Saturday, 10 April 2010

Flying something bigger

Today saw the PPL/IR spring meeting, and the descent upon Cambridge Airport of lots of Instrument Rated pilots.  There were interesting talks on IAP design, flying GPS approaches and survival equipment as well as a chance to chinwag with like minded individuals.

The Commander was booked out by another group member for the weekend to take over to Dublin, so I was left without a steed for the day.  A couple of phone calls to contacts turned up a spare seat (or 5!) in a Cessna 340A, G-CCXJ going to the meeting from Liverpool.  A quick call to the pilot concerned and he was only too happy to have me along.

Cessna 340A G-CCXJ

The Cessna 340 is a 6 seat, pressurised, twin turbocharged engine light twin.  It is considerably heavier than the Commander at almost twice the weight, and is certainly much larger.  After entering via the clamshell airstair, I made my way up to the right hand seat as Paul started her up.  We were quickly on our way and at 165kts, and I was given control.  Once airborne, there really isn't that much different to flying this type of aircraft than those I have flown in the past.  In under an hour, we were making contact with Cambridge and after holding outside their ATZ for a couple of minutes due to the volume of incoming traffic we were invited in to join on crosswind for runway 23.  I flew into the circuit but handed back control for the tight turns to final and the landing as this wasn't the situation to be going around!

It was a beautiful day so to avoid the heat inside getting uncomfortable for the return trip, we left the upper half of the clamshell door and the storm windows open.  A wise move - no stuffiness detected when we climbed back in later on!  I went up front and sat in the right had seat again while Paul did the walk around.  When he came back he asked if I'd like to conduct the return flight from the left hand seat!  Never one to pass up an opportunity I slid across and belted myself in.  As most of the switches including engine start controls are only accessible from the left seat, Paul guided me through starting the engines and preparing us for flight and then simply instructed me to taxy.  Again, this isn't too dissimilar to any other aircraft I've flown except for the use of differential thrust to turn tightly.  As the name implies, if you need to turn tightly you advance the throttle on the outside engine which in combination with the normal nose wheel steering helps get you round without too much effort.

After a short briefing on applying the throttles for takeoff - this aircraft has automatic wastegate control so no danger of overboosting the turbos - we were off, climbing at 130kts and over 1500fpm.  A left turn out and course set for Liverpool had us levelling at 4000ft and the day called for nothing more than VFR flying.

En route, Paul wanted to empty some of the fuel tanks as we had been left in an unbalanced situation and this needed to be rectified.  This involves flying using a very nearly empty tank until the fuel flow drops, indicating that the tank is now truly empty, and then switching to an alternate tank.  If the switch happens in time, the only indication is from the fuel flow meter and there is no drama at all.  This is exactly what happened.  At least, on the first tank we ran dry!  It seems that we weren't quite ready for the second one so the left engine did actually lose power.  Despite the dire warnings that an engine failure in a twin is a terrible thing to behold, at least in the cruise it's almost a non-event.  The dead engine/dead leg mantra is not even thought about as the engine loses power and it's an instinctive reaction to press the correct rudder pedal to keep the aircraft balanced.  I'm told (and firmly believe) that at slower speeds an engine failure is most certainly an event and will take the full attention of the twin pilot to control.  In our case, resetting the fuel selector position brought the engine back to life and my first twin engine failure was over almost as quickly as it began.

After a steady descent the familiar entry via Oulton Park into Liverpool's airspace was easily accomplished, and following an orbit at the south bank of the river Mersey for traffic reasons, we joined on a left base for runway 09.  Paul was generous (and trusting) enough to allow me to fly 'XJ all the way onto the runway and taxy her to the parking spot back on the GA ramp.

It was a fantastic day out - a wonderful day to fly, the chance to fly something new and an interesting meeting at the other end.  My thanks to Paul for the opportunity to conduct the flying and the lift to Cambridge, and to PPL/IR for organising the event.  It's just a shame Paul's not an instructor so I can't log the flight!

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