Unfamiliar aircraft? FAA offers training guide

March 31, 2011

Whether it’s lighter on the controls or comes in steeper on final approach, each new aircraft in a pilot’s logbook handles a little—or a lot—differently from the last. A new FAA publication aims to keep those differences from catching pilots unawares.

The FAA released an advisory circular (AC), “Airmen Transition to Experimental or Unfamiliar Airplanes”, March 30 to help pilots prepare for differences in handling when they fly an aircraft for the first time, emphasizing safety considerations for amateur-built experimental aircraft. AOPA contributed to the development of the educational resource as part of the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee's amateur built subgroup and the Flight Standardization Board; the FAA said the AC is part of the its focus on reducing GA accidents by using a nonregulatory, proactive strategy.

"The collaborative effort by the various entities on the GA Joint Steering Committee Shows that much can be done with a common goal and a commonsense approach,” said AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg. “Amateur-built aircraft are a focus area, and we hope this will encourage and inform home builders. The Air Safety Institute will have a review on amateur built safety later this year working closely with EAA.”

The AC provides overall guidance for transitioning to an unfamiliar airplane, as well as case studies and advice for avoiding common pitfalls of certain kinds of aircraft.

“Pilots transitioning to experimental or other unfamiliar airplanes need to develop a training strategy for mitigating the risks of operation of the new airplane,” the AC reads. “Some of these risks are inherent to any airplane which is unfamiliar to a pilot, while others are specific to the handling characteristics, performance, configuration, systems and operation, and maintenance considerations of the new airplane.”

The document breaks aircraft down into families based on performance and handling characteristics, with examples of common experimental, type-certificated, and light sport aircraft that exhibit characteristics of each, to help pilots identify recommended training to make a smooth transition to a new kind of flying.

“Even if a pilot is experienced and knowledgeable about the characteristics of a particular airplane, transitioning to a new airplane of the same family can still be challenging. This is especially true in experimental airplanes, as system design, switch and control appearance and location, and types and locations of indicators may be different, even in airplanes of the same model,” it reads.

The FAA said that pilot performance, particularly when transitioning to an unfamiliar airplane, is a significant factor in experimental airplane fatal accidents. The new AC is meant to complement AC 90-89A, “Amateur-Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook,” which provides guidance on testing newly built experimental airplanes.