Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Horses of a Different Color

 I've written about the topic of high-hour pilots and the need for transitioning them into LSA a fair amount now. 
I've also heard about it from and talked to a lot of people about it.  Avemco Insurance, before they took a hiatus from writing new LSA policies a couple months back, wrote a minimum of 5 hours mandatory transition training into their premium contracts with pilots, stipulating, basically, this: "We don't care if you be Sully Sullenburger or Wiley Post incarnate.  If you want us to insure you in your new LSA, you will get five hours flight training in it."
Stumbling around the net the other day, I found this excellent piece written by Ed Downs for In Flight USA, in which he lays out the need, in particular, for veteran pilots to check the uber-confidence at the hangar door and give LSA full respect as unique aircraft with distinct behaviors.
Definitely worth reading if you're at all of the LSA = "little airplanes" persuasion.


Anonymous said...

I thought the characterization of LSA as "low inertia/high drag" in the article was a bit off. They're low inertia (more accurately, low energy), yes: but their drag is often substantially lower than that of the 1970s-era designs.

I've found that transitioning to LSAs should almost be presented to more experienced pilots as being a transition to HIGHER performance - not in terms of speed, but in terms of maneuverability. This is like the transition from a jet transport to a piston fighter, in a way.

LSAs are generally much quicker-handling than bigger aircraft. That's nice, but it's also because they have to be: they are much more affected by gusts and the pilot needs all that control authority to keep everything properly adjusted on short final. An LSA with truck-like C-182 handling could very well be dangerous, because the pilot couldn't react to wind gusts so readily. A heavy-airplane pilot needs to understand both aspects: the LSA is twitchier, like a fighter, and landing it is a much more active phase of the flight than many expect.

The "fly to the ground and land" comment in the article shows the perception change that happens when you slow an airplane down. The round-out height required, and the float distance to burn off the excess speed from the approach, both depend on the square of the speeds involved, so when you fly an LSA with a final approach speed of 55kt it rounds out 30% lower and floats 30% less than a larger aircraft with a 65kt approach speed, or almost 50% lower/less than one with a 75kt approach speed. That means that the roundout happens low, and the float is short. There isn't much time for adjustment. Again, quick controls are required, and the pilot needs to be on top of things. An advantage of this, however, is that almost any paved runway in the US appears very long to an LSA, so approaches don't need to be flown so close to stall speed, creating more room for airspeed margin "for the honey and kids." A second advantage of the low touchdown speed is that an off-field landing, even onto undesirable terrain, becomes much more survivable as the touchdown speed declines.

- Thomas

James Lawrence said...

Good thoughts, thanks Thomas.
The 40-year professional pilot who transitioned me into a Piper Cub last year had a crash last week in a J3 that had sat for 6 months without being run. Even though a thorough check of the engine, including running for several minutes, and taxiing up and down the runway a couple times at higher rpm settings, was done, the engine failed right at the worst time: at the end of the runway (high trees ahead), about 400 ft agl (two heavy pilots on board).
He used all of his skills to get it into literally a big backyard (country airport), just missing power lines and a fence that required a last minute turn.
Even so, the wing caught the trees after a 3-pointer on dirt and a big branch came through the cockpit. He twisted in time to keep from being impaled but got banged up pretty good.
The other pilot got a cut on his head from his metal-frame headset, requiring stitches. Both went to the hospital, were treated and released.
I guess my point is, high time or low, old or new-style LSA, know your airplane. He'd been flying Cubs (he's a high-time airline examiner pilot) since the '70s, teaches in them all the time, and the passenger, a high-time chopper pilot himself, said, "He saved our lives."
Turns out the engine had (probably) sticky valves from sitting so long. Lesson has been learned: he was kinda pressed into flying that Cub instead of one he regularly flies that gets lots of use.