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Complex Rating: (Retracts, Flaps and Constant-Speed Prop)

After I got my High-Performance rating in a 182 Skylane, I decided I’d like to be able to rent a faster, bigger plane at more than one location, in case I ever need to go somewhere and the 182 is unavailable. Additionally, I just wanted to be able to fly a plane with retractable landing gear. They have a nice little Cessna Cutless (172 with retracts and a constant speed prop) at Tampa North, but it was down for a long time because of a prop strike in another state, so my options were limited.

On the other hand, I also wanted to be checked out in a Piper low-wing, so the Arrow at Peter O’ Knight was looking like a feasible solution. It’s a laminar-flow, low wing aircraft with 198 Hp and a constant speed prop. It also has retractable landing gear and is fairly fast. This particular plane is the model with the low tail feathers instead of the T-type tail configuration on many Arrows.

I had met and talked with a new instructor down at Peter O’ a few weeks earlier, and decided to use her for this rating. At first I was going to go with Stan, another instructor down there, but I encountered some attitude issues with Stan and decided that our personalities were incompatible. I also decided not to take my IFR training from Stan, so this worked out to be a fairly expensive decision for him. Without going into it too deeply, let me just say that I do not like to be taken for granted. I do not expect to be treated like a second-class citizen by the staff that my training and rental fees are directly responsible for paying. So if you are an instructor out there, keep in mind that your students can and will go to another instructor if you treat them poorly.

I allowed two weekends for this endeavor. On the first weekend that I was to begin training in this aircraft, I spent a couple of hours on ground instruction with Heather, going over V-speeds, RPM/Manifold Pressure settings, Landing Gear systems, etc. By the time we were done, I had a pretty good idea of the plane’s performance envelope. We then went out to the plane and started what I would have to call “the world’s most detailed pre-flight”, which took another hour. Complex aircraft take a lot more time to inspect before flying.

After the pre-flight was finally behind us, we climbed into the Arrow and got ready to go flying. The plane had other plans. It wouldn’t start. We tried everything, but the starter just wouldn’t engage. We called another instructor over to try it but he didn’t have any better luck than we did.

Bad starter. We’d have to wait until next time, which was about three weeks away. Meanwhile, I bought a POH for the Arrow, since I own one for every plane I fly. This makes sure that I always have access to this data, even if the original wanders off somewhere.

Three weeks later, I went back out to Peter O’ and met with heather. I had studied the POH at length and was ready to fly. We did a quick review inside, then went out and did the pre-flight, which went much smoother this time. All checked out OK, so we decided to get going.

As soon as you have no usable runway left in front of you, you raise the gear. RAISE THE GEAR!!! That just sounds cool. Rotation is at about 65-70. As soon as the gear comes up, you feel the plane accelerate. We climbed out over the Port of Tampa and then turned cross-wind and downwind over the Bay. We went out over Sun City and began training for gear-related emergencies.

This plane is equipped with an automatic sensor that puts the gear down below a set speed. This is usually locked out for training, so that slow flight and stalls can be performed without the gear down. As soon as we tried an emergency manual gear extension, it failed. Shit! Two more tries, still failed. Now I’m thinking “Damn, my first flight and we’ve got an emergency”. We re-enabled the main system, and all worked fine. This didn’t do a lot for my confidence in this particular plane, but at least the gear did work correctly when it was supposed to.

On with the lesson…

We did steep turns to the right and left, we did turns around a point, simulated engine failure, and all the other stuff you would do on any check ride. Now it was time for the stalls. Although I’d never flown a full-sized plane with a laminar flow wing before, I have flown R/C models and there’s definitely a trick to it. The models (like P-51’s and pylon racers) tend to have very nasty stall characteristics. They like to drop a wing tip and spin very consistently, so I was pretty wound up for this part. I had heard that this wing will bite you in the ass if given a chance at low speed.

First, she asked for a power-off stall. This simulates a landing stall. As we came down to slow-flight speed, the stall light (no horn on this one) was blinking on and off, and the plane began to buffet a little as we reached the critical point. I kept the nose up and waited. More buffeting now, but still no break. After a few more seconds, Heather says “Look at the altimeter. We’re losing two fifty a minute and are in a stall.”. Wild, the nose was still up and we never really broke. We just kind of mushed forward a little. OK, cool. Now she wanted a power-on stall, which simulates a take-off stall. These are usually much more violent, so this was the one I’d been dreading. From slow flight, I went to full power/full prop and turned it toward the sky. We gained 2500 feet waiting for the stall. When it did come, it slid down the tail a little and then broke cleanly forward into a perfect stall. No spin characteristics that were unexpected at all. Sweet! Now it was time for landings.

Speed management is crucial in these planes. As you approach the pattern, you are already setting up your speed and altitude, etc. before you ever get there. We entered the pattern at a 45 degree angle on downwind, and set up our landing configuration. G.U.M.P.S. Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Propeller, Seatbelts. Downwind is flown at about 110, base is 100 and final is flown out at 90. This is a heavy plane and it comes down fast. We consistently touched down just past the numbers (Peter O’ is only about 3,000’ long) and did several touch-n-goes while raising and lowering the gear, adjusting prop and manifold pressure, etc. Complex aircraft are complicated! We did several in a row, and man my landings were right on the money that day.

After landing and taxiing back to the FBO, we were done and I got my endorsement. I also got to finish up my second level FAA Safety Foundation Wings requirement and sent it off to Lakeland for my next set of wings. If you are unfamiliar with this program, go to their website and check it out. It’s well worth the effort.

I have one more trip planned in the Arrow. It’s been a tradition since I started flying for me to take my instructor to a fly-in meal somewhere after we’ve accomplished another aviation milestone. I took my first instructor to Sharky’s in Venice on a night flight right before I took the practical. I took my next instructor to breakfast at Lakeland Regional after getting my ticket. I took my high-performance instructor to breakfast at Ocala, and I’ll be taking my Complex instructor to breakfast or lunch at Sebring. I’ll put a picture up of us with the Arrow after that trip.

Next step for me? FLOAT PLANE!!! I can hardly wait!


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