(August 2011) The Cessna Cardinal RG was sitting forlornly at the edge of Montgomery Field in San Diego with a “for sale” banner hanging from its propeller. As we came out of the parking lot after having lunch at a sushi restaurant across from the airport, Judith pointed at the Cardinal. Isn’t that one of the kinds of airplanes you’re considering? she asked.
We had been looking to upgrade from a Cessna 150 and were considering either a Cardinal RG or a fixed-gear Cessna 182. The presence of the Cardinal seemed propitious. It took only a phone call to the FBO for details about the airplane and a short test flight for us to decide to buy it.
My transition training consisted of about 3.4 hours of dual (including stalls, touch-and-goes and 0.8 hour with a hood and an ILS approach) and 1.5 hours of ground instruction that was conducted during lunch at the sushi restaurant with the seller’s instructor. Prior to buying the Cardinal I had 3.7 hours in a Piper Arrow. At the time that was the extent of my experience with a constant-speed prop and retractable gear.
Two days later, Judith and I launched on our flight home. Prudently we made a concession to my inexperience in the new airplane by limiting our trip back from southern California to upstate New York to VFR conditions and daylight hours.
The problems with transitioning to new or unfamiliar airplanes are recognized by the FAA and are addressed in a new advisory circular, AC 90-109, “Transition to Experimental or Unfamiliar Airplanes.”
In the AC, the FAA points out that many of the accidents involving pilots transitioning occur with Experimental airplanes. According to the FAA, the data for accidents in 2009 indicated that, while Experimental airplanes flew only 3.4 percent of the general aviation fleet hours, they were involved in 27 percent of the fatal accidents in the United States. The FAA goes on to point out, “This represents a nearly 8 to 1 ratio of fatal accidents per flight hour over the mainstream GA community. The predominant factor in Experimental airplane fatal accidents is pilot performance, particularly in the transition phase to an unfamiliar airplane.”