Transitioning to a New Airplane

Learning a new airplane should not be done on the fly.

As the holder of a Private Pilot certificate, you can fly any airplane with a gross weight up to 12,500 pounds. That means you can legally jump into any airplane as long as you meet the currency requirements established by the FAA. But would it be smart to simply jump in and go? The answer is, of course, a resounding no! But unfortunately some pilots do, producing an accident record for newly transitioned pilots that is less than desirable.

Although you can fly a long list of airplane types legally, insurance companies put much stricter limits on pilot experience. In many cases underwriters require several hours of dual instruction in a particular type of airplane before they will cover you. So unless you want to fly uninsured, you wouldn’t transition to a new airplane model without the assistance of an instructor who has time in that particular type.

Some airplane models are similar enough that you can transition without too much difficulty. But there are critical items you must become familiar with before you turn the ignition key. On the most basic level, you need to become familiar with where all the switches, buttons and instruments are located. You don’t want to start searching for critical items while up in the air.

You also need to learn about the performance in different phases of flight to make sure the airplane meets your needs. While this is true for each flight, you will need to delve deeper when flying a new airplane. Learn and memorize critical speeds, such as Vy, best glide, stall speeds and approach speed, and emergency procedures.

For a more in-depth look at how best to transition from one airplane to another, whether you’re moving into a more complex airplane or one that is just slightly different, check out the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s recently released free course on the topic.

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