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Pilots get a taste of Jet A

Pilots get a taste of Jet A

By Nathan Ferguson

AOPA General SessionGet used to the sweet smell of kerosene. You should be seeing more light jets on your local ramp as the economies of scale drive down prices.

Industry insiders kicked off AOPA Expo on Oct. 4 with the show's first of three General Sessions. The topic was on bigger, faster airplanes where pilots are stepping up from glass-cockpit pistons to jets.

Tom Haines, editor in chief of AOPA Pilot, said that we're at an "amazing point in aviation" with the convergence of various technologies, a far cry from the industry doldrums of the 1980s. "When it comes to traveling, speed really is alluring," he said.

Cessna Aircraft chief Jack Pelton said that out of Cessna's nine Citation models, six can be flown single-pilot. The company currently has an $11 billion backlog for jet orders. Cessna sold 307 last year and expects to sell 400 next year.

One of the key drivers that sparked the very light jet revolution is turbine engine technology. Matt Huff, vice president of engine development for Williams International, said that during World War II piston engines reached their performance thresholds.

Jet engines, however, are scalable without losing performance. They are also more durable because they spin instead of pounding their parts together. With the introduction of FADEC (full authority digital control), Huff said they are much easier for pilots to manage.

"Flying jets is just the easiest darn thing in the world," said Eclipse Aviation President and CEO Vern Raburn in a taped interview. Although he added that jet pilots need to have impeccable instrument skills. Eclipse has now type rated 100 pilots at its factory training facility.

To add a real-world perspective, Jim Robins talked about how flying a Socata TBM 700 has changed his life. Robins, 59, took the typical general aviation route and learned to fly single-engine Pipers in the Baltimore area. Once he became a successful entrepreneur, he decided to get back into aviation and started flying a Mooney to get to his manufacturing locations in the Midwest. Then came a second home in Santa Fe, N.M., and the need for a faster aircraft.

Robins took exception to the notion that jets are "easier" to fly than pistons, feeling that pilots might take the responsibility too lightly. He said that if anything jets have become simpler.

"It's not different. It's flying. It's a discipline. It requires attention," he said, adding that safety has to be foremost on your mind.

The best way to get insurance is to show a steady progression by moving up to faster and more complex aircraft. Robins cautioned 400-hour pilots from getting talked into jets too soon.

In response to whether turbine aircraft are as emotionally rewarding as piston, Robins said it's just different. He keeps a Citabria in a hangar in Santa Fe so that he never loses touch with stick-and-rudder flying. The comment drew a big round of applause.

October 4, 2007

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