Safety Publications/Articles


Learning a new (old) airplane

As a professional flight instructor, you may be called upon to provide instruction in aircraft with which you've had only limited experience.

There are similarities among all certificated airplanes, although there also can be a world of differences--even among those sharing the same type certificate. A 1957 Beech Bonanza H35 and a 1982 Bonanza V35B were both built under CAR Part 3 type certificate #3A15, yet there are major disparities, beginning with the use of mph instead of knots in the older airplane. If you intend to give instruction in the operation of any new-to-you aircraft, it's important to first become familiar with the airplane.

The source of operating procedures and system details is the pilot's operating handbook (POH), along with the official certification paperwork and any supplemental data covering equipment added since the airplane was new. Finding such information isn't always easy, particularly if the airplane is 50 years or more removed from the factory. Manufacturers supplied varying types of information in 1960; some of the books were quite sketchy, and the arrangement and standards were not uniform. One company might show takeoff data with reduced gross weight; another would base the distance numbers on short-field technique that was seldom used in normal flying; and others would show the results from everyday procedures. Airspeeds quoted might have been true airspeed, indicated speeds with no calibration for pitot/static error, or actual airspeed from a test boom that would never be seen on a production aircraft.

These handbooks were known by various names, including owner's manual, flight manual, operating handbook, or POH. Unless replaced by a reissue, as Beech Aircraft did for its older products in the 1970s, they remain the only word on how the airplane is to be operated. However, if there are limitations stipulated in the government-approved certification, which is often separate and apart from the pilot's manual, they will always prevail.

Some 35 years ago, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) developed what became known as the GAMA handbook format, a move that greatly standardized pilot manuals. Not to be confused with FAA-approved airplane flight manuals, the GAMA handbooks were voluntary in content, did not always need to be on board the airplane for legal flight, and weren't necessarily assigned to a specific serial number or airplane.

The GAMA books make a flight instructor's life much easier. No matter who wrote the manual, the order of the sections is the same, and the means of presenting the data is clearly stated.

Section 1 in a GAMA-format book covers the general description of the airplane, while Section 2 provides the limitations, and perhaps placards, that are required to be observed. Section 3 is marked "Emergency Procedures," usually with a red tab, and the most critical speeds and performance data are shown on the first page.

Section 4, the Normal Operation Procedures section, merits close study, and Section 5, which contains the performance charts, diverges somewhat in presentation from company to company. Pay attention to the first pages of the performance section, which shows how data were obtained, and the conditions under which calculations are made.

Section 6 is usually the weight-and-balance section, typically customized for a specific aircraft. Be sure it's up to date; many older aircraft have had equipment removed and new gear installed, which requires that a supplemental sheet be prepared with the revised W&B figures, but the old pages may still be in the book. A logbook entry or FAA Form 337 could be the only source of true W&B figures.

Section 7 describes the aircraft's systems, important information that will help you cope with real or self-induced predicaments. Section 8 contains servicing information, where things like tire pressures, strut extensions, service intervals, and recommended fluids are found.

Section 9 is where supplemental information is found on optional equipment, such as oversize landing gear, autopilots, extra doors, and icing or environmental options. There may be changes to the aircraft's operating limitations with these items installed, and if aftermarket modifications have been made beyond those in the handbook, the information about these changes must be in the aircraft.

Before you go flying, you must make certain you're satisfied with your own knowledge of the aircraft and spent adequate time with the student, going over the critical aspects of operation and systems. Take time to check the depth of the pilot's knowledge. A thorough knowledge of V speeds, fuel and electrical systems, installed avionics, and weight-and-balance limitations are as important as learning to make a smooth landing.

The best familiarization technique is to look first at the general description pages, then read the Normal Procedures section and carefully peruse the Systems section. With this background, the Limitations and Emergency sections make more sense, and the Performance and Weight & Balance charts will be easier to master.

Do your homework before you fly any new-to-you airplane. Learn to use the GAMA books, and take some time to look at older, slimmer books that were once issued. Those sketchy information pamphlets make you really appreciate what the GAMA member companies did three decades ago.

LeRoy Cook has been an active flight instructor since 1965 and has had more than 1,350 articles published. He is also the author of 101 Things to Do With Your Private License and Flying the Light Retractables.

By LeRoy Cook

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