There have been some issues in the last few weeks that prevented me from finding enough space and time to write anything.
Now, anyway, seems the good time to tell my experience about the transition from a Single Engine to a Multi Engine, something I’ve been waiting for a lot of time and was slightly complex to handle. But extremely rewarding.
The transition from a small SEP to a larger MEP, in my training, coincides with the issuing of the Commercial Pilot License, that is done in the same exam in which the MEP rating is released.
That means that the way to the CPL is not straight as one might believe, but there are a few hills and obstacles to go through. Basing my conclusions on my personal transition from an analogue Piper to the more advanced G1000 equipped Diamond DA42, I found some basic points that can be shared with any pilot going through the same path.
“Speed, I am speed”
The first thing that hits you right in the head it’s how fast that multi engine bloody thing travels. You find your reliable and accurate tempo in the Single Engine and, in the first flights, by the time you’ve completed the after take-off checks you’re already experiencing a level burst while leaving the airport zone. It’s messy in the beginning.
One eventually gets his/her head around it and gets used to this, but it’s something you have to experience a few times in flight, especially if your flying the Diamond.
It’s not just any MEP, it’s a self-aware machine that wants to climb and accelerate as soon as it can, and fine-trimming that aircraft, in the early flights, it’s quite a nightmare.
To give you an approximate value that allows you to have a basic clue of what I’m talking about. The Piper, in its brightest days, would cruise at about 110-120 knots true airspeed. It has an aspirated engine, so the power available decreases the higher you fly, because the air is way less dense.
The Diamond, in it’s normal cruise configuration, travels at 145 knots indicated airspeed, it’s not unusual to have a 160-180 knots groundspeed.
For a novice pilot, those 40-50 knots more (almost 90 kph) makes a lot of difference in the way one has to handle the aircraft. It’s like passing from a clapped out Alfa Romeo – ask Vittorio for further informations – to a Formula 1 car, as long as we’re not dealing with a SF1000. That would make no difference at all.
As I said at the beginning of the paragraph, one eventually gets used to it. Even though it’s challenging to refine the tempo and speed up the mental processes behind the handling of the aircraft.
VFR flights are still easier to adapt, because of the lesser number of checks and procedure the pilot has to take into account compared to an IFR flight, but they feature a different challenge: memorizing the attitudes for all the various phases of flights.
If you don’t know what I’m saying, when you fly VFR you should look at instruments only to confirm your attitude, the first thing is setting the attitude and trimming while looking outside, taking the horizon as the main reference to judge pitch and roll and the appropriate corrections. In a very simple single engine aircraft you have a few attitudes to memorize, but things can change when your plane increases in complexity, having more than a turn/cruise setting, including the asymmetric flight.
Never train your legs before an EFATO
In a single engine aircraft, an Engine Failure After Take-Off (EFATO) is rather straight forward to handle. You have no power output from the engine and you have to choose a field or, occasionally, you use the rest of the runway available to land.
In a multi-engine this changes like day and night. When you lose an engine, first of all, you have to control the aircraft that will yaw towards the live engine, entering a spiral dive if the symptoms (yaw -> roll -> pitch) are not counteracted in time.
After ensuring that the aircraft is under control you can execute your engine shutdown drills, always glancing at the ball and attitude indicator – or the natural horizon, if you’re flying VFR – to confirm that the aircraft is still keeping its heading and pitch attitude.
The issue is that the rudder pedals, especially on the DA42, are very hard when you have to push them all the way to counteract an engine failure and the pilot is supposed to use the rudder trim only once all the drills have been completed, with maximum continuous power restored on the live engine.
Trust me on this: don’t train your legs before practicing the EFATO, no “legday” ever in your career when your training in a multi-engine. First and only time I did this awful mistake I had a cramp right in the middle of the shutdown drills. It was complete crap, and painful as well.
If, and only if, your legs are properly relaxed before practicing the engine failure, you can probably enjoy it. Beside from the EFATO – during which, due to the low altitude, the engine is kept in a power setting that simulates a feathered propeller – I’ve practiced engine shutdown in flight. I ensure you that it’s interesting and weird at the same time to see an engine switched off while flying and the airplane still goes on.
Not a perfect twin
Forget the fact that, usually, bigger twin airplanes are designed to fly with a single engine.
Most, if not all, of the twin engine trainers are certificated as “light twin“, which means a lot of things.
First of all operations are widely restricted if compared to a proper twin engine. We can’t take-off with a single engine, we cannot rely fully on the airplane when one engine fails in the critical phases of flights.
Every pilot who ever flew one of those machines knows that, in case of engine failure, it’s often better to handle the emergency as if one was flying a single engine.
An example? In normal operations I could experience a pretty high rate of climb, exceeding 1000 feet per minute. When I practiced my first ever EFATO, things changed dramatically. Keeping the aircraft in balance and at a speed very close to, if not matching, the best rate of climb speed in single engine (VYse), I could barely reach 250-300 feet per minute. I lost, as the manual warned me earlier on, about 80% of the performance.
That could have no meaning if you were operating in a perfect airport surrounded by absolutely flat space, but if you have to respect a stricter climb gradient regulation (even tough sometimes is also hard to stay within the “default” ones of 3.33% for a departure and 2.5% for a missed approach procedure) you must plan accurately your contingency procedures. Most of times, climbing out on the procedure is not an option, and you either return to the airport or find somewhere else to land…
Things can change in the cruise. When I did the engine shutdown in flight, after trimming the controls and setting the proper power, the Diamond was still well able to maintain 110-120 knots indicated. You have all the performance you need to keep flying while planning, in a much more deliberate way, the continuation of flight (most probably to the nearest airport).
Even the descent and approach in asymmetric configuration are pretty interesting, especially during IFR flights, but as long as you don’t need to go-around, you still can fly at rather decent speeds.
The single lever
If you ever flew on the Diamond you already understood what I’m about to deal with.
I’ve been told that the DA42 is a pretty easy aircraft to fly due to the FADEC systems which leaves to the pilot a single lever to operate.
To explain this, I need to go a little bit deeper in the way a complex twin engine aircraft is designed. We have a variable pitch propeller that is able to change the propeller angle of attack, and that is usually actuated by the movement of a blue lever in the cockpit, which is the “third lever” of a piston engine, with the power and mixture levers to complete the throttle quadrant. The pilot, on a conventional MEP, is in charge of operating six levers, three for each engine, to control the engine parameters.
Now, Diamond took another path. The engines come directly from Mercedes (with a handful of little modifications) and they are the ones that the German factory uses on its A-Class model.
That means that, those Diesel engines, are perfect for a FADEC system that, by means of an Electronic Control Unit (ECU), controls all the engines stuffs. No need to give the pilot two more levers if you have a computer that calculates the perfect ratio of everything. Therefore, we have one lever for each engine with which we control the power, leaving the calculation of the necessary fuel flow and propeller speed to the ECU.
But, there’s a problem. Computers do like to fail, ECUs especially, and they are very keen on giving spurious cautions when they don’t fail. Especially when you use these kind of aircrafts for training, operating close to the engine limits, you can get the Christmas Tree lighting up on your Primary Flight Display…
I’ve had tons of talks with my instructor discussing wether or not the DA42 was much simpler to fly compare to a Seneca (which he operated) or any other conventional MEP. The answer has been: “not really”.
For the EFATO, the procedures do not change for the other MEPs, you still move only the power lever to confirm that the engine decided to finish its working day, and then you have just two more items in the checklist for the other levers. Even though the configurations for cruise, climb and descent are easier on the DA42, this aircraft has something that others lack: aerodynamics.
Aerodynamics means that this bloody machines is fast, and it’s way easier to lag behind it than it is while flying a Duchess. And aerodynamics is also a synonym of “slippery” for this aircraft. As I already said, it just wants to accelerate and climb, always. You often have to fight to let it decelerate. It’s incredible, and that makes it a difficult machine.
Now, basing on my very limited experience, I can’t say if the Diamond is easier to fly. Maybe we need a special episode of Mythbusters to get our head around this fact…
I’ve passed, in a couple of days, from operating a completely analogue instrumentation aircraft to a glass cockpit one, equipped with a G1000.
When you’re really into mental math, you enjoy the analogue instrumentation, and I’m strongly convinced that every pilot should learn on those instruments in order to be able to fly even when the technology might betray you and fail, but the Garmin is another level.
I mean, for the instrumental flights, I used to spend a good amount of time planning the headings to fly for my holding patterns, looking at the wind to determine the drift during the approaches… Now I have a TV screen which tells me how much I’m drifting, how much headwind/tailwind/crosswind I have, what’s my groundspeed… I just have to do basic and quick calculations to fly with a conspicuously higher precision.
It’s really astonishing how those systems changed general aviation. They make your life a lot easier, although they are a bit tricky to understand in the first days.
Even if for the CPL phase you use mostly the stand-by instruments due to the Visual Flight Rules, in the IFR phase the G1000 is essential in all its aspects.
Learning the flow, the keys and all the magic behind this equipment requires a bit of study, but most of it comes from practicing and practicing. It’s another complexity to take into account if switching to such an aircraft, but it’s simpler to fly as one gets more and more familiar with all the Garmin environment.
Anyway, I’m still keen on flying on old-style aircrafts, maybe with a Garmin G5 which is the perfect compromise between a fully digital avionics and the old gauges.
I think that flying IFR on those aircrafts can make one’s technique a lot stronger. As my instructor said once “The MFD is in your brain” if you spend a few hours per year flying on instruments with an analogue aircraft.
And, to finish, I feel a little guilty when flying glass cockpit airplanes, it’s like if I was cheating… Life is much easier, but the satisfaction of a perfect planned and executed holding pattern on a six-pack machine is the one of the highest levels of satisfaction you can feel.