October 1, 2009
By Dave Hirschman
John Hayes’ two-decade march through airplanes of ever-increasing capability and complexity seems, in hindsight, as if it were carefully planned from the start.
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Hayes, a retired entrepreneur with a doctorate in optical engineering, started flying in a Piper Cherokee 140 and progressed to a Comanche, Bonanza, a Piper Malibu, and then his first turboprop, a TBM 700, which he used for business and personal flying. The move lifted Hayes and his passengers into the flight levels and allowed him to sharpen his IFR skills by filing and flying in the ATC system on virtually every flight.
“I had always dreamed about the next airplane—but when I started flying the TBM 700, I felt like I had the ultimate airplane,” said Hayes, a resident of Bend, Oregon, who now owns and flies a Cessna Citation Mustang. “I fell in love with the TBM 700, and it was the same way with the jet. I wasn’t looking to upgrade. But you only go around once in life, and I figured, if I can find a way, why not?”
Hayes flew turboprops for five years and had amassed 17 years of experience and about 3,400 flight hours before he started jet training. The experience he had gained in turboprops was especially beneficial, he said, in making the jet transition.
“It was absolutely helpful flying in the flight levels, dealing with weather and ATC, and flying IFR all the time,” he said. “Many pilots have successfully made the leap from fixed-gear, piston singles to jets. But for me, those years flying turboprops were great preparation for transitioning to the jet.” Continued
One of the biggest changes from piston-aircraft flying to turboprops and jets, Hayes said, is the quality and intensity of simulator-based training.
“Instead of flying with a local instructor, the transition to turbines required formal, simulator-based training that’s repeated on an annual or semi-annual basis,” he said. “There are things you can do in the simulator (such as engine failures at takeoff in low-visibility conditions) that you wouldn’t want to practice in the airplane. The emergencies take you by surprise in the simulator, just as they would if they were happening in the airplane.”
Jets also require type ratings, and Hayes earned two type ratings and an ATP. “The type rating is a rigorous process,” he said. “Anybody can do it, but it’s like getting your private pilot’s license in that it requires dedication and focus, and there are times when you get discouraged. You have to want it to get through it. But you’re a better pilot when you come out the other side.”
The process of actually flying the jet can be simpler than some piston or turboprop aircraft, Hayes said. The Mustang cruises at much higher altitudes, so en route weather usually presents fewer complications.
“At 41,000 feet, you go over 90 percent of the weather,” Hayes said. “That’s a huge difference from pistons.”
The twin-engine Mustang also allows Hayes to travel to distant and remote locations that he wouldn’t attempt in other aircraft—even highly reliable single-engine turboprops. Shortly after getting his Mustang type rating Hayes accompanied fellow Mustang owner and pilot Tracy Forrest on the Orlando-to-Paris portion of an around-the-world trip Forrest made in 2008.
“The turboprops I owned were extremely capable airplanes—but the jet has two engines, and that makes me more comfortable flying over water for extended periods or over the mountains at night,” Hayes said. “I go very comfortably in the jet to places I just wouldn’t go in other airplanes. On the Paris trip, the long stretches over the ocean didn’t bother me at all. And I’ve flown my airplane non-stop to Alaska from Oregon.”
In addition to more regular and academically rigorous flight training, the cost of owning and operating turbine aircraft is significantly higher than piston airplanes, said Hayes, who is president of Citation Jet Pilots Inc.
“I’ve had sticker shock from every airplane I’ve ever owned,” he said. “Going to a turboprop was a step up in cost, and the same was true of the jet. The reliability of a turbine airplane is tremendous. The systems are heavy duty and rarely need unscheduled maintenance. Anyone coming from the piston world is going to be astounded at the reliability of turbine aircraft.”
Hayes owns and flies an Extra 300L aerobatic airplane for personal challenge and enjoyment and says he has no intention of leaving piston aircraft completely. He says he owns the “perfect airplane” now in the Mustang. But Hayes knows he’s sung that tune before.
“If they come out with a Mustang II, I might go there,” he said. “Pilots always want to climb the pecking order and go higher and faster. But I really do feel like I’ve got the perfect airplane. I pinch myself each time I see the view from FL410.”
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
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