Those five flights still had me doing stupid things. The altimeter fiasco made it clear that I needed to be sure to set all three of them. I do this on the Cheyenne that my wife and I own, but somehow I have been unable to transpose what I know about that airplane into the cockpit of the Lear. It may be because in our airplane there is no one else to set anything and I am dislocated by the presence of another pilot, a more experienced one at that, in the same living space. Just when I got myself disciplined to set the altimeters, all of them, I failed to set the heading bug for takeoff. Again, I do this instinctively in the Cheyenne, but I am still intimidated from thinking clearly in the Lear. Only as Jason’s hand silently slides down to set the bug do I realize I have missed another basic assignment.
The flight management system is different from our array of Garmin GPSs. Arrivals and departures must be entered by hand. Crossing altitudes are also hand-installed. I fumble from “list” to “menu” and back. I am guessing that only two-thirds of the FMS’s available capability is available to me.
Call-outs have me bamboozled. On early flights last summer I was so intent on the “after takeoff” checklist (gear up, yaw damper on, thrust reversers disarmed, flaps up at V2 plus 20/400 feet, ignition off, landing lights off, hydraulic pressure check, pressurization system monitor) that I totally missed the handoff to departure control. I have never missed this call in our airplane.
Similarly, on approach, when the captain calls for flaps 8 degrees, my response is to be “speed checks, flaps 8,” meaning that I have verified that the airplane is sailing along at 250 knots or less before hitting the flap control. Of course, I am so eager to get the flaps out that I start with that, then say “speed checks,” then look at the airspeed indicator. Below 10,000 feet we’re restricted to 250 knots. I’ve never owned an airplane that could boast a speed limit before, so this too is new.
Then, finally, came my debut in the left seat. A perfectly clear day and a perfect trip from Philadelphia (KPHL) to Tampa, Florida (KTPA). Excited, I was. So much so that all I had memorized about the engine start flow pretty much abandoned me. “Four Bs,” prompted Jason. He meant beacon, belts (seat sign), blowers (air conditioning off) and brakes. I got two of them. Slowly working our way through the checklist, we achieved two uneventful starts. We began to taxi out to 27L via a bunch of runway crossings, hold-short lines, slight turns and some beginner’s oscillation from side to side. The nose gear steering is sensitive — very sensitive.
The simulator is not lying about this.
As we taxied out, Jason ran the taxi checklist, which forced me to confirm flight instruments, V-speed settings and thrust reversers, among other tasks. Each time I took my eye off the centerline, the airplane lurched to one side or another. It felt like a car falling off its struts. Jason gently reminded me of the helpful centerline markings that were just visible out the right or left side window. So far as I know, no grass or taxi light was harmed.
The takeoff went well — there is very little time to screw it up. On a beautiful, clear winter’s day we followed departure control vectors and altitudes, remembering not to exceed 250 knots down low. Let me say that again: I had to work at keeping the airplane below 250. Soon we were perched at Flight Level 430. I just sat there, grinning.
The arrival in Tampa was a relief. This is my home base and I know the frequencies and taxiways by heart. We were set up behind a Southwest 737 for 1L when we were instructed to head for 1R. My first landing wasn’t bad. I forgot the spoilers, though. The thrust reversers are familiar to me in a sense; our turboprop uses beta range (reverse prop angle) to slow down, so at least I get the concept.
A few days later we repositioned the airplane from Tampa to St. Petersburg, a distance of eight miles. The weather was just low enough to require an ILS, which I hand-flew. Again, not a bad landing. Again, no go on the spoilers. The airplane is very stable, even “light” at 15,000 pounds.
A few days after that we flew empty to Fort Lauderdale, Florida (KFLL), and I got to do a crosswind landing. We landed on 9L with winds of 14 knots from 150 degrees. The right mains made it to earth first, and I savored the touchdown to the extent that Jason had to remind me that the airplane came equipped with brakes. Left to my own devices, I would have rolled out for 9,000 feet with the thrust reversers out, just enjoying it all.
The next day we flew short hops to Orlando and Naples, Florida. After dropping off our famous passenger at midnight in Naples, I came back from paying the landing fee to find Jason in the right seat. My first night flight was about to happen.
This time I was slightly better with the taxi steering, we finally made it out to the runway, and Jason reminded me of our light weight and the low V-speeds.
“This will happen fast,” he said.
Off into the darkness we went. St. Pete’s tower was closed. The wind was 070 at 12, gusts to 16 knots. I said to Jason that I’d rather shoot the ILS to 36R and have the vertical guidance than land on 9 with a better crosswind vector. He approved and I felt, for the first time, like a professional.
Soon we were on the approach and Jason was reciting the landing checklist. I was so busy, locked on the ILS, that I can’t claim any real participation in the exercise. But at a thousand feet I looked down and saw the landing lights were off. Finally Jason had made (or not made) a simple mistake. I said, “How about those landing lights?” I think he grinned. The landing was good from my perspective, and I don’t usually say that. I forgot the spoilers, though.
So, full of the day, I dragged Jason out for a drink at 1:30 a.m. We even found a bar that was open and featured a gaggle of drunks and smokers. Right about 2 a.m. both of our phones rang. Alert wives had noted our landing time on flightaware.com, and they each inquired as to where the hell we were.