President's Position

Back to school

October 1, 2009

Just a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the left seat of a Cessna Caravan, climbing toward 14,000 feet out of Rifle, Colorado. We were headed east and all the indications on the Garmin G1000 were comfortably in the green. The weather was good VFR, a plus with the mountains nearby. All was well, until an amber warning light appeared.

The first sign of trouble came with the “Chip Detect” light. Our very reliable turboprop engine was, for some reason, “making metal.” The checklist says to carefully monitor the engine, and that’s exactly where we saw the next sign that the problem was serious. Both engine oil pressure and temperature trended toward abnormal. As I was powering back to idle, the oil temperature went into the red.

The memory items flowed naturally. I began slowing to 95 knots, checked that the power level was set at the idle detent, and then brought the prop rpm lever into feather. Finally, the fuel condition lever was lowered to cutoff.

Reaching up to the G1000, I touched “Nearest” and confirmed that the closest airport was Aspen. I turned toward the valley and thought about what a great glider the Caravan really is as we began our long descent. The Aspen valley was clear and we soon spotted the airport. The next problem was a bit of a surprise…we were too high!

Preferring to keep the airport in sight, I made a series of S-turns right to the sides of the valley and eventually slide-slipped to a smooth landing about halfway down the runway at Aspen. Whew!

Then came the voice from behind. “Impressive. I’d fly with you anywhere. Let’s take a break.”

Yes, I had gone back to school and my classroom for the afternoon was a full-motion Caravan simulator, located firmly on the ground in Wichita at FlightSafety International.

Going “back to school” in Wichita is something I have done for the past several years. During most of my visits, the focus has been on Bonanza recurrent training (my wife, Karen, and I own a 2003 Bonanza A36). This summer, the workload was a bit different, and included completing a Caravan initial course and a CJ3 recurrent program, along with a checkride for my type rating.

I was pleased at the end of eight days to be headed home having accomplished what I had come to Wichita to do, yet I also marveled at how important the continuing education of pilots is and how effectively fine organizations do this training. I have always thought of education as one of the best investments we make in people. How fortunate we are as pilots to be able to go back to school for training that gives us both knowledge and experience in situations we are likely never to see in the real aircraft.

I really have come to view my own training as every bit as vital as the annual inspection of the aircraft. In both cases, I have found that 12 months of use result in the need for some fixes in critical areas. So, as society talks about people going “back to school,” I hope all pilots will ask themselves if there are a few areas that might be improved with some well-timed instruction.

So, you might ask, why Caravan training?

Well, we made a decision a few short months ago to expand the AOPA aircraft fleet to allow more of our staff who travel on behalf of you, our members, to do so in general aviation aircraft. It just seemed important to “walk the walk.” Or, in our case, maybe it is “fly the flight.” In my case, those I meet at events across the country always want to know how I traveled. And, at aviation events as well as nonaviation events, the “how I got there question” inevitably leads to an interesting discussion about the value of general aviation.

Fortunately, early in our search for new aircraft we found a low-time 2008 Cessna Caravan available. Having had an opportunity to fly the aircraft, I know many members of our AOPA team will enjoy the efficiency of loading the Caravan with the people, materials, and equipment we need and heading off to an airport program or state capital. The Caravan will allow us to get people and cargo to events throughout the year.

The first major opportunity to see the AOPA Caravan should be at Peter O. Knight Airport during AOPA’s Aviation Summit, November 5 through 7. We are well along in the planning of an extraordinary few days in Tampa, Florida. And, of course, the aircraft will be put to good use travelling to events being scheduled across the country to build support for General Aviation Serves America.

More than ever, we are determined to demonstrate in words and deeds that GA really does serve America!

E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at craig@aopa.org .