Different airplanes have different charms, but seldom do you get to experience two on the same day. As a Cheyenne turboprop owner and a part-time Learjet pilot, I got to experience these two airplanes with my Learjet captain, Jason Hepner, on a weekend that featured flying at 45,000 feet at 600 mph in the Lear; flying at 12,000 feet at 300 mph in the Cheyenne; and floating down the Connecticut River at 1 mph in a unique party boat. Only the boat featured a hibachi bolted to the forward deck.
This opportunity allowed Jason and me to compare airplanes and to switch roles. The trip was as follows: We were to take five passengers in Elite Air’s Lear 31A from Orlando, Florida (KMCO), to Providence, Rhode Island (KPVD). I had positioned my Cheyenne at KPVD so I could take Jason up to a mountain cottage near Lebanon, New Hampshire (KLEB), for the night. The next day we were to retrace our steps. Not many pilots get to fly these two airplanes on the same day, much less switch seats.
Our beginning Lear segment was a study in efficiency and timing. We left home base in St. Petersburg, Florida (KPIE), on time so as to arrive at KMCO on time. As we taxied for takeoff in St. Pete, the tower said the previous departure (a Cessna 152) had spotted a bird on the runway. Jason laughed from his captain’s perch when I keyed the mic and asked, “Is it a sparrow or a pelican?” The tower reported that the bird was small. We decided to take off and never did see it, but this was not the last wildlife we were to see on the pavement. On the KMCO-to-KPVD leg, we climbed to Flight Level 450 and answered queries from traffic below us, wondering who we were. Our passengers were uniquely pleasant; one gentleman owned a Cirrus — great people to have on board. This segment took two-and-a-half hours and burned through 3,000 pounds of jet-A (about 450 gallons). After arrival we buttoned up the Lear and opened up the Cheyenne. Our comparison ride was about to begin.
It can be safely asserted that Cheyennes and Lear 31s are both all-weather, pressurized, radar-equipped, known-ice airplanes. They are different, and I was eager to see how Jason judged the differences. Though Jason was a turboprop driver at one point, he has left that kind of flying in the dust of his logbook. I was to fly the Cheyenne on the KPVD-to-KLEB leg. The next day, he’d be in the left seat. This was fine with Jason. As we taxied out, he said, “I love an airplane ride.”
This pretty much sums up the sentiments of all pilots. I love to be the pilot, but I’ll take any airplane ride I can get, anytime.
As the owner of the turboprop, I was proud to show off the WAAS Garmin 430s, Avidyne EX500 and the Garmin G600. Then again, on takeoff, I did notice how much noisier the Cheyenne was, even with those amazing Bose headsets. We were light, and our rate of climb was 1,600 feet per minute. Not bad.
The trip was short, only 121 nautical miles direct, and we were soon headed for Runway 36 at KLEB. We were about nine miles from the airport at 4,900 feet when we were cleared for the visual. A Cheyenne can do this. Those big props act as speed brakes when you pull the power way back. We fell like an anvil.
“Wow, we look high!” Jason said.
We turned off midfield, parked at the “south hangar” and shut down. Big smiles all around. I recited what I thought were the differences between the Lear 31A and the Cheyenne. The Cheyenne has a gaudier avionics display. After all, it has been retrofitted over the years with GPSs, moving maps and synthetic vision. The Lear, which is at least 10 years younger than the Cheyenne, is still pretty much flying with original-issue avionics and flight management system. That said, it is an EFIS airplane, and the FMS can do all kinds of things with a keystroke that takes the Cheyenne multiple pages and inputs.