Checking Out in a New Airplane: A thoughtful approach to risk management

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Checking out in a new airplane: There aren’t many articles on this very important topic so we are happy to tackle the subject here.

DISCLAIMER: This is generic advice and can not cover every possible situation or scenario. Determining your qualification is your decision alone and the author of this article accepts no responsibility in flight operations that you conduct.

Also, if you are preparing to do a first flight on an experimental aircraft that has never flown this is not the correct article. Go here.

It does not matter if you have 100 hours or 10,000 hours, checking out in new model airplane that you have never flown before requires a thoughtful approach. Every airplane has it’s own traits and characteristics. Think of it as an exercise in risk management.

For the purposes of this article we aren’t talking about the difference between airplanes of the same make and model – we are focusing on totally new models that you have never flown before.

You might think it is simple, hire an instructor and get a proper check-out. That is fair and should be our first approach, especially for low-time pilots or if the airplane is radically different than anything you have ever flown before. The reality is that isn’t always and option. Local instructors may not be willing or able to check you out.  I would resist the urge to have your instructor check you out at the same time he/she is checking out. (There are stories of instructors doing a self check-out, getting a good base of experience, and then starting your transition – nothing wrong with this approach).

You have essentially two options:

  1. Seek out someone that does transition training in the make/model – this may mean traveling out of state. Keep in mind that your insurance may mandate this so this may be the only option available.
  2. Self check-out: this should be reserved for someone with experience in a similar aircraft. Accident stats are full of people doing self-checkouts that have no equivelant experience. Also recency of that experience is important – if you haven’t been flying you have no business doing a self-checkout.

If you are qualified and plan to do a self check-out consider the following (dependent on the type of aircraft and your experience)

  • Cockpit Familiarity – there’s no subsitute for knowing the front office like the back of your hand. You don’t want to be fumbling for switches when things are going bad.
  • Limitations/Systems Knowledge – just like in primary training you should be know thy airplane. Study the flight manual and be sure to have working systems knowledge of the aircraft in question.
  • Ground Operations – Taxi tests are prudent so you have a good feel for how the airplane controls on the ground. However, I do not recommend high-speed taxi tests, these have proven to a major cause to check-out accidents for a variety reasons that I am happy to expand on if someone inquires.
  • Environmental Factors – Make sure the airfield has adequate margins for error – a short, unimproved farm strip is no place for a first flight. Also the weather should be VFR with light winds. No since making this harder than it needs to be.
  • Get a lot of advice – talk to others that fly this make/model and get their input. You might even be able to get a familiarization flight with a person. Wouldn’t be like a check-out, but at least you can obtain some insight. Use the internet too.
Please comment on this article with any feedback you have or questions.


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