hard in other models of airplanes. I have seen the results of bad habits, but to have these recommended by experienced instructors concerns me.
Replacing the nose wheel with a smaller one just to make it easier to land is just silly. We should be teaching these new pilots to actually fly the airplanes. If you need six degrees of pitch – then put it there. Learning to be precise will help you in all airplanes. As instructors, we need to build skills in these pilots at recovering a bad landing where the nose wheel contacts first. We need to teach them to fly the numbers.
One other thing I heard in this course, and am seeing in various blogs and publications, is new technology bashing. When I heard an experienced pilot say how unnecessary the newer PFDs and devices were, and even described them as being detrimental to safety, I spontaneously held a teaching session during the break.
I spoke about the quantum leap in safety I’ve realized by the inclusion of the Aspen PFD, the Garmin 496 weather, the iPad, and an autopilot. I countered the assertions from the perspective of an instrument pilot, and made it understood that new technology and continued advancements in it is a good thing. It may not be for you, and that is your call.
I walked several of the pilots through what I do using Foreflight as my centerpiece. Even though I generally turn that off enroute to control how much information I’m looking at. Doesn’t mean it is bad, but I have to be managing it. In the terminal phase it is essential.
The conversations were all productive and I had plenty of opportunity to express my opinion.
Day Two – The Flight Portion
I am somewhat bummed. I have a GoPro camera, but it is unreliable in it’s use. I have managed to get it started and stopped using my phone as a control, but the instructor came out right behind me in the rain. No time to get organized – instructor climbed in and blocked me from getting my phone. An inconvenience for sure – but the morning transportation had been a bit of a cluster – and I thought it best to keep moving.
The plan was to depart southwest and climb to 6500′. Clouds were moving in with rain in the area, but I could see breaks we could climb through. Poking around we not only managed 6500′, but kept on going to 7500′. That would be good for our emergency descent work, but maybe not so good for my sinuses.
- 30 degree banked turn left
- 30 degree banked turn right
- 45 degree banked turn left
- 45 degree banked turn right
- Slow to 120mph with gear and flaps out (configured for landing)
- Slow flight turns to a heading (dirty)
- Power Off Stalls – Straight and Level (dirty)
- Power Off Stalls – 10 degrees of bank (dirty)
- Emergency Descent – Airspeed around 130 and Gear down (Flaps up). Mixture and props forward; power to idle; and push that nose over (10 degrees should do it). Bring in 40 degrees of bank and we saw vertical speeds of 3500 feet per minute. IMPRESSIVE!!
Single Engine Work – Right Engine
Note – I made a mistake and learned from it at this point. After leveling off from the descent, I failed to clean up the airplane and get the gear up. Instructor called for shutting down the right engine right out of the descent, and he missed it too. Ended up adding to the experience.
With the gear still hanging out, I shut down and feathered the right engine.
- Mixture – Idle cut-off.
- Engine failure drill: Mixture; Props Throttle; Flaps; Gear.
Mortal Sin confession…. I pointed to the flaps and gear and didn’t actually check the gear. Just pointed. Split the ball and raised the dead.
The right prop feathered immediately, and I turned to fly between the ridge lines. Flying at blue line, we were still descending at 200 fpm. I tweaked the airspeed up and down and double checked almost everything I was supposed to be doing.
Saving the good engine, I set 25 squared and made sure the cowl flap was open. Oil temperature was rising precipitously on the left engine, but we continued to descend. At 3800′, I was able to check the descent, but was not able to climb. Both of us – instructor and I – were trying to figure out just why.
I was concerned with the mountain ridges to my right and left, knowing that I’d be needing to turn shortly. I opted to restart the right by following the checklist. The recommendation to cold start prime didn’t work well, but I did get it going with my normal process.
Setting a climb attitude, performance was still off even at full power. THEN I noticed the gear still out. Dumb Dumb Dumb. Learn from it and move on.
Completing the turn, and after cooling down the left engine oil to ensure all was well, , I shut down the left engine. Now we get a good climb going (200 fpm), and life is good again.
I do everything right this time and slow down and check – physically check – my configuration. We are good. Now the Aspen EFD 1000 reports 30 minutes of battery life remaining. That isn’t right if all is well electrically. I check voltage and see it at battery levels. The alternator on the right engine is not putting out. I opted to restart the right, rather than attempt to reset the alternator. In retrospect – nothing would be lost trying that.
I get the left restarted and the voltage comes back. Avionics all trip off, so maybe in practice it makes sense to turn off the avionics master when doing this. I confirm my right alternator has an issue.
The rest of the ride is instrument work. Harrisburg was a bear to work with, and after the 4th time in a holding pattern, we canceled and did a circling approach to rwy 12.
It was a great workout, and I’m feeling like I mastered these maneuvers and the airplane. This is an amazing machine and I feel great about it.
By this time – I’m dehydrated; exhausted; and my headache has my attention.
I spend about 30 minutes working with Cliff on the landing gear simulator, and actually performing a gear extension in a single on jacks.
Flew home after that – completely wiped out but grateful for the opportunity.