Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

License Next Step: Commercial Certificate


AFIT’s accelerated Commercial Pilot program adds finesse, control and the ability to get paid


Flight planning is part of every commercial pilot's skill set. Smooth flying and consistent approaches are a hallmark of advanced training.

Dancing With A Pig
The turbo Cessna 210J Centurion is a heap of airplane. Designed with a laminar flow, cantilevered (no strut), high-dihedral wing, the airplane loves speed and altitude, but hates mushing around slowly or being asked to make a lot of aerial changes quickly. It's made to go far, fast and high, and gives even today's Cirrus a run for its (considerably more) money. With an easy cruise at 170 knots in the flight levels, it's a performer. However, it's also known for its lumbering pitch performance. Some owners have given it the affectionate nickname of "pig." For me, taking the 210 through the commercial repertoire was like coaxing a ballet from a weight lifter. After a series of slow flights, I had to ask John to take the controls while I shook the cramps out of my arm muscles.

At first, I was intimidated by the 340 hp, turbocharged monster. But, I quickly became comfortable with her and even grew to love the old gal. A superb airplane with crisp roll response and a roomy cabin, it shows that Cessna was an innovator even back in the '60s. I heard Cessna improved the elevator feel on later models, making a good airplane even better.

What It's Like
Earning the commercial rating is in some ways more difficult than the instrument, but in other ways, more fun. First, it's all VFR so you can set aside the instrument complexities for 20 hours or so. The idea is total mastery of your aircraft. What you're doing is refining your seat-of-the-pants stick-and-rudder skills. You're learning to fly the airplane with more positive control, so you don't become just a "systems operator" that can't handle a visual approach (as we saw with the Asiana crash last year).

It's also a chance to root out and correct bad habits. During our many conversations, John had picked up that I fly high approaches in my biplane. My Great Lakes 2T-1A has the glide ratio of a Coke machine, and I can be 800 feet over the threshold and still make the first turnoff. John perceived this and changed how I flew the approach in the 210. "You want your first power reduction on downwind opposite the numbers," he said. "Then you want to lose 300 feet until your base turn, 200 feet on base, then 300 feet on final. You want to almost brush the threshold lights." Though it felt awkward at first, the stabilized pattern was much more suited to the 210. Now, I can tailor the approach to the airplane more effectively than I would have before. The systematic approach is what works for commercial flying.

AFIT knows how to get students ready not just for the checkride, but for real-world flying. After the gauntlet that John put me through, the checkride was almost playtime. I felt confident and sure as I talked through each maneuver, explaining what was happening, just like an instructor would. It's a thing John taught me, and helped me keep my "checkride-itis" at bay, though I thoroughly enjoy flying with this particular DPE, Dan Smith.

As we finished the checkride and ambled back to the FBO, I wondered if I had demonstrated enough "mastery of the airplane." John and another pilot were waiting. "Say, do you know any professional pilots that could fly me and my buddy to Birmingham?" John joked to my DPE, wondering if I had passed. "I sure do," said Dan, "How about this guy right here? He just passed his checkride."



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