BEST OF BOTH. Budd steps outside the comfort zone of his Pitts (left below) into a high-tech Cirrus. (above)
As I settled into the right seat—my usual, and comfortable instructor position—I was surprised at my attitude: For whatever reason, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the incredible “out-of-comfort-zone” conditions attached to what I was about to do—fly a Cirrus for the first time (more on that later). The contradictions between the Cirrus and my normal ride couldn’t have been more extreme if I had been in the space shuttle.
Why am I just now getting around to flying a Cirrus? The airplane is belly-button-common, and everyone and their brother has flown one. But not me. The opportunity just hasn’t been there, and the mission profile of a Cirrus—going from A to B as quickly as possible—doesn’t intersect with my world. Most of my world begins on downwind and ends at the pavement with an occasional excursion out to the practice area for a little high-G instruction.
The opportunity arrived in the form of an e-mail from Cirrus Aircraft regarding demo rides at a local aviation expo. I NEVER do that kind of thing, but apparently I thought it was time that I filled in that gap in my aviation experience. So, I dropped an “e” on the name at the bottom of the announcement, Dennis Wagner, Regional Sales Director, asking if I could get a demo flight. And I’m glad I did.
Even though he had no idea of my flying background (or that this would end up in a magazine, as he didn’t know I dabbled in words), Dennis did his level best to stay out of my way while I was flying his demonstrator, which showed his confidence in his airplane. And his airplane was as I expected: liquid smooth, lots of performance, reasonable handling and festooned with more buttons and glass than I had ever seen. But none of it even remotely worried me. Which I found a little weird! As he verbally took me through the Cirrus Perspective, it all made perfect sense. For that, I can probably thank the hundreds of hours of computer time I log a month, while doing a wide range of tasks. If I had been computer-phobic, it might have been another story. The fact that Cirrus has worked hard to make the user interface quite transparent and logical helped a lot, too.
All the time that we were in the airplane, it was obvious that Dennis was totally at home. It was equally as obvious, at least to me, that I wasn’t at home. I was actually having to cross-check more often than usual to nail the airspeeds, and had to think about flap speeds, etc. Nothing came easy, and I was actually working, a feeling I haven’t had for a long time. I obviously need to check out in new airplanes more often. I’m too airplane-specific and am losing my edge.
As I walked away from the airplane, I wondered if Dennis realized how far removed the flight we had just taken was from the flights I normally make. So, just for the fun of it, I talked him into another flight, but this time in my airplane. I’d put him in the driver’s seat and let him take us from the leading edge of technology back into the dark ages of airplane design and handling. I wanted us to go from glass to grass(roots) with no transition airplane in between. We both thought it would be fun. And it was.
First, it has to be said that Dennis was really a good sport about this and was more than a little excited: Even though he had zero tailwheel time and the same amount of time in Pitts-equivalent airplanes (there actually is no Pitts-equivalent), he welcomed the prospect of a new experience. I liked his attitude and I knew my airplane would like it, too.
After doing the rudimentary cockpit checkout (“To get it started, turn this, push that, and tower is 119.9. Have a good time.”), I turned it over to him on the taxiway, and he did an above-average job mastering the lack-of-visibility-induced drunken weave that is part of avoiding collisions with anything smaller than a medium-sized building. I did the actual takeoff, but gave it to him as soon as we were off the ground. His flight path may have been a little askew, as the pronounced P-factor tried to drag him off-center to the left, and he had a little trouble believing you could actually climb an airplane with the nose that high and not fall out of the sky, but otherwise, he appeared to be enjoying himself.
Out in the practice area, while doing keep-the-ball-centered exercises, I introduced him to his butt. (“Butt, meet Dennis, your owner. Dennis, meet your butt. Learn to listen to it.”) Then I sat with my hands in my lap as I talked him through a series of aileron rolls and loops. The completion of each was met with a terse sound of approval over the ICS with very few adjectives offered. (“Dennis? You okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay.”) The same thing was true when talking him through the landing approaches. He again did an above-average job on something he clearly had never even imagined, much less done.
Back at the hangar, after he had struggled out of the chute and got his head straightened out, his thoughts literally tumbled out: “I don’t know what words to use. I have so many things to say, but don’t know where to start. First, you’re right about the way the airplane shows everything you do wrong. In all honesty, inside my head, I’m beating myself up, right now, because of so many basic things I did wrong, when I clearly know better.
“I didn’t know I was holding outside aileron in turns. And I didn’t know my right foot was often resting on the rudder and driving the ball out. I don’t know that I’ve ever listened to my butt, when it has been talking to me all these years.
“I guess what I’m saying is that this is really flying! I should have done this 40 years ago! It would have made me a better pilot.”
Among the things I learned when Dennis and I traded cockpits was that the basics apply, regardless of how much glass is involved.
So, anyone with a modern airplane wanna give me a ride? Or a Columbia? I’ll trade you a Pitts ride! Help put this old country boy back in the type-hunting groove.