Getting to Know a New Airplane

A pilot marries his new Premier 1.

With the Premier 1 that Dick Karl (left) and his wife bought recently, some things were familiar and some were foreign.Dick Karl

How long does it take to get comfortable in a new airplane? Familiarity with type and class may shorten the honeymoon, but with every new airplane comes a new set of quirks and personality traits. It is like a marriage.

With the Premier 1 that my wife and I bought recently, some things were familiar and some were foreign.

I chose the airplane because it is fast and because it has Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics. I had come to love those boxes while flying Part 135 in the Cessna CJ3. During my initial operating experience as a first officer at JetSuite, check airman Fred Pollino told me that everything would settle in around the 60-hour mark. “You will call me then and tell me this is easy.”

Well, it took me way longer than 60 hours to get the flows and call-outs and SOPs down. I had never flown with another crew member and tended to want to do everything by myself. Half the time I’d forget to light up the strobes and landing lights while crossing another runway during taxi. Now, I’m back flying single-pilot, and I often miss having another pilot — I flew with a great group of people.

For this type rating, I got typed in my airplane rather than at a training facility. This gave me a chance to hear that low whistle that becomes evident down low when we slow below 180 knots. I got to close the door for real rather than practice on a dummy. The Premier has a big airstair door, which, were it to open in flight, would be, I imagine, a heart-stopping development.

With a knowledgeable instructor, I first started up N323CM in Wichita, Kansas (KICT) for a flight to home base in Lebanon, New Hampshire (KLEB). I was prepared for the initial familiarization to take some time, but just getting a Premier ready to fly is a lengthy project even for highly experienced Premier drivers. (If you really want to see the airplane, and what it can do, watch the excellent “Premier 1 Driver” series on YouTube.)

About 10 minutes after engine start, the instructor said, “It’s a little like the checklist for the space shuttle.” He was right. I began to be concerned that we’d have to refuel before we ever got off the ramp. I was getting to know some of the airplane’s quirks.

On that flight home with my new (to me) magnificent airplane, I had my first “abnormal” when “roll fail” and “speed brk fail” lights illuminated and set the master caution light to flash. This occasioned a zero-flaps landing, increased landing speeds to ref plus 20, increased landing distance by 60 percent and a diversion to a longer runway. Apparently, full flaps tend to keep the wheels from fully engaging with the runway when the lift dump spoilers are inop, hence the no-flaps-landing checklist. That’s the theory, anyway, and in any event, we survived.

After 17 years of blissful turboprop ownership, the Premier is a giant step up. It has lots of things that can break, such as EGPWS (enhanced ground proximity warning system), TCAS (traffic collision avoidance system), two ADCs (air data computers) and two AHRS (attitude heading reference systems); plus, it is big and fast and thirsty.

In a way, the Premier is like acquiring a new mate, and this one is quite a change for me. Like marriage, it is taking me some time to figure out how this is all going to go. The honeymoon has been great, but I’m wondering, still. Will the whine of the hair dryer become annoying? What about that jet-A drinking problem?

After getting the type rating, I waited for close friends to arrive in New Hampshire to help us break in the jet. Rob is an experienced airline pilot, and Kathy, once a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, subsequent flight attendant and pilot, knows how to make things fun. (Longtime Flying readers should know her dad: Len Morgan.)

On a beautiful fall day, we set out for Bar Harbor, Maine, and some lobster for lunch. The weather cooperated, and the airplane was flawless. The only downside was the short distance: It is only 178 nautical miles from KLEB to KBHB. On the trip east, Kathy took a picture of the cabin information screen showing a groundspeed of close to 500 mph. I was in heaven for a moment, but then we were there.

Like marriage, it is taking me some time to figure out how this is all going to go. The honeymoon has been great, but I’m wondering, still. Will the whine of the hair dryer become annoying? What about that jet-A drinking problem?

My wife, Cathy, with a “C,” is not, shall we say, a comfortable flyer, and the jet is intimidating to her. With sweet, aviation-experienced friends on board, things seemed to go well, but she admitted to some distress after we got back home. (I had made a steep approach to KLEB after being cut loose from Boston Center while virtually over the airport and 3,000 feet above it. I should have canceled earlier.) Kathy and Rob made up one of those Shutterfly photo books and titled it “Inaugural Flight.” I sleep with this book.

So, a couple of weeks later, we decided on a short trip to Ithaca, New York, for just the two of us. With Cathy in the back, connected by headsets, we set out on another perfect day. Again, I marveled at the airplane. I was pleased with another good landing — she’s a pretty easy airplane to fly. I sought out a Cornell University sweatshirt in the campus bookstore, but it was over $100. Married to a new airplane, with a jet to feed, I am a man on a budget.

I looked forward with excitement to a trip to Delaware Coastal Airport (KGED) to visit our family. Two grandsons, 12 and 9, were dying to see the new rig. The flight from KLEB to KGED traverses some of the busiest airspace in the country, and I was eager to avoid the circuitous route we often took in the turboprop. With the letter of authorization for RVSM in hand, I filed for the mid-30s on a more direct route, hoping that the higher altitude would keep us straight. It was not to be. We spent a total of nine minutes above Flight Level 280 on the whole trip, and the route was pretty close to what we used to get at FL 200 in the Cheyenne. Oh well.

Our landing was well-documented by our son-in-law, Rob, and I was pleased to get my first video evidence that I owned a jet. There was another “roll fail” light and another zero-flaps landing, though.

The trip back to KLEB was flawless. The autopilot tracked the approach with a precision I never saw in the turboprop. Still in the early stages of our relationship, we’ll have to see how this marriage works out. Speed and sexiness won’t cover mechanical drama. The airplane has got to get over that master caution thing. I don’t think we need counseling. Yet.