The Financial Learning Curve with New Airplanes

Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between being carefully aggressive and being foolish. Dick Karl

No matter how rewarding and clean and bright it feels to say, “I’m going for it,” there is always a nagging doubt that maybe, just maybe, this is nuts.

So it has been for me since my wife and I bought the airplane of my 50 years of flying dreams, a Beech Premier 1. Fast and beautiful, sexy and risky, this airplane has left me wondering: Did I bite off more than I can chew?

Getting typed in the actual airplane was my first misstep, as chronicled in a previous dispatch. Once the RA-390 type certificate was in my pocket, we were limited to short trips at or below Flight Level 280. The altitude was restricted until the RVSM letter of authorization was in hand, and the trip lengths were short because the Premier is a drinking fool down low. Without being able to climb to Flight Level 410, we were pretty much looking at legs of about two hours.

Once we got the LOA, I was ready for some serious jet flying. On our first excursion above FL 290, on a trip from Lebanon, New Hampshire (KLEB) to Georgetown, Delaware (KGED), I was surprised and dismayed to see the master caution light flash and the “roll fail” and “speedbrake fail” lights come on the annunciator panel. This had happened once in training and was ascribed to the airplane’s lengthy dormancy while in pre-buy. When I saw it happen again, I knew we were in for some maintenance “follies.”

I dragged out the checklist, though I am pretty sure I could have recited it by heart. The speed above 15,000 feet is restricted to Mach 0.64, and the airplane is to be landed without flaps. This, in turn, dictates approach speeds 20 knots faster than ref and landing distance 60 percent greater than usual.

When we landed in Delaware, our son-in-law showed us a video of the landing. It looked like the speedbrakes had deployed normally. Subsequent flights produced similar results. Once up in the colder altitudes, we got the same indications, yet the speedbrakes deployed normally on landing. The rotary test function before each flight showed normal speedbrake function.

When it comes to maintenance, my worst fear is an intermittent fault that doesn’t occur, or can’t be reproduced, on the ground. At least I thought that was my biggest fear. Textron Aviation has some great people in its service centers, and I spoke to two of them about the problem. Bob Day in Tampa, Florida, pointed me to Kyle Wenck in Indianapolis. Kyle showed me how to clear out the faults on the BIT (built-in test) on the spoiler control panel and asked me to call him after the next flight if we got another master caution. We did, and I did.

The fault codes were consistent with “right pull down actuator.” I won’t bore you or embarrass myself by trying to describe the spoiler-speedbrake system on the Premier, but you need to know that there are actuators to keep the speedbrakes retracted in flight unless they are commanded to deploy. These are pressurized by nitrogen. Whereas Cessna went with a straight wing and simplicity, Beechcraft went with a small swept wing with spoilers to augment roll and to dump lift after landing, among other things. When Kyle sent me the quoted price on a new actuator of $33,571.25 — not including labor — money became my worst fear. My wife, Cathy, not a big fan of flying in general and a little reluctant about the Premier and very conscious of the fact that we are retired, have no new income and don’t have a company or a tax dodge for the airplane, found this quote to be, shall we say, unsettling.

While all this was going on, I was perplexed as to what to do with our nav database for the Collins Pro Line 21 system. Rockwell Collins sent an email announcing that it was deleting 10,000 approaches from the database — many of them to airports that were of interest to me. “What the what?” as my grandkids say.

According to the ops bulletin published by Rockwell Collins, it turned out that when the “crew manually edits or cold compensates a ‘climb to’ altitude, the FMS will remove the database turn direction on the immediately following leg.” This seemingly inconsequential glitch had major implications, especially for missed approaches in mountainous terrain. If the missed-approach procedure called for a right-hand turn and the direction was deleted, the airplane might turn to the left if that was the shortest way to get to the fix.

Though I wasn’t sure I followed all the ins and outs, I was sure that deleting all the approaches to Chicago Executive (KPWK) was a potential problem. With an airplane new to this pilot, the last thing I hoped for was a navigation challenge on top of an expensive repair job, not to mention those no-flaps landings. Rockwell Collins was terrific about its communication, however. Though it was sometimes difficult to get the Rockwell Collins technical folks on the phone, they were helpful. Published email updates came regularly, and the problem should be solved as I write this.

It is too early to tell if I have gotten in over my head, both in terms of finances and proficiency. I have had great support from friends with Premiers, such as Greg and Pete, and from knowledgeable folks in the repair business (Messrs. Day, Myers and Wenck). My instructor at the Jetstream Group in California, Mike Biglar, was a huge help and has put me in touch with his maintenance folks. I’ll let you know how it goes with this new airplane, but I wonder if I’m going to be overdrawn on my heretofore lifetime supply of good luck.

Just when I was about to admit defeat, I got a ride on a friend’s Premier 1A from KLEB to Florida. Sitting in the right seat, I watched an extremely competent, high-time-in-type pilot fly the Premier like it should be flown. As we descended at sunset over the Florida Peninsula, I was reminded of a similar emotion I had experienced years ago.

That was another sunset on another day at home in Tampa. My next-door neighbor had torn his house down and built the home of his dreams on Tampa Bay. By modern code, his house had to be built up about 4 feet higher than ours. To celebrate his new house, he had a Super Bowl party where, after a few libations, I found myself staring out his picture window at a marvelous sunset. “Gosh, Lou, this is beautiful,” I said. My neighbor looked puzzled. “Dick, you moron, you live next door!” Sitting in my friend’s Premier, I thought, “Dick, you moron, you have one of these magnificent machines yourself!”

Dick Karl
Dick KarlAuthor
Dick Karl is a cancer surgeon who appreciates the beauty and science involved in both surgery and flying. Dick’s monthly Gear Up celebrates the human side of flying. He writes about his enthusiasm for both the machines and the people who fly and maintain them.

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