Answers for Pilots

Moving on up

February 1, 2002

Transitioning to more complex aircraft

"I've been flying a Cessna 150 at my local airport since I learned to fly several years ago. Lately I've wondered what it would be like to fly the high-performance Cessna 206 that the FBO also rents. What do I need to know to transition to other aircraft?"

AOPA member queries such as this are met with enthusiasm by the aviation technical specialists on the AOPA Pilot Information Center. The specialists, all pilots who are current in many makes and models of aircraft, encourage members to stretch their wings and try something new. Transitioning to a faster, more complex aircraft is a challenge, but one that can be fun and exciting.

First things first, however. "If you're going to transition to another aircraft — especially a high-performance or complex airplane — you've got to do your homework on the aircraft," said Tim Lower, an AOPA aviation technical specialist. "You'll also need a qualified instructor to get you through the process."

The easiest transitions occur when pilots make some attempt to match what they have been flying previously to what they desire to learn to fly. In other words, making a huge leap from a 150 to a Learjet provides more challenge, workload, and frustration than you may be comfortable with. Taking smaller steps and comparing these key components can ease your transition process.

  • Power loading
  • Wing loading
  • Maneuvering characteristics
  • Systems
  • Visibility
  • Ground handling
  • Performance

The best way to begin transitioning to another aircraft is to read the aircraft's pilot operating handbook (POH). Knowledge is power; the more you know before you enter the cockpit, the more comfortable you will be facing a more complicated instrument panel, including more sophisticated power management. High-performance — as defined by FAR 61.31(e) — refers to aircraft with more than 200 horsepower. A complex airplane has retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable-pitch propeller.

FAR Part 61 governs the requirements for the operation of complex and high-performance aircraft. To make the transition, you'll need ground and flight training from an authorized instructor as well as logbook endorsements. The instructor should train you as thoroughly in this aircraft as when you first learned in that Cessna 150.

"Once you've mastered this new steed, your confidence will soar, and you'll soon be seeking that next challenge for a transition," added Lower.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resources anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information for its members through a vast array of communications technologies. You can reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online (, the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA), and e-mail ( [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to aviation specialists and is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

AOPA Web resources

A library of practical test standards for most certificates and ratings.

"Checkout in a Multiengine Airplane," an excerpt from Advisory Circular 61-21A, Flight Training Handbook.

"Stretch Your Wings," an article from AOPA Instructor Report that cautions that a transition from one type of flying to another must be thoughtfully managed.

"High-Performance Aircraft Transitions: Getting the Most for Your Training Dollar," by Robert N. Rossier, as published in AOPA Flight Training magazine.

"Adaptability: What You Need to Fly New and Different Airplanes," by Budd Davisson, as published in AOPA Flight Training magazine.

"Moving Up: Getting to Know a New Airplane," By Robert N. Rossier, as published in AOPA Flight Training magazine.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.