Achieving New Heights in Aviation

For my STEP Project I trained on various aircraft types, from G1000 EFIS systems to high-performance, complex, and multi-engine airplanes. It took the majority of the summer, and I got exposed to many airframe types and gained multiple flying skills over the project.

The largest change for me was my understanding of how much I can achieve in aviation. With no prior experience in any other aircraft types, I was nervous moving on to bigger, faster, and much more complicated planes. Starting out I felt overwhelmed learning so many things at once in an already very fast-paced and stressful environment. I had not felt this way since my initial flight training years ago, and at first it was discouraging. However, as the hours passed and I solidified the knowledge and skill sets required to master these aircraft, I gained the confidence in my ability to move up in the aviation world. It was a big leap going from the safe and familiar six-pack Skyhawk to the other aircraft and avionics systems, but one that proved to me I have the ability to master any new system I dedicate myself to.

Until my STEP Project, I had only been exposed to one aircraft type: a conventional six-pack Cessna 172 Skyhawk. A very common training aircraft, it has many limitations which consequently make it an easy plane to fly. It is slow, simple, relatively light, has basic avionics (parts like instruments, radios, GPS, etc.), and was the only type of plane I had ever flown. For clarification, a high-performance airplane is one with greater than 200 horsepower and a complex airplane is one with three systems installed: flaps, an adjustable-pitch propeller, and retractable landing gear. The Skyhawk does not meet the criteria for either of these ratings. In order to achieve the goals I have in aviation, I needed to advance my capabilities by flying new systems along with larger and more complicated planes.

The first major obstacle was learning how to fly with a G1000 “glass cockpit” or EFIS, essentially an avionics system focusing around computers and screens rather than the typical round-gauge instruments and older radios. Learning how to work with an all-digital system after flying planes from the 1970s was a massive step for me. I was learning how to use everything again and was uncomfortable with the system until I had a few simulator and live flights with an instructor. During this process I also obtained my high-performance certification. By the time that training was done I was certified in the Cessna 182 Skylane, a bigger, faster, and more complicated version of the Skyhawk I was used to flying.

I then moved on to the biggest leap: flying complex, multi-engine planes. I learned very suddenly when I first started flying the Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche that two engines means there is more than twice the workload of a single-engine plane. Coupled with me still adapting to the glass cockpit and now complex airplanes as well, and I was in for the biggest test of my skills in all my time as a pilot. Unfortunately, due to maintenance issues with the available aircraft, I was unable to complete my multi-engine training. In fact, on my last flight I experienced my first (minor) emergency, when after takeoff my landing gear failed to retract. With the ability to get my multi-engine rating out of the question, I moved on to a different type of training.

I am currently trained in visual/VFR flight, meaning I can only fly when I have clear visibility. In order to fly in clouds, rain, and other times of poor visibility, one must have an instrument/IFR rating. This is a requirement for many volunteer aviation organizations due to the safety factor of being trained to fly in inclement weather, as VFR-only pilots flying in instrument conditions like clouds is the largest killer of general aviation pilots. Obtaining an instrument rating is a long process, and so I decided to start working towards it by the end of my project. I practiced instrument flying, doing approaches (landing in low visibility), and other aspects of instrument flight. I did not obtain my rating, although I did get a head-start on it as I start my official training this fall. During this time I also got certified another more advanced airplane, a Diamond DA-40 Diamond star.

The experiences I gained from this transformation have brought me closer to achieving my goal of using aviation for public service. As a member of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), I needed to build time and get trained on new systems in order to fly the CAP aircraft on missions. Now that I have experience with the G1000 and Cessna 182, I am currently preparing to take the CAPF-5 test to fly on missions. The hours and experience I got for instrument training also help me achieve my goal of flying for Angel Flight, a volunteer organization where pilots fly pediatric patients in need to their care centers. They require an instrument rating and also prefer flying larger and faster aircraft. With the jumpstart on multi-engine, complex, and instrument flying I received through my project, I am now even closer to achieving that goal of flying for Angel Flight.

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