July 1, 1992
RICHARD L. COLLINS
There used to be a clearly defined aviation social ladder that we all tried to climb. Start with a simple single, then get one with folding wheels. The step after that was the light to medium twin. Turbines with and without propellers came next, added to the fleet in the mid-1960s, almost 30 years ago, even though any turbine airplane still seems new or at least modern. To this day, most light turbine airplanes are sold to someone who started at the beginning and climbed the ladder, always buying the fanciest airplane that would fit the budget, or at least almost fit the budget. A real aerophile would always have an airplane worth more than his house.
One rung of the ladder seems to have broken, however. The piston- engine twin is built only in tiny quantities, the existing airplanes have not held value like singles, and, even though great hordes of them were built, you just don't see them around as much as you'd expect.
Insurance is one thing that hurt piston twins. Rates on them were, in the good old days, lower than for singles. Two engines means automatic safety, right? Then the insurance underwriters did the sums and found out that was wrong. Twin pilots now often pay higher premiums, and to boot, they have to go for annual training.
Engines are a big factor, too. The price of overhauling or replacing a brace of engines for a 10- to 15-year-old twin can rival the total value of the airplane. In a single of this age, you might pay from 20 to 30 percent of the value of the airplane for a fresh engine. That is a lot, but in a twin, it is 40 to 60 percent or even more. For an even older twin, the decision to install fresh engines would be a tough one because the value of the airplane, even with the new engines, might be less than the cost of those engines. The result of this is a lot of older airplanes going for salvage. They are simply worth more that way.
A friend gave a lot of thought to this before ordering two factory- remanufactured engines for his twin. The simple fact was that he could do the engines, do the props, do the interior, and paint the airplane and spend more total money than he paid for it to begin with, as well as more money than it would be worth when he finished. The only rationalization to this is that while the airplane wouldn't be worth so much to the general public, it would be worth more to him, and he is number one when it comes to that.
The cost of anything has to be rationalized, and airplanes are no exception. After writing about the cost of flying my airplane, I got a good letter from a gentlemen I have corresponded with over the years. His point was that, if I had bought Wal-Mart stock in 1979 with the money my airplane cost, that stock would today be worth $4 million. With my luck, though, I would have probably bought some company's stock that long since went out of business.
My correspondent went beyond the money, though, and said the important things. As you can tell from his remarks, he has done rather well over the years and has been a bigger player.
"My experience with three Learjets was much more costly. Were they worth it? Absolutely! The pleasure those airplanes gave me and their value in my business are immeasurable. You only live once, and flying is one of life's greatest pleasures." That rather puts it all in context. I suppose that we could all do something less expensive than flying airplanes, but could we do anything more rewarding?
Interesting discussions can be had on the subject of training that might be required by an insurance company. One person called and told me that he was surprised that his insurance company would accept a recurrent training program where the instructor was a low-time pilot without much experience in the airplane.
There are areas where this might be okay, and there are areas where it could be very dangerous. The latter comes in those light twins that we were just discussing and specifically in the area of engine-out training.
Twin-engine airplanes do not have to be spun as part of their FAA certification. A few have been — the Beech Duchess went through a full spin program — but this is simply something that was not considered in the design of most of the airplanes. Because it was not a consideration, some of the older twins have an unrecoverable spin mode if they are stalled on one engine and allowed to enter a spin. Back when the FAA insisted on low-level VMC demonstrations in twins, a number of Beech Travel Air and Baron aircraft and Piper Twin Comanches were spun to the ground during training or on check rides. The first such was 34 years ago this month, in a Travel Air on a check ride with an FAA inspector. I'll never forget it because three of the four on board were friends of mine. Agonizing over why this had happened, we did not realize that it would be repeated many times before the FAA rescinded its lethal procedure.
Where this applies to today's multiengine instructors relates to the training the instructor might have gotten. For example, you can do virtually anything to a Duchess and not get it in an unrecoverable spin mode. In fact, with one engine wide open and the other at idle, it has been demonstrated that the airplane will recover from a spin in a quarter of a turn, probably with the center of gravity well forward. So the main requirement is to keep plenty of air between the airplane and the ground.
A lot of today's multiengine instructors were trained in the Duchess and in the Piper Seminole, which also has nice manners.
Were these instructors to strap on a Baron or Twin Comanche and treat it like a Duchess or Seminole, they could be in for a big surprise. The FAA does require that an instructor have five hours in a multiengine type, as pilot in command, before instructing in that type. The five hours can be spent on a cross country, though, and there is no requirement for a check-out.
Where an instructor's experience in type might not be as critical on some other airplanes, if recurrent training is to mean anything, the instructor needs a broad knowledge of the airplane and the trouble that pilots have had with it. To just go flying and do a little airwork doesn't accomplish what's needed, which is to make sure the pilot understands the risks.
It is important to explore the loading envelope, too. Those of us who fly four- to six-place airplanes often fly with two people on board. That is also usually how a check-out or recurrent training works. The CG is well forward, and the airplane is likely quite stable in pitch. On my 210, the aft CG limit is 52 inches aft of datum. The farthest aft I have flown it is 50 inches and that only twice. The first time, I had a load of books to deliver. Everything was carefully weighed and loaded. Our son was flying the airplane, with me along for the ride. It was an IFR day, and I was on his case all the way to Ohio. He never got the airplane stabilized in cruise, and my remark to him was to the effect that everybody has to be at some altitude, why not right on the assigned altitude? A bit later, I had another load of books to deliver. This time, our son couldn't go along, and I flew. I never got the airplane stabilized in cruise and had to be on my personal case all the way to Ohio.
After flying the airplane at 50 inches, I decided never to go back to the legal 52 inches. (Most 210s with STC mods have been limited to 50 inches because of spin problems in the STC programs.) With an aft loading, it is a different airplane, one that is far less friendly. It is also something that a new 210 pilot should see with an experienced 210 instructor at his side because, if stalls were done in this condition (something that I personally would not do), the resulting ride might require some truly fancy and quick footwork to manage properly.
Hopefully, if recurrent training is to become more a part of the scene, there will be a more clear definition of what needs to be done and who needs to do it.
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