I recently added a multi-engine rating to my commercial certificate and it was one of the most fascinating experiences of my 30+ year flying career.
I want to share the story because I’ve always wanted to write something for Air Facts. I’ve read the blog since its launch and, like many of you reading this, I’ve gathered a great deal from the pilots who have shared their experiences – especially Richard Collins, who for many years in various publications and books has informed my approach to flying in a transformative way. I am thankful for Air Facts and want to give back in some small way.
Obtaining the rating was a bucket list thing. In light of the time available to me for flying, I chose to do an accelerated program held over a weekend to minimize the impact on my work schedule. I thought it would be easier to carve out a few days for concentrated training as opposed to a more traditional nights-and-weekends approach. A flying mentor had recommended a long-established school based in Groton, Connecticut, which was within several hours drive of home. By the time the training weekend arrived a good friend decided to join me. We would do the program together.
Because the schedule is so compressed, the school sent a packet to be studied prior to arrival for training. Besides a POH for the training airplane, they sent along a list of normal and emergency procedures, great introductory articles to flying twins and an open book exam. On several pages of the material were the words, “You must memorize this!” This proved to be good advice since emergencies require the correct combination of thought and action in a short period of time – especially in twin-engine airplanes. As the weekend approached, I spent increasing amounts of time reviewing the procedures and “chair flying” the emergency procedures – mostly focused on engine outs.
We began the adventure first thing on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning in early May with a briefing on the process we would follow that weekend, a ground review of the exam, and document review that would become our form 8710, the FAA application for a new rating.
Our first flight was that afternoon in a 1974 vintage Piper Seneca I. Preflighting a twin was the immediate start of the “this is really different” moments over four days. Two engines, two alternators, two vacuum pumps, eight fuel sumps, six seats, two of every engine control, two somethings called cross feed. Oh my! But that was only the beginning.
Ground handling of the airplane was a clumsy affair at the start. Trying to move two throttles together, learning to turn while taxiing (using differential power is very helpful) and just trying to stay on the centerline of the taxiway smoothly consumed most of my brain at the beginning. To say that the airplane felt different is an understatement! Frankly, I was a bit surprised at how awkward it was at the beginning and I hadn’t left the ground yet.
The first takeoff seemed to occur so quickly that the airplane was in the air and my brain was still on the ground. The liftoff was at 85 MPH with a climb speed of 105 MPH (blue line). As I think back on it, a number of factors conspired against me at the beginning: a very different sight picture from the majority of my time flying high wing, single engine airplanes, the recency of giving instruction from the right seat and lot of flights in G1000 glass cockpits. The Seneca was totally an old school six-pack instrument layout complete with separate CDIs for the nav radios. I found myself repeating the mantra, “aviate, navigate, communicate” to the guy sitting in my seat at first because I was so overwhelmed! First: fly the airplane!
The first flight was all about familiarization. We went out to the practice area and it was there that the real fun began. Flying at minimum controllable airspeed, stalls and steep turns were similar to their single-engine equivalents. However, there were new ones to be learned, like something called a Vmc demo which explores the condition when a twin flying on a single engine runs out of rudder authority.
We simulated engine failures and quickly learned to appreciate the technique of “identify and verify” to make sure that we were sure of which engine was inoperative before taking further action. We learned to do a precautionary engine shutdown. We then returned for a landing.
What struck me at the end of the first flight was how fast we flew the pattern. Our downwind speed (120 MPH) is quite close the cruise speed of the Cessna 172 in which I teach. Speed on short final is 90 MPH so still we’re moving right along before touchdown. Landing (not bad), debrief with the instructor, dinner, study, an adult beverage and the first day was in the books. Wow, it went fast. But we had two more instructional days to go and much to learn before the flight test.
As any good instructional program, we spent the next two days building on and refining the skills we were learning. We practiced everything, including our engine failure checklist (perhaps more than anything else), flew a number of single-engine IFR approaches under the hood, and a healthy dose of pattern work to polish our skills. I was encouraged that I didn’t feel so behind the airplane after just a few hours of flying it. Principles of safe twin flying were reinforced too. Careful attention to critical airspeeds like “red line” and “blue line” (also known as Vmc and Vyse) and planning for what happens after an engine failure in cruise flight in high terrain. Lots of “what ifs” to prepare for the oral portion of the flight test.
My partner and I flew together, taking turns in the “hot seat.” One would be the PIC and the other sat in back getting the techniques reinforced by watching his partner perform all the same things. My strongest memory of this time was when my partner shut off the magnetos of the good engine while running the securing engine checklist for one of the first times. It got awfully quiet in that cockpit for a moment. Simply put, it was invaluable to watch somebody else do all of the training. It encourages me to look for ways to have others in the airplane while giving instruction in the future. There was also the camaraderie from doing this with somebody I know. We truly did this as a team and I can’t recommend strongly enough how helpful it is to work together when faced with such a tight time window and a big goal.
There were a few things that I learned along the way that I could have done better:
- The importance of preparation. As I look back I should have been a bit more diligent in memorizing checklists, speeds and maneuvers.
- There is great power in learning a new flying skill together. So glad I did this with my buddy.
- Like every other certificate and rating that I have earned, this one is a license to practice.