Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Living Large

Transitioning from a piston to a turbine

Cessna Citation Mustang
Should you lose an engine just before you reach V1, you need enough pavement remaining to stop on the runway. This so-called accelerate-stop distance determines whether a runway can be used to safely depart. Aircraft weight, field elevation and air temperature play a big part in how much runway will be needed, so it's important to make this computation for every takeoff.

In any single, you're pretty much on your own if you lose an engine; however, with two turbine engines, the FAA requires sufficient performance to take off and safely return to an airport on one engine. The rules are a bit complicated, but this requirement may affect your ability to meet required climb gradients on an instrument departure if you lose an engine. In any light jet, single-engine climb performance will be greatly reduced when departing a high-elevation airport when it's hot. For part 91 operators, specified climb gradients must be met with two engines, but the operator must have a plan for handling an engine failure, which can be a problem when instrument conditions prevail. So, if it's IMC and hot, you may be grounded at a high-elevation airport until things cool down.

For landing, the final approach is flown at a reference speed (Vref) of 1.3 times Vso at the aircraft landing weight. In the jet world, speed control is critical, and flying an approach at Vref ensures that the aircraft will achieve book-landing distance. Many light jets have outstanding antilock brakes but no reverse thrust, so surface-braking reports become very important when the runway is anything but dry. All turboprops have the ability to reverse prop pitch slightly for braking so they can generally handle shorter runways than most jets.

Beechcraft Premier and King Air
What The FAA Wants Up Front

To fly a single engine, pressurized turboprop above 18,000 feet, you'll need at least a private license, complex and high-performance airplane training endorsements, an instrument rating and a high-altitude training endorsement (61.31g). You'll also need RVSM training if you want to operate above FL 280. A multi-engine rating will be needed if your airplane of choice has more than one engine. In order to make the jump into the jet world, you're also going to need a type rating and maybe some FAA-mandated mentor time.

Getting Insured

Like it or not, if you can afford to fly your own turbine airplane, you're going to need insurance. At the very minimum, every carrier will want to see at least 300 hours in your logbook before they'll insure a jump into any turbine. In the jet world, it's possible to jump from a piston with only 500 hours total time, but you'll almost certainly encounter a lot of restrictions in terms of training, mentor time and policy limitations. Most companies prefer to see at least 800-1,000 hours and a fair amount of instrument experience for any turbine transition. The best approach is to have a solid record of training and a good agent who can help develop a strategy for making the transition.

Turbine Transition Training

In general, there are two ways to train in the turbine world. The first is how you started—in the airplane. In-aircraft training is best for learning normal operations. Starting the engine, taking off, landing, flying the pattern, controlling steep turns, recovering from an impending stall, operating automation and flying approaches are all a part of the program. For safety reasons, most emergency training in the aircraft will be very conservative. An initial in-aircraft transition course takes about a week in most turboprops and around 10 days in a jet. In-aircraft mentor training is often an insurance requirement for first-time turbine pilots.

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