I’ve enjoyed the privilege of being invited into the flight levels by friends and co-workers, sometimes as PIC and other times just a radio operator/navigator. (Remember when those used to be career fields once upon a time?–but it’s not a growth area these days.) Last week it was high and fast flight on board a friend’s Cessna 441. The trip was East coast to Vegas for NBAA and a speech, then to Prescott, AZ to visit Embry Riddle’s western campus, where I sit on a safety advisory board, then to California to visit Foundation donors and return.
A couple of observations: First, everyone reading this blog knows that GA makes trips possible that would be impossible or completely impractical on the airlines–wish some in our government could understand that. (The Foundation is working on the image education aspect for the general public.)
Secondly, flight in the flight levels is usually much easier than down low. I’m always amazed at the simple operation of turbines compared to pistons: no leaning, no shock cooling, easy starting – etc. Flying high over the mountains is much better than slogging through up and down drafts, dealing with ice and not being able to see boomers nearly as well.
There is turbulence up high but not nearly as much and it is well forecast. There is great psychological comfort in knowing that if you’re getting the bejabbers kicked out of you on takeoff or descent, it will usually be over in a few minutes. Also a highly wing loaded aircraft rides the waves better. Down low, I’ve had flights where it’s best to resign yourself to a long and largely uncomfortable ride. Best to cancel those trips if passengers are going. Icing? Not very often at -20C.
The machines, while complex are also highly reliable with lots of redundancy–not perfect–but very good. Training tends to be much better for turbine pilots because the hull values are high so insurers want to protect their investment. Owners usually also want to protect those reliable and very expensive engines by understanding how they work. The avionics are now largely comparable between high and low altitude aircraft but I remember well both flying and teaching basic IFR in basic aircraft–no autopilot, and no flight director. The workload was a lot higher by looking multiple places for information. After seeing my first flight director the awe that I held for high end pilots largely evaporated. (“Just tuck the V-bars into the wedge son and adjust your power on the way down until getting to minimums”–but I digress. )
Next week we should talk about oxygen. In the meantime, is it your experience that bigger aircraft are generally easier to fly or not?