The Value of Transition Training

By Scott Knowlton, EAA 413379, EAA Canadian Council

From time to time, I’ve been asked to provide a competency check for an aircraft insurance company. Typically this occurs when a pilot who has purchased an airplane they have little to no experience on seeks coverage from their insurance provider. Being a conservative, risk adverse underwriter, the insurance company will normally ask for 10 hours of competency training and a letter affirming such from a qualified flight instructor.

From the flight training standpoint, we call a check out on a new type transition training. The term “transition” is used because it describes the process of taking a pilot with their skill and experience on one aircraft type and linking this skill with that required to safely operate the new aircraft type. My most recent transition training — the subject of this article — took place with the new owner of a Piper Super Cub that was restored to better-than-factory condition. The pilot and owner, Alastair Hopkins, was a recently requalified Cessna 172 pilot, having taken a hiatus from flying for a few years. We shared a friend in common who suggested the two of us connect to facilitate the transition to the dream airplane he had just purchased.

Alastair Hopkins and his newly restored Super Cub.

I met Alastair up at my home field of Flamborough, Ontario, where he had arranged temporary tie-down of his Cub. We chatted for a few minutes and I learned that he had done some tailwheel conversion training several years ago, but also had just completed a float rating in preparation for sourcing and installing floats on his airplane. I had shared via email a very comprehensive Budd Davisson article on tailwheel flying a few days previously — something I always do in tailwheel conversion training. We discussed some general aspects like types of yaw, rudder inputs on take-off and landing, and the very important matter of “who’s flying the plane,” which one must be sure is understood when training in a tandem seat aircraft.

Super Cub at its temporary new home.

We looked over the aircraft together for a pre-flight, and I marvelled at the terrific workmanship of the fresh restoration. With a limited amount of daylight remaining we were both keen to get airborne, so I clambered in to the back seat and strapped in as Alastair completed his pre-start checklist. I observed his taxi skills and could tell he was already quite comfortable and competent handling the aircraft on the ground. Our takeoff roll was typically Super Cub short and his centreline tracking was excellent. Once airborne, he accelerated to 70 mph and began to climb away at an anemic 200-300 fpm. This took us through an opening rather than over a tree cut at the end of the runway. In my mind, I took a note to chat about best rate and best angle of climb, and when each would be worth using.

Checking the tie downs

Once outside the pattern, we picked a road and used an exercise that is excellent for regaining those proper foot movements on the rudder that are so important for good tailwheel operations. I had Alastair roll the aircraft left and right while maintaining his present track along the road. This is a very practical method of helping a pilot understand the roll/yaw relationship that is so necessary when landing a tailwheel aircraft. Once he demonstrated a reasonable mastery of the rudder, we moved on to slow flight to experience the slow flying qualities of the Super Cub. Alastair was quite impressed with the control response of the Cub, even at speeds as low as 40 mph with flap two. Stalls in that configuration were at a leisurely 37 mph.

We returned to the pattern for some circuits, the first one being flown by Alastair at 70 mph, and it soon became apparent that the airplane was being flown more like a Cessna 172. I prefer to do landings as full stops when providing transition training to take advantage of the practice opportunities of the back-taxi and to have time to debrief the most recent landing when the pilot I am with is less taxed and relaxed. We had a good conversation on our first back track about speeds, and I asked about his choice of 70 for the approach and climb out. “I’m used to a 172, and anything less than that feels really slow,” he commented. I reminded him of the incredibly low stall speed of the Super Cub and suggested his rate of climb and landing distance could both benefit if he flew them at closer to 55 mph. Agreeing to try, he was immediately rewarded by a 1,000 fpm climb and we both enjoyed flying with a significant margin over the trees rather than “through” them. The landing at 55 mph was a very different animal with far less lift reserve and a much shorter flare and roll out.

View from the rear seat

Over the course of the next several hours of training, we’ll focus on accuracy in the touch down point, forward slips and slipping turns, specialty take offs and landings, and finally hard surface landings, which can be a transition unto itself. Alastair is an engaged student with good motivation to learn his airplane, and truly wants to fly within the complete envelope of the Super Cub. I believe his training will make him a safe and competent pilot in the airplane, but also feel the work he has put in to this transition will make him a better pilot in any aircraft he flies.

I encourage every pilot to consider some form of periodic transition training. It doesn’t require the purchase of an aircraft. It could simply be a checkout on another type at your school or club, float training, ski flying, aerobatics, or perhaps an experience in gliders or ultralights. Because different aircraft require one to acquire different skills, transition training serves to make your toolbox of skills larger. The larger toolbox serves many purposes: one’s habits as a pilot become more refined and new or infrequently used skills are mastered. If transitioning to an airplane like a Cub, something like the sideslip could easily be used on a Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee in the future.

I enjoy watching a seasoned pilot work through the nuances of a new aircraft or type of flying. Part of it is the satisfaction they derive from perfecting something new, but moreover it is their confidence in their own abilities as they grow their toolbox. At the end of the day, we should never stop learning. Aviation is one of those amazing activities where the new learning opportunities are limitless. I hope I have convinced you to grow your own toolbox. You will be a better pilot for it.

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