A new air­plane’s fi­nan­cial learn­ing curve

A NEW AIR­PLANE COMES AT­TACHED WITH A FI­NAN­CIAL LEARN­ING CURVE

Flying - - CONTENTS - By Dick Karl

SOME­TIMES IT IS HARD TO TELL THE DIF­FER­ENCE BE­TWEEN BE­ING CARE­FULLY AG­GRES­SIVE, AS IN CON­FI­DENTLY ON THE HUNT, AND BE­ING FOOL­ISH.

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 sonin-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 (builtin 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-timein-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!”

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