The day after I passed my Private Pilot checkride in 2011, I showed up to work at the FBO. I worked as a lineman, and this gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with many pilots regularly, both those who passed through the FBO while traveling, and those who worked for the FBO. On this particular day, one of the pilots who worked there congratulated me on passing my checkride, and extended the opportunity to fly with him in a TBM 850 up to Portland and back. Yes please!
I remember the ride very clearly: My first flight in the flight levels. My first turbine flight. My first flight into PDX, and any class-C airport. The fastest airplane I had flown to date. How did a 44-hour, freshly-minted Private Pilot end up in the right seat of an 850-horsepower, $4 million dollar torpedo flying over the ground at 300 knots the day after his checkride? How fortunate! This was the first concrete flying opportunity that I experienced that began to teach me just how important networking is in this industry (and most other industries as well). I had been working at the FBO for about 8 months by then, showing up every single day after school, for just two hours, to clean the office, load freight into Ameriflight airplanes, and head home. If I was lucky, I would get to marshall an airplane and fill their cooler with ice, and if I was REALLY lucky, then I might get to step on board the airplane and check it out. I recall a brand new Falcon 7X being particularly impressive on one of these rare occasions, but I digress...
The pilot of the TBM let me assist on landing at PDX. During the flight back, he let me fly nearly the entire leg - and landing! What a rush! And I mean that in the excitement way and the literal way, because the entire approach to landing was incredibly fast compared to what I was used to. I had done most my training in a wimpy Cessna 150, where patterns were slow and lazy. Suddenly, I was screaming through downwind, working with extending landing gear, using electric flaps, etc. Thankfully I had a lot of help from the pilot!
I never forgot that experience. I was advised not to log that time, so I never did (though now that I think about it, I am pretty sure I could have, and I might make another investigation into it...), but the entire flight is still seared into my memory.
Fast forward almost 7 years to yesterday, exactly 6 days after passing my CFI checkride. I received a text from none other than that same pilot, asking me if I got my CFI yet. I told him yes, and he said that the owner of the TBM is looking to get his Private Pilots license at some point. He says that the owner of the TBM also owns a Cherokee, and he would like to spend time working with me to get trained up on it so that he can solo and eventually get his license. My pilot friend then extends and offer for me to fly with him today, in the owner's brand-new TBM 930, up to Hillsboro. The idea is to have me fly along on some of their trips so that during down time, we can go over ground school topics, and get the owner comfortable with me so that we can start flying the Cherokee. This time, I have networking AND getting my CFI to thank for this opportunity!
I flew both legs this time, and I am stunned as to how amazing that airplane is. The G3000 avionics, the speed and power, and the feel of it are just right. To date I have been fortunate enough to have flown a few Citations, Cessna Caravans, a Cessna 310 and 340, and wide variety of about 20 other small aircraft. This one has to take the cake for being my favorite. At the same time, I felt more intimidated than usual. The pilot I was flying with has over 6000 hours, but does not have his CFI. Maybe I felt as though I had to be absolutely perfect. The idea that I am legally allowed to train someone to fly, but my 6000-hour pilot friend is not is somewhat baffling. The airplane itself was also a factor. I've flown about 133 hours in a Caravan EX in Alaska, but this plane was no Caravan, even if it shared a similar power plant and was somewhat similar size.
Approaching Hillsboro, things were bumpy and I misheard my pilot friend. He said "slow up to put the gear down," but all I heard was "gear down." I reached out and dropped the gear. Woops! Nope, that wasn't right. Vle in the TBM was something in the 160s or 170s, and we were about 10-15 knots fast. I immediately began to retract the gear, mid-cycle. Double woops! Crap. "Gear Unsafe" annunciator was illuminated. My pilot friend tried extending and retracting the gear. It would extend and give 3-greens, but the Gear Unsafe light was still illuminated. We were on an extended and very wide downwind leg. The pilot took the controls, and I sat there thinking the worst: we were going to land this brand new, $4 million dollar airplane belly-up, either deliberately because the gear was not down, or the gear was going to collapse on touch down. Never mind what 3-green lights meant, I thought - this thing is toast. I just ruined this guy's brand new airplane. There goes my aviation career. Desperately, and wanting to be the best horrible copilot that I could be, I got the emergency checklist out and tried looking for a page that discussed the Gear Unsafe light. I finally found it while we were on short final. I mentioned to the pilot that there was a procedure for this, but he landed anyways, understanding that 3-green in the TBM meant they were down, and in fact, locked, as he told me afterwards. It was very, very gusty, with a strong crosswind, but we made it just fine. Come to find out, once my mind had calmed down and I actually read through the entire checklist calmly, it did mention that the flight could be continued with the gear unsafe annunciator illuminated anyways. "Well duh, you aren't going to fall out of the sky if your gear is unsafe," I thought, but what that really meant was that you could land normally with the annunciator on. All the annunciator required to be deactivated after landing was that the landing gear warning system had to be reset, which was easy to do by getting under the panel and pressing the reset button.
Everything turned out fine, but I still felt pretty lousy about it. Here I am, a commercial pilot and CFI with experience as a bush pilot in Alaska, a copilot on several Citations, and over 100 hours in a high-performance twin, and I was dumb enough to throw down the gear without checking airspeed myself or even thinking about confirming that we were below Vle in an unfamiliar airplane. Then I spent the whole next 5 minutes of the flight dreading the fact that I had totaled this guy's airplane instead of staying focused on fixing the issue. I've always considered myself a very cautious, detail-oriented, and safe pilot, but today's events have humbled me and made me realize that there is still some growing to be done.
My takeoff from Hillsboro this evening was not the best because winds were blowing straight across the runway. Not exactly a takeoff that I would have bragged about! Landing back home was also not too impressive. I was hot and high during the approach, and I flared way too early and got a stall warning as the airplane smacked the pavement (it probably wasn't that bad, but of course I remember it being pretty horrible). I suppose I was used to landing the Caravan, which sits much higher off the runway than the TBM 930. It was also nighttime, and I had not flown at night in about 15 months. Finally, this was my first landing in this airplane in about 6 years. But these are poor excuses, right?
Well, no, actually.
I am normally pretty hard on myself, and I have extremely high expectations my for my flying abilities. When I make a poor landing, I am very critical of it. I tend to think about it on the drive home and while falling asleep at night. I get a little bit of anxiety about landings on my way to the airport the next day. Will I land like that again? Will be bounce or float? Will the other pilot or passengers make comments about it? I need to be better. I need to nail it every time. I grew up playing Flight Simulator, and while my friends were good at sports and other things, and my adult friends were professionals in their fields, I decided that aviation would be the subject that I mastered. I think this, as well as some very sharp and tough flight instructors that I worked with, led me to only accept perfection from myself rather than only accepting my best efforts - which is much healthier.
I have flown 24 aircraft in 410 hours, with nearly 80% of that time in the following 4 aircraft: C150, C172, C208, C340. That means I have only spent, on average, about 4 hours in each of the 20 other aircraft in which I have flown over the past 7 years. In each one, I flew takeoffs, climbs, cruises, descents, and landings. How is anyone, let alone a low time pilot who flies an average of 60 hours per year, supposed to gain any sort of proficiency in an airplane with only 4 hours in it? Every airplane performs differently. Every airplane has different checklists and operating procedures, as well as different sight pictures, power settings, turning tendencies, bugs... the list goes on. To be hard on oneself for not nailing every landing in every new airplane is ridiculous, and this is something I need to work on.
No one is great at flying any airplane immediately. When you start training in something new, or even go back to an airplane that you have no flown in a long time, there will be a break in period. Landings will be rough and awkward, and odds are you may get behind the airplane a bit. The G3000 system is so powerful, and yet even with a fair amount of G1000 time and similarities between the two, I found myself overwhelmed with the system (and I am 24 and grew up with this stuff, not some technology-illiterate...less young person). But these things take time to learn and get used to, and I am sure I will see this both with myself as well as students. At the end of the day, this is just another great experience that I will be able to draw upon as an instructor and an aviator.
There was something cool about today, almost as if it came out of a story or something. My first flight after becoming a pilot was in a TBM to the Portland area. Likewise, 366 flight-hours and about 6 years later, my first flight after becoming a flight instructor was in a TBM to the Portland area. Both flights were challenging, for both similar and different reasons, and it showed me that I've grown as an aviator, and yet I still have much to learn - and that is okay.