4 min read

Do you remember that feeling you had when you took your very first flight lesson? That feeling of pure excitement under a veneer of unbridled terror. Yeah, that one. Well, for better or worse, that feeling had been completely drained out of me. Now, when I walk up to one of my club’s single-engine pistons, it’s all business; I have a routine and neither excitement nor terror are even remotely part of it.

Comanche

When I walk up to one of my club’s single-engine pistons, it’s all business.

However, on one very fine VFR afternoon, all those first flight jitters came roaring back as I decided that I was going to get my complex endorsement at my local flight school – never mind the fact that I fly in a club whose fleet doesn’t have a single retract in it nor does it have any aspirations to acquire one. Yet there I was about to get checked out in a Piper Arrow feeling like I have never flown an airplane before.

Here’s the thing: When I was first learning to fly and constantly trying to non-intentionally cause my CFI severe bodily harm (sorry Pete!), I could hide behind the fact that I was, well, learning to fly and thus had no idea what I was doing. However, now as a commercial pilot, I felt I needed to prove to myself that I did know what I was doing and getting a sign off was going to be a no big deal.

Anyway, after a fascinating ground session and a routine preflight with one of the school’s CFIs, I was finally ready to get this party started. However, as soon as I climbed into the cockpit I was immediately bewildered; the Arrow’s panel was a mishmash of glass, steam, lots of no-op stickers, and everything in between – typical flight school fare. It took me no less than half a minute to even find the avionics master switch. Lovely.

The CFI made me go through the checklist item by item. Totally reasonable. Except that since I’m more of a flow-then-verify kinda guy than a read-every-single-line-and-do kinda one, my run-up took forever. This culminated into me missing a few minor items in the process which only exacerbated my feelings of inadequacy.

When we finally got to the hold-short line, I asked if he uses flaps on take-off since the POH just says “as required”. He said it’s totally optional and up to me. I opted against it for simplicity’s sake and then announced on CTAF my imminent departure. Fuel pump on. Lights on. Here we go.

I slowly pushed the throttle forward while keeping an eye on the cornucopia of both digital and analog engine gauges. All green. Airspeed was also now suddenly alive and with a little extra rudder I was holding centerline nicely. I made all my callouts and lift off.

As soon as we were off the ground though, I pushed the gear lever up while proudly shouting, “Positive rate! Gear up!” I felt like a total pro. I got this. Then the CFI immediately looked over at me and said, “Too soon. Verify you have negative runway before you even think of touching that lever.” So much for that.

Most of my checkout once airborne was more about me getting a feel of how the Arrow stalls, turns – all the usual primary stuff. However, we did cover various emergencies related to the gear. All went well. In fact, by the time we headed back from the practice area, I was feeling a lot more confident in my airmanship – until I had to land that is.

piper arrow

Most of my checkout once airborne was more about me getting a feel of how the Arrow stalls.

The first time I tried to land, I had the stall horn go off on base because I was too slow. The second time I was too fast and had to go around. After the third time around the pattern, I finally landed, and the lesson was over.

I got out of the airplane with my pride completely shattered. I was positive he was going to call the FAA and ask them to revoke my license. To my surprise, he turned to me and said, “One or two more lessons and you’ll be fine.” I was taken back and thought he was having some kind of mental episode. He laughed at me and then continued, “Listen, whether you have five or five thousand hours, the first time flying a new airplane is going to be a humbling experience. You clearly know how to fly; you just need more time.” And sure enough, after two more lessons, he signed my book, and I had my endorsement.

Looking back on it now, I realize that earning that signature had very little to do with learning how to operate a gear lever but more so about my mind and body adjusting to how the Arrow reacted to different power settings and configurations. Flying is proprioceptive, and the Arrow once again reminded me of that fact. So, in the end, it turned out that getting checked out in a complex wasn’t so complex after all. Who knew?

Alexander Sack
Latest posts by Alexander Sack (see all)
10 replies
  1. Bill Larkin
    Bill Larkin says:

    My first time instruction on the Arrow
    I pulled the power back too soon,
    the T tail looses authority unlike the
    Archer I was used to flying. The Arrow sank immediately and I just had the immediate action to push
    the power back on to avoid a disaster.

    Reply
    • Alexander Sack
      Alexander Sack says:

      You know, to be completely honest, I didn’t notice much difference with the T despite the heap of warnings I received researching online. In the end, it was fine (though it did add to my general nervousness). I can imagine though if one gets too slow down low, it won’t be nearly as effective.

      Reply
  2. OngoingFreedom
    OngoingFreedom says:

    “As soon as we were off the ground though, I pushed the gear lever up while proudly shouting, “Positive rate! Gear up!” I felt like a total pro. I got this. Then the CFI immediately looked over at me and said, “Too soon. Verify you have negative runway before you even think of touching that lever.””

    The CFI’s direction of when to pull the gear up is very common and well-meaning but in my opinion, wrong. IMO most singles, most of the time should be handled as the author intuited.

    Discuss?

    Reply
    • Alexander Sack
      Alexander Sack says:

      I have asked around after this happened: Most complex owners seem to pull the gear level up as soon as they see positive rate (regardless of how much runway is in front of them). Others though will wait until a certain altitude.

      I also feel depending on your how fast your gear actuates (think the ballet that occurs in a 177RG or 210 vs. the thunk of an M20) may ultimately determine your gear level up calculus. I’m not sure at this point there is a single right answer.

      Reply
    • Todd Bohon
      Todd Bohon says:

      “ Positive rate, gear up” is a good technique in a twin— you’ve made the decision to fly, and, if an engine fails immediately after takeoff the drag reduction will enable you to achieve and maintain Vyse, assuming identifying and securing the dead engine is handled promptly and correctly. In a single , having the gear down as long as runway remains under the aircraft makes an engine failure immediately after takeoff a simple matter of pushing the nose forward to maintain speed, selecting landing flaps if possible, and landing on the remaining runway. Not so if the gear is in transit or already up— Even with runway remaining you may not have enough time to get the gear back down before contacting the runway. For this reason traditionally the guidance has been to leave the gear down on takeoff in a complex single until no runway remains to land on, or “ negative runway “ as indicated here.

      If memory serves me correctly , in this case the Arrow’s gear safety system would, unless overridden on takeoff, deploy the gear automatically when manifold pressure is less than 13-15 inches AND IAS is 90Kts or less. No such system exists on aircraft like Bonanza’s or Mooney’s though.

      Training with the airline mindset os “ positive rate (or climb), gear up” is excellent technique for multi-engine airplanes, but different procedures should be considered for retract singles.

      Todd, CFI, MEI, ATP-B777, 767, 737

      Reply
    • Todd Bohon
      Todd Bohon says:

      Todd Bohon
      Todd Bohon
      February 13, 2024 at 2:55 am
      “ Positive rate, gear up” is a good technique in a twin— you’ve made the decision to fly, and, if an engine fails immediately after takeoff the drag reduction will enable you to achieve and maintain Vyse, assuming identifying and securing the dead engine is handled promptly and correctly. In a single , having the gear down as long as runway remains under the aircraft makes an engine failure immediately after takeoff a simple matter of pushing the nose forward to maintain speed, selecting landing flaps if possible, and landing on the remaining runway. Not so if the gear is in transit or already up— Even with runway remaining you may not have enough time to get the gear back down before contacting the runway. For this reason traditionally the guidance has been to leave the gear down on takeoff in a complex single until no runway remains to land on, or “ negative runway “ as indicated here.

      If memory serves me correctly , in this case the Arrow’s gear safety system would, unless overridden on takeoff, deploy the gear automatically when manifold pressure is less than 13-15 inches AND IAS is 90Kts or less. No such system exists on aircraft like Bonanza’s or Mooney’s though.

      Training with the airline mindset os “ positive rate (or climb), gear up” is excellent technique for multi-engine airplanes, but different procedures should be considered for retract singles.

      Todd, CFI, MEI, ATP-B777, 767, 737

      Reply
  3. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    I got my complex rating in a 182 RG. It doesn’t fly or handle like a 172. It’s quite nose heavy, and sinks like a brick if you’re not careful. Especially with the gear down.

    My instructor went over everything. With the exception of when you try to land with the gear up. That’s a noise no one wants to hear. Ever again….

    Reply

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