Gear Up: Learjets and Cheyennes

The beauty of switching it up a bit.



** Jason Hepner (left) and Dick Karl switch
planes and trade seats in KPVD.**

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.

The Lear is a much-better-handling airplane in the air. The Cheyenne is heavy on the controls; the Lear is well-balanced and delightful. I find it easier to taxi the Cheyenne, but I am getting better at the jet, which can be pretty sensitive to a heavy-footed novice. The Cheyenne cockpit is easier for entry, as there is a much smaller pedestal, and it doesn’t come all the way back between the seats. Oh, yes, did I mention that the Lear is twice as fast, flies twice as high, burns almost twice as much fuel and is a jet?

I’ll leave the Connecticut River float trip for Jason’s first book of memoirs, but suffice it to say it was quite the transportation warp. There are no hibachis in turboprops or jets that I know of.

The next morning we set out for Providence in the Cheyenne. I walked Jason through the engine starts and was secretly pleased that he looked about as perplexed as I feel when he lets me fire up the Lear. As we taxied out for takeoff, a furry animal the size of a cat crept across our path. I was tempted to ask the tower if it was a groundhog or a beaver, but I refrained. Jason soon had us gliding away toward KPVD like he was born in the airplane. We did note that altitude capture isn't as slick as in the Lear. We were assigned a clearance that would add about 15 minutes to our trip, according to the Avidyne. Since I was responsible for getting us to the airport with plenty of time to prepare the jet for our passengers, I was concerned. Just then Alan popped up on Boston Center. He's a Flying magazine reader, and we've talked before. I asked if he could work out a shorter route, and he responded with, "Cleared direct Providence, contact Bradley approach."

Thanks again, Alan.

Our return trip in the jet was routine for Jason and exciting for me. There was weather, but we mostly looked down at it from 43,000 feet. We did do a few minor deviations, though, and our astute pilot passenger noted, “You guys have to deviate just like the rest of us.”

He was so right. In the Cheyenne it would have been a long and “deviant” flight.

The KMCO-KPIE leg was mine, and I did better at speed control below 10,000 and hand-flying the airplane. It really is a joy. I lucked out on the crosswind landing near a thunderstorm, and we just got the covers on before the rain started. Some weekend.

Jason sent me the following critique: “The Cheyenne has an overhead panel, and plenty of extra switches and gauges. In the Lear, I feel as if I am wearing the airplane. The cockpit is tight and difficult to maneuver into, but, once seated, you feel as if you are planted behind the wheel of a sports car. The Cheyenne offered an easier ingress & egress but felt much more upright, as if sitting behind the wheel of a delivery truck. (Ouch!)

“Starting the PT6s was an exercise in juggling switches, condition levers and the monitoring of the 10 engine gauges on the panel. I am used to throwing a switch into ‘START’. On takeoff, I forgot that I wasn’t flying a jet with DEECs, and setting the power was a careful exercise in not over-torquing the engines and maintaining directional control. Although it sounds simple enough, both were clearly a challenge for me.

“The control pressures on the Cheyenne felt like that of driving a Mack truck. (Ouch again!) I am accustomed to the Lear going exactly where you place the yoke, and doing so instantly. Flying a plane that will lose ‘100 feet per sneeze’ when hand-flying to the hefty forces required on the Cheyenne was an eye-opener.

“I am also used to the slick KFC3100 autopilot on the Lear 31A. It does exactly what it is asked to do. The Cheyenne’s autopilot wasn’t bad, but it required a little bit of encouragement to level off at the assigned altitude. I was also not used to pressing ‘ARM’ when selecting a new altitude. The KFC3100 assumes this when you dial in a new flight level.

“On approach, when you volunteered to ATC that we could maintain 170 knots to the marker, I was surprised. (Pleasantly so.) I had not expected the Cheyenne to be able to fly near jet speeds in the terminal area and on the approach. I was impressed.

“I discovered that I did a mediocre job of flying a single-pilot airplane with a two-pilot crew. I have clearly been spoiled over the last six years flying in two-crew environments. I honestly couldn’t imagine going back to a single-pilot cockpit again, at least not in any kind of airplane of complexity. I loved the vast array of information readily available in the Cheyenne. I had a beautiful EADI, EHSI, flight director and speed/altitude tapes. I had a moving map with traffic/weather information in my face at a glance.

“To sum up, I was greatly humbled by my experience in the Cheyenne. I was a guy wearing four bars sitting in the left seat, feeling like a new student pilot taking his first lesson in a 152. I hope I get to do it again in the future.”

And we shall.