Moving Up or Down in the Aircraft Market
by jeff edwards
In January, Shelby and I flew the Evolution to Corpus Christi, TX to attend a squadron reunion aboard the USS Lexington, and in April we went to Norfolk, VA for the annual Navy/ Marine Corps A-6 Intruder reunion. The USS Lexington is permanently moored in Corpus Christi Bay, serving as a floating museum and war memorial. Approximately thirty of my VA-176 comrades and their wives attended a ceremony for our former commanding officer who was retiring as executive director of the USS Lexington exhibit. In April, about one thousand Navy and Marine Corps A-6 aircrew and their significant others spent several days visiting Naval Air Station Oceana, the east coast base for the A-6 Intruder. We toured Naval Base Norfolk, home to our aircraft carriers, and reminised about old times. My old squadron mates made a special effort to round up all the aircrew from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s. It was great seeing so many familiar faces for the first time in over thirty years.
What Were We Thinking?
As I reflect back on my flying career I am amazed that we landed on aircraft carriers with less than 300 total flying hours. Most of us were in our early to mid-twenties. How did we survive such a high-risk environment with so little flight time? Well for one thing, we trained our butts off 24/7 for several years in U.S. Navy flight schools and training squadrons, recognized as one of the most effective training organizations in the world. The Navy and Marine Corps training track was a building block style of training. For pilots and naval flight officers we went through a common aviation indoctrination course designed to teach fundamental aeronautical knowledge and skills such as air navigation, land and water survival, aerodynamics, etc. Upon completion of “indoc” we split into the pilot and NFO training tracks.
Pilots started out in primary flight training in piston-powered (later turboprop) T-34 Mentors, moved on in intermediate training to straight wing T-2 Buckeyes and finished advanced training in the swept wing TA-4J Skyhawks. Naval Flight Officers like me had a similar training track. Once winged, we went to the replacement squadrons or “RAGs” to learn to fly and operate Intruders, Tomcats, Corsairs and more before we went to our fleet squadrons. Continued training and operational experience made us experts in our respective aircraft in short order. Not a day went by that we were not training. Flights, simulators, classes, seminars, tests, quizzes and more. The Navy spent a lot on our education.
How does this relate to us? Last year one forum speaker at Airventure spoke about going from general aviation student pilot to jet pilot in two years. A popular aviation magazine had an article with a similar tale. Is this possible or reasonable? Maybe. It really depends on how much time and money you are willing to spend on this goal of becoming the pilot of a very high-performance aircraft. Among the professional aviation organizations, there is no shortcut to get into the left seat of a high-performance aircraft.
On the other hand, I get phone calls almost weekly from pilots who are looking to purchase Lancairs. Some pilots' experience level matches well to their desired aircraft, but the experience gap for others is significant. For example, I have taken phone calls from many pilots who have well less than 500 total hours who desire a turbine Lancair. Some do not have an instrument rating, retract time or experience with pressurization. Many believe all they need is an abbreviated “checkout.” Recently I spoke with a pilot who intended to transition from a Cessna to an Evolution. He wanted to accomplish much of his training with a desktop training device, and debated several flight instructors about the wisdom of this proposal. Redbird and flythissim training devices are not replacements for training in the aircraft, primarily because they cannot fully replicate the experience of flying the aircraft. Training devices are good tools to learn procedures necessary for flight, but at this stage they are not flight-training replacements for the Lancair fleet.
I counsel pilots like these they will require much training and additional experience to be proficient and safe in an Evolution or IVP turbine. How much training and experience building? More than most pilots want to invest. A sub-thousand hour pilot with no pressurized turbine time would likely require abut 40-50 hours of instruction and another 50 hours of “in cockpit” mentoring—especially if they are a private pilot only with limited complex time.
Today the average Lancair pilot is only flying 50 hours a year in their Lancair. Little of that is likely IFR or even IMC. Is that enough to stay proficient in the Lancair? Probably not. Proficiency (in anything) depends on dedicated practice of the skill set. More than 100 hours of flying per year is a good goal to have towards maintaining your skills. 200 hours per year or more of dedicated practice is necessary to improve your aeronautical skills. Flying only 50 hours a year likely means your skills are atrophying.
I also recommend they get an insurance quote before making an aircraft purchase; they may find it unaffordable or even unavailable. Years ago the insurance industry standard to insure a high-performance piston pilot was 1000 hours total time, significant retract time and an instrument rating. Today the insurance requirement is less defined, making it easier for some to get into our market if they are willing to pay very high premiums or forgo insurance all together.
Two recent Lancair 320/360 accidents involving three pilots provides some perspective on this issue. The first accident involved an airline captain who purchased a Lancair 320. Against advice, he declined initial training from a qualified instructor. In the almost predictable and certainly avoidable accident that followed, he collapsed the gear on his aircraft following a PIO event on landing. The second accident involved another professional pilot who planned to fly his newly-purchased 320 from the Kansas City area to Arizona with a second pilot (also a pro) riding along. The airplane was damaged following an off-airport landing in a field. The aircraft suffered a power loss due to fuel starvation when a fuel shut off valve under the copilot panel they were both warned about was kicked into the off position inflight. It takes dedicated training and practice and familiarity in the aircraft you are flying to become safe and proficient. Add to our mix the experimental nature of the aircraft where every aircraft is different than the next makes teaching and learning challenging.These incidents illustrate that just because a pilot has tens of thousands of hours in a Boeing, Airbus, or fighter jet does not qualify them to fly a Lancair.
The traditional general aviation training/experience track from the 1970s started pilots in a Cessna 152 or Piper PA-28-140, progressing to a 172 or a PA-28-180, eventually moving on to more powerful/complex 182s and 210s or PA-28R-200s and PA-32s. GA pilots generally received little formal transition training then (mainly required by insurance companies). They were building experience one small incremental step at a time.
Training and experience is important. Training helps us establish good habit patterns, acquaints us with aircraft-specific systems and procedures, and more. Experience burnishes and builds on the training. Often times we experience things while gaining experience that we have only read about or were told about in ground school, but never had the opportunity to apply in flight with an instructor. Sometimes it's weather related, like icing or convective weather. Other times it may be dealing with systems-related issues. The road to becoming an expert pilot is long, and the journey is never finished. Good pilots are learning new lessons on every flight, while striving to reduce errors and improve their skills.
My advice for pilots who want to go from a low-performance aircraft to a pressurized high-performance piston or turbine--or from a Part 121 Boeing or Airbus to a Lancair 320--is to get the best training you can from an experienced instructor in the make and model you are moving up (or down) to. LOBO instructors and other Lancair-specific training providers found on our website can help you get the necessary training to operate your lancair or Evolution safely.
For questions/comments on this post contact Jeff via email at j.edwards [at] lancairowners.com.