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Got up this morning and had breakfast with my eternally-generous and patient friends, who offer me bed privileges at their home in Northampton more frequently than anyone should have a right to. :-P Spent a pleasant 45 minutes trading funny faces and interesting techniques for eating bacon and pancakes with the Princess, their 5 year old (so named for that morning due to her Snow White dress). Afterwards, I got in my car and ambled down to the airport where the skies were clear blue but the wind was gusty. My CFI and I picked up a clipboard and pulled N3783M out of the hangar. I joked to him that every time I identified us as N12732 on the comms today, I owed him a buck (that's the airplane I've done literally all my flying in since starting my flight training last year).

Afterwards, we sat in the airplane and went over checklists and the new flows I'd need to know. 83Mike is a Piper Cherokee Arrow III (PA-28R-201). This means it has a 200 hp Lycoming IO-360-C1C engine, but more important from the pilot's point of view it is a complex aircraft as it has a constant-speed propeller, retractable landing gear and flaps. So in addition to the instruments I was familiar with (and the fact that they're in different places on this airplane) it also has:

  • A manifold pressure gauge
  • A fuel flow gauge
  • A fuel pressure gauge
  • Landing gear control and indicators

In addition, this particular airplane has a Garmin 430 aviation GPS system hooked to a HSI, and an honest-to-gawd autopilot (although the one in this airplane only works for heading and not altitude, nor can it be slaved to the nav systems. It's a better airplane, but it's still a relatively old trainer :-) ) Also, an electric auxiliary fuel pump, alternate engine air intakes, and so forth. So we spent twenty minutes sitting in the airplane and running checklists, and my proving to him that I could find gauges when given their name, and (because he maintains it's useful, and I agree) proving that I could find various controls without looking at them.

Then we spent 30 minutes doing a slow and careful preflight walk-around, with checklists, with him explaining each system and part to me as well as telling me what warning signs to look for that aren't on the checklist. Examples: The landing gear actuators are hydraulic, so look for red hydraulic fluid leaks around the actuator cylinders. The stall warning on the Arrow, rather than being an airflow inlet, is a small metal rocker switch, so make sure it moves easily and has positive feedback when it clicks forward. The gas tanks have a metal tab in them that, when just covered, indicates 25 gallons usable fuel in that tank (36 usable total in each when full). Also he explain this airplanes particular foibles, to wit: The tach is balky until it's done its first cycle of the day (takeoff/landing, or at least twenty minutes in the air). The right fuel tank indicator is way off. The autopilot doesn't work on nav mode and doesn't hold altitude (this isn't 'broken', it's been deactivated and has INOP indicators on the controls); the only mode that works is 'HDG' (heading) and that is so noted.

After that, we got back in. I'd been worried about flying the Pipers, because I'm a big guy and the only door is on the right (passenger) side, so the pilot must climb into the airplane and then 'scootch' across the front seats to get into the left seat (note: be sure to pull the handle for full flaps for the walkaround either before getting in to the plane, or after you've moved across to the passenger side on your way out. Otherwise, well, 'TALK TO ME GOOSE' will be your watchword). We buckled up, and lo and behold, there it was: the seatbelt on the pilot's side is an inertia reel (just like in a car). The problem with that is that it's got that annoying thing where if you let it retract at all from extended, it locks there until and unless you let it retract all the way back in. So immediately, it retracted in a few fits and starts to the point where I was plastered back against my seat and couldn't lean forward enough to reach the flaps or parking brake. I pushed the shoulder belt around behind me while keeping the lap belt, muttering imprecations while my CFI tried to control laughter and told me not to sweat it, I had noticeably lost weight. Glared at him.

We started up. This airplane is fuel-injected, so rather than having to worry about carb heat setting, you just pump the mixture full forward and then back to full lean, set the master to ON, set the electric fuel pump to ON, and turn the key to START (and press inwards). As soon as the engine catches, rather than dick around with the throttle, just set the mixture full rich (forward) and the engine settles down to around a 500-800 RPM idle.

Turned the electric pump off, set radios and taxied out to the hold line for the runup. This airplane you immediately pump to 2000 RPM with the throttle, then check magnetos first, then oil pressure, then oil temp, then suction; then you test the prop controls by cycling it from full decrease to full increase three times. First time, check that the RPM jumps. Second time, check that the manifold pressure drops. Third time check that the oil pressure drops. Then drop the power back to 1000 RPM and continue (flight instruments, transponder, radios, flight controls, flaps to 0, electric fuel pump back on for takeoff, autopilot set to OFF/OFF, etc. etc.) Finally we back-taxied for Three Two (busy day at 7B2 today, had perhaps 4 or 5 a/c in the pattern) and held in the pocket for a clear spot. Performed final pretakeoff checks - flaps zero, trim centered, alt engine air closed, mixture full rich, prop full increase, electric fuel pump ON, beacon/collision strobes ON, transponder to ALT, autopilot OFF/OFF. "Northampton traffic, Arrow 3783 Mike departing Three Two Northampton, departing the pattern to the northeast." Rolled power in and felt an immediate shove in my back - a 200HP engine with a constant-speed prop is certainly a different proposition from a 160HP constant-pitch - the Arrow moves right out as it heads down the runway. Also, unlike the Skyhawk, the rudder steering doesn't have a spring attachment but a direct connection, so it's much more difficult to stay straight - I ended up making very small S-curves as I taxied and through takeoff roll. Almost imperceptible, but I could see 'em.

At 65 knots (hooray, an airplane marked up in knots, finally!) I started applying back pressure. The controls feel much heavier on the Arrow. Eventually at around 74 kts it came unstuck. As soon as I had positive rate of climb, I started keeping an eye on how much runway was left. As soon as we were past the point where landing again was viable, I retracted the gear. There was a loud whining groan and then suddenly the airplane started speeding up, forcing me to pull the nose up to maintain a 90 knot Vy (best rate of climb). A set of small thumps told me the gear was up, as the three gear lights went out. I held it in the climb up to 5000 feet (we figured it was pretty damn bumpy, maybe it'd be better higher up - we were wrong, but oh well) and we headed out to the practice area.

As soon as I was above the pattern altitude, I set the electric fuel pump to OFF. Setting up for cruise once we hit 5000 involved setting the power to approximately 23" Hg, then setting the prop to 2400 RPM with the PROPELLER control. Once the prop had slowed to 2400, the power indicator had edged up to 24" Hg, which gave us the 24/24 cruise config. Reaching the practice area, we started off with regular turns, climbs, descents - all the standard maneuvers. Climbs we'd already done to get there - power to full, prop to 2400, pitch for 90 kts and up we goooo. The Arrow, with full gas, my instructor and myself in it maintained an average 750 FPM climb (I say averaged because the air was pretty bumpy). Descent - prop remained at 2400 while I dropped power to 18" Hg and pitched for 140 kts. We swanned gracefully downwards.

The Arrow flies very differently than the Skyhawk. Well, I take that back. It flies very similarly, but it reacts differently. Example - the 172, when hit by wind gusts, will react (if the gust has a crosswind component) by moving into a bank left or right, basically lowering the downwind wing as if you'd started a coordinated turn. If it's bouncing, it jumps left and right a bit and up and down, but if it takes a hard nudge it'll roll into a turn. The Arrow has a low wing with a lot of dihedral. This makes it stable, but it also means that when it takes side gusts, it 'swivels' more. The upwind wing moves forward a bit, and then settles. The effect is one of feeling like you're sitting on a rotating stool which is being gently rocked back and forth.

Also, the Arrow is faster. Like, noticeably. 12732 cruises at 110-120 MPH. 3783M cruises at 130-140 *Knots*. That's 35-40 MPH faster, and it's sure apparent. This airplane gets places quicker. Also, more important, when you're doing approaches and landings, you have less time to do things, because it moves around the pattern quicker! On the other hand, it's heavier and flies like it. It's harder to trim - I kept finding myself nose down, trimming up just a bit, and ending up trimmed in a climb. It's not because the trim is so sensitive, but because there's an approximately 15-20 second lag between trim inputs and the aircraft responding. That wasn't helped today by the constant updrafts and bumps.

So. Turning onto the downwind leg, I flipped on the electric fuel pump and dropped the gear (making sure I was at pattern altitude and below 125 kts - VLE is 129 kts) and the Arrow immediately slowed to around 100 kts as I got three green lights - gear down and locked. I found that I tend to start dropping altitude in the pattern a bit early, because I'm setting power before dropping the gear, and then find myself sinking once the gear is down. Abeam the numbers, I dropped power to 15" Hg and (since I was below 100 kts) put in 10 degrees of flaps and immediately checked the gear lights again to make sure it was still OK. Once the flaps were in, I pitched for 90 kts. Oh right. "Northampton traffic, Arrow 83 Mike is turning left base for Three Two Northampton, full stop." HA, I haven't called us 12732 yet!

Oh yeah. On base. Add second notch of flaps (25 degrees) and immediately check the gear. Still good. Pitch for 80 knots - there we go. Realized I was still moving quicker than I was used to, and turned final, making the appropriate radio call. As I got onto centerline - I'd overshot a bit, the Arrow was moving faster and was heavier - I added in the third notch of flaps, 40 degrees, checked gear and set the propeller to full increase since we were on final. As we came down, with me maneuvering to get 75 knots and centerline, while holding a bit of a sideslip to compensate for the 8 knot crosswind, I started to sink. My CFI confirmed that the Arrow sinks hard, and recommended carrying power over the threshold to compensate. I added in some power, and floated over the numbers a bit high. Pulled power out - and unlike the Skyhawk, we immediately sank like a rock. Added some back in - a bit too much - then fought to keep things straight and slow it down, and we touched down a bit long after porpoising a bit before touching tarmac. We made the second turnoff.

Did one more turn around the pattern, with the airplane behaving a bit better, then parked it and went to lunch. We took systems diagrams of the prop governor and propeller control systems. The prop is controlled hydraulically, with the prop control determining how much engine oil pressure to permit into the hub, where it operates an actuator to push against a spring. If the oil pressure drops, the spring will push the prop to full fine. In addition to the prop control, there is a governor. The governor has a rotating flywheel with flyweights on it. If the propeller starts to move more quickly or slowly - such as if the airflow impels it to, in a dive - the flyweights will move, allowing slightly more or less oil into the hub, and the prop pitch will change in the corresponding direction so that the rotation moves back to the desired RPM.

Woo complex.

In addition, we went over diagrams of the landing gear system. The actuators, being very narrow pistons, operate at up to 1500 P.S.I. (gulp)! Emergency procedures - we discussed the automatic gear extender (if the throttle is moved to idle below 90 knots, as measured by an independent pitot tube, the gear automatically extends) and how to override it (there's an override between the seats, which prevents autoextension and causes a yellow 'OVERRIDE' light to flash). We also talked about procedures for what to do if the indicators show something other than all three down and locked - step one (I hadn't thought of this) is to try switching the bulb from a lit indicator to the dead indicator to see if the problem is the bulb (which of course is infinitely preferable to a problem with the gear!) Step two, assuming the problem is with the gear, is to use the manual gear override. This releases the pressure in the landing gear hydraulic system by venting it to atmospheric. The gear and gear doors are held closed by hydraulic pressure, so if that pressure is removed, the gear should drop into place and, as per the design of the gear locks, lock themselves. If that doesn't happen for all three, you can waggle the plane - as soon as each gear moves past its point of maximum extension, it should lock into place.

After lunch, we went back to the airport, got back in the airplane and took off. This time, my CFI schooled and tested me on the operation of the Garmin 430 GPS system and the associated HSI, and we practiced using the autopilot with the GPS, as well as leaning the engine for cruise at altitude. Once we got that sorted out, we headed over to Orange Muni (KORE) and did several landings, with my landings improving slowly but steadily. It was still pretty bumpy though, and after the third landing, the local skydivers went up and announced their intention to drop midfield, so we headed back to our practice area and did steep turns, stalls (power on and power off), and a simulated engine out which led to me setting up for a landing on a field and taking it down to 1000 feet before getting my engine back. ;-)

Afterwards, we headed back to 7B2 and did a few landings. I bounced the last one again, and was swearing at myself, but my CFI said nope, I got gusted, so chill. Then we taxied back in, parked and shut down and went into the FBO. We had some more back-and-forth on systems and checklists, and then my CFI said "Gimme your logbook" and wrote my Complex endorsement into the back. Hooray!

So I'm now legally allowed to operate complex aircraft. Although, to be sure, the insurance policy for my school requires 10 hours of PIC time on a Complex before I can rent it solo, so we're going to take another short cross-country tomorrow to start building hours. I think we're going to go to T.F. Green airport (in Providence, RI) because I mentioned I wanted to practice operating a a 'real airport' with ground control, approach, tower and - woo - airliners on the field. So we'll see if there are any 737s or A319s or regionals we can waltz with over there.

COMPLEX AIRPLANE ENDORSEMENT. Wooohoooooo! Australia, here I come. More hours. MOAR. And maybe tailwheel!