Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Expanding Horizons

Since becoming a pilot, I’ve been itching to take family and friends up with me. It couldn’t happen on the day I was certified, as the planes were rented out. So, later in the week I decided to broaden my aircraft type qualification list, and get checked out in the larger Diamond DA-40. To kill two birds with one stone, I convinced my wife to come along. I figured she’d be more comfortable in the larger aircraft, and with a CFI riding along, more secure too.

My wife, under much hesitation, agreed to go up with us. Now understand, she’d never been up in a little plane before. I know she had allot of trepidations. Still, today came and she didn’t wuss out.

After a brief gound lesson on Constant speed props, Cruise engine management, etc.. we were off to the plane. I helped her into the back passenger seat, which is quite roomy. I went through the checklist, and started her up. After avionics came up I realized my wife’s mic wasn’t working (or she didn’t have it up to her mouth enough). So she gave us a thumbs up that she was good to go.

I was in awe and almost scared of the instrumentation panel. The DA-40 is a “glass” G1000 cockpit, which means all your instruments are on two digital screens. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, with menus and features that seem to go on forever! I’m personally a gauge lover, primarily because I can scan and get their information quicker. With the G1000, I have to look longer and closer…

Upon inquiring on where we should go, my CFI offered up Edenton. Perfect I thought…it would provide a fantastic view, as it’s right off the river closer to the coast. My wife smirked when we mentioned she’d love the view…I could see she was still very nervous.

Moments later we were off the ground… The DA-40 needed higher V-speeds than I’m used to, so I had to compensate. Turning and climbing up to 2500’ I started going through all the G1000 features. Then the CFI showed me, what I now call, the “staples” feature. I quickly understood why the other students wanted to fly the DA-40 mostly…because of the “Auto-pilot.” You punch in your heading or GPS waypoint or even VOR Nav, push a button and away it goes. You are now free to move about and fix a sandwhich! Want to change altitude or heading…punch in the new one, and bingo…off you go. “This is cheating!” I shouted. All those long cross-country flights I flew, keeping the trim and heading dead on manually, and the DA-40 guys had a button. How unfair! Ah well, it’s always like the richer persons to have it easier. I’m sure I’ll cry back in the DA-20 on long trips.

Setting up for the landings was certainly a little more work. Had to set the prop right and the manifold pressure (power). It was harder to gauge how she’d decend and such. Coming into final, my airspeed was lower than it should be, being so used to the 20. Still I made a smooth landing for my passengers. You barely felt it. Another go in the pattern, and I was much smoother, and far more stable on approach. Moments later and another good landing, though a little off the center line.

It was time to head back. Clicking on the GPS to PGV, and engaging the AP was all too easy. That must be really addictive. Mid way through I decided to do a 45 bank to see how Meg felt. I told her what we’d be doing, and gave a thumbs down…I felt she could handle it so I went ahead. Well, the little baggie was still empty! YAY!

Heading back to home base, a quick click on the decend nose down button, and autopilot began the approach into PGV. I might as well re-label it to look like a staples button. My instructor, to my surprise, pulled an engine out scenario. I pitched for best glide, same as the DA-20…and headed down RWY 20. A slight tailwind, and a not so low flare, and I set her down a bit harder than normal but fine. I wish I had made all the landings smooth, but no one’s perfect. The point was solidified though, a perfect example of loosing an engine and gliding back home. My CFI was smart to do so, as I think it gave my wife a realization, that these little aircraft are safer than they appear.

So another great flight, and another airplane under my belt… Hopefully I’ll take her up again next month!
(Pictures are over the Edenton, NC area, taken by my lovely wife Meg!)

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