Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

District of Columbia

A turbocharged manifestation of desire

District of ColumbiaWhen you fly different-make and -model airplanes, it can be hard to keep them straight in your radio calls. I’ve called a TBM, flying at FL280, a Cirrus. I’ve called a Diamond Star a Cessna, and I’ve called a Warrior a Husky. Usually, I catch myself immediately and correct my call, but there are times in life when calling something, or someone, by the wrong name can be hazardous to one’s health. A radio call generally isn’t one of them. That’s why I’ve decided to call any airplane I’m pilot-testing, “Baby.” So last week, when I was just getting my feet wet with a 12-hour-old Columbia 400, after botching a few radio calls, the airplane thence became Baby N452BS, and that’s no bravo sierra.

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As we approached Redmond Airport for an ILS and a few touch-and-goes, I started to groove on the speed brakes. I like them, and they do what their name says very well since the slick 400 tends to gather its steam with the nose pointed down. Some may say that if pilots in a plane like this plan their approach well, they won’t need the Precise Flight SpeedBrakes, which are deployable at any speed. Well, to those pilots I say, in many instances that may be true—I didn’t always need to use them—but sometimes they were a nice-to-have tool and other times, like when I was stuck behind much slower traffic in sequence at Santa Monica Airport with altitude yet to lose, they helped me keep my good spacing and were fine to keep extended through landing.

Landing—now here’s another little, perhaps nitpicky, issue I have with the venerable 400. The flaps are really quite effective, and with a takeoff flap speed of 127, they can come out early to help maintain a smooth approach profile. With full flaps selected, the 400 becomes almost Cessna-like in its nose-down attitude. But that’s fine; it’s the 400’s limited nose-up elevator authority that can be a smidge problematic; I’d really love just a bit more up elevator. As such, the 400 lands quite flat. I was a little concerned about landing nosewheel first, but I never came close to worrying about a tail strike.

Because I was “the decider” in this District of Columbia, I decided to see the autopilot fly the ILS coupled. It did so smoothly and precisely, with no hunting or switching back as it captured the final approach course and flew a seamless approach to my click-off point at decision height. Can you tell I really like this autopilot?

Later that afternoon, I launched again in Baby N452BS, this time with Doug, and I pointed south, planning to slide on in to Palo Alto Airport via the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Departing Bend, we climbed unimpeded in 15.5 minutes to our cruising altitude of 17,500 feet. At top of climb, Doug showed me his quiet cruise setting: 31 inches MP and 2,400 rpm, burning about 17 gph lean of peak. The book called this 85% power, and it trued us out to 195 knots. Dialing in 2,500 rpm, we gained only a couple knots, but the noise level increased markedly. At my preferred 2,400 rpm, with my Bose headset, the noise level in the 400 was remarkably low—I heard almost slipstream only.

On this cross-country flight, I had more time to fiddle with the G1000 and its READY Pad remote entry system. Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours “flying” the Falcon 900EX EASy Level D simulator at Flight Safety in Teterboro, N.J. The Falcon’s EASy system is a next-gen integrated flight deck whose flight management system (FMS) is controlled by what Dassault calls a Cursor Control Device (CCD)—a trackball, which moves a large crosshair over a graphical depiction of FMS functions, including flight plan, weight and balance, fuel load and performance data; it’s remarkably intuitive and very Mac-like. The READY Pad reminded me of the remote-entry CCD in the Falcon. I loved it, though I would have loved it more if Garmin located another “Enter” button closer to the knobs at the top of the unit. Regardless of my picayune desires, the READY Pad made control of both the PFD and MFD, and paging and flight-plan entry, a snap.


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