The lack of transition training has been cited as a causal factor in many GA accidents. Accidents frequently result from pilots being unprepared for challenges presented by the new, or different, aircraft they are flying. Even when pilots are legally certificated to operate aircraft within a specific category and class, significant differences can exist among different types of aircraft within that category and class — thus necessitating the need for effective transition training.
Even aircraft that pilots have flown before may require transition training or at least thorough familiarization flights if they have been modified. Aircraft modifications not only increase utility and performance, but they may alter flight characteristics as well. For example, vortex generators may decrease stall speed, but they may also reduce aerodynamic indications of approaching stalls. And aircraft with multiple alterations may exhibit flight characteristics that are different from those associated with single modifications. This means that pilots must be especially careful when transitioning to modified aircraft – even if they have extensive experience with the unmodified versions.
If you’ve got an aircraft that’s been modified, here are some tips to consider when taking your first flight:
- Regardless of any testing the installer may have done, your first flight in a modified aircraft will be a test flight. Advisory Circular 0-89B, Amateur-Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook, Section 4 (https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/advisory_circulars/index.cfm/go/document.information/documentid/1027429) provides excellent guidance on test flying. You may not be conducting a full test program, but a review of the content will give you some useful information on test flying.
- It’s a good idea to engage a flight instructor who’s familiar with the aircraft and its modifications to assist you in your transition.
- Give yourself plenty of altitude.
- Take it slowly – don’t try to win a short field landing contest or demonstrate ultimate performance right away. Ease into the altered performance envelope. Make sure you have good VFR weather, plenty of altitude, and long runways for the test flight(s)
Finally, here are some tips and tricks to help you avoid a loss of control accident when transitioning to a new or modified aircraft:
- Give yourself some room - Most stall/spin/crash sequences begin close to the ground. Many happen in the traffic pattern so, when you’re thinking about going slow, don’t think low at the same time. Practice slow speed maneuvering at altitude where you have time to recover from a stall or spin. Do this regularly to maintain proficiency.
- Manage distractions - Learn to manage distractions – especially while maneuvering close to the ground. Keep a sterile cockpit while in departure and approach flight segments and while maneuvering. Make sure the aircraft is stable before copying ATC instructions, changing charts, reviewing approach, etc. Assign a second pilot or a passenger to help you scan for traffic.
- Fly by – not around - When viewing scenery or photographing subjects on the ground, fly by your target in straight and level flight, then turn and fly by in the opposite direction. Concentrate on the mission task while stable, then concentrate on the turn. This is also a good time to have a second pilot aboard to share the workload.
- Document your personal performance - Do this at mission weight and in the environment you’ll be operating in. This will tell you what you’re capable of doing with the aircraft.
- Seek regular refresher training - Even though your transition training was excellent, regular proficiency training will keep you at the top of your game. We recommend a refresher within six months of your original transition training and an annual checkup after that. The Wings Pilot Proficiency Program is an excellent way to keep your skills sharp and your Flight Review up to date.
- And finally, practice - It’s amazing how quickly pilot skills can go from razor sharp to not so hot. Regular practice is essential to keep you at the top of your game so fly as often as you can. You’ll aviate with confidence and besides – it’s fun.
See our FlySafe fact sheet for more tips on transition training: https://www.faa.gov/sites/faa.gov/files/2022-01/Transition%20Training.pdf