I thought I could add some details on the preparation I did before my first test flight. The test flying was something I wanted to do myself. However I also wanted to be very well prepared for any serious in flight mechanical failure and ensure there were no pilot induced problems.
My Aim: to successfully and safely test fly my Sportsman IO 390, TD.
My skills and experience: I have a long history of flying, from the age of 6 as a young child with both of my parents as private pilots, mostly flying vintage aircraft. Much of my flying ethos has been ingrained by them at that very young age, however I am a fairly low time pilot – just over 300 hours. I have about 100 hours of this in Tiger Moths, flying at a small country airfield, where I can typically get in 500 foot close in circuits. So one hours circuits in a Tiger gets me about 3 times the landing practice I would get at a larger airfield. I also had an intense 3 years of hang gliding in my early 20’s that improved my flying skills immeasurably.
Having only flown just enough to maintain minimum currency in the last 15 years (money and time limitations), I set about getting myself up to speed a little over 2 years ago. Firstly I was off to the local Aero Club in Perth (RACWA – Royal Aero Club of Western Australia). I started with C172’s, moved onto C172 RG (retractable, and variable pitch) to get the next endorsements, then onto C182’s. I cannot praise RACWA enough for their professional approach in all areas I have been involved with the club.
The next stage was to get type experience and instruction. This is not available in Australia, simply because there are so few Sportsman. When I planned my TWTT (Two Week To Taxi) program at Glasair, I specifically wanted to ensure I gained significant training time in a Sportsman with the same set up as mine.
Harry deLong put me in contact with Alan Negrin. While in Washington State, I did 12 hours conversion training with Alan. A little more on this later. I can say now that this was the most valuable part of the training I carried out.
On returning home, I continued with some more training and got an aerobatic endorsement in a C152 and converted this over to the DHC-1 Chipmunk. I wanted this specifically to improve my skills in recovery from unusual attitudes (I do wish the Sportsman was aerobatic now).
In the immediate weeks before the test flight, I spent 4 hours with an instructor in the Chipmunk doing glide approach landings, engine failure on take off etc etc. Every combination you could think of in the circuit till it was all automatic. Why the Chipmunk you ask? Well a Sportsman would have been better, though none was available for that type of training here. The Chippy has the same speed on final approach and over the fence as the Sportsman and its 3 point attitude is very close to the Sportsman’s.
My final flying preparation was completing a little more than an hour in another Sportsman the day before I test flew. On getting into my friends Sportsman, once the concern of flying someone else’s treasured aircraft was overcome (thank you Peter), I found that all the training I did with Alan started flowing back very quickly. This was proven when I got back on the ground and Peter Nelson said something to the words “You can do another hour with me if you want, but I don’t think you will get anything more out of it”. This was said in the positive sense!!!
I looked at all of this preparation the same as preparing my Sportsman mechanically. I had checked every nut, bolt and system in the Sportsman. All critical systems had been reviewed with my Technical Counsellor. I wanted to be as well prepared myself for test flying as my aircraft was.
Here comes the glitch: Two weeks before my test flight, I attended a Maintenance Training course run by the SAAA (Sport Aircraft Association of Australia). At this course, the leaders implored all builders to under no circumstance, test fly their aircraft for the first time. They said that the fatal accident rate is so high in that first hour or two of flying a new Amateur Built Sport Aircraft. This really made me sit back and reconsider my plans. After a couple of days I called one of the course leaders, explained my concerns, then described in detail my test flight preparation. His conclusion was that I had made the effort to reduce the risk factors to an acceptable level.
The final issue I thought through was the emotional side. At the Maintenance course, the course presenters said you can be so overcome by emotion on the first flight (you have spent a long time building this treasured machine), that you may be incapable of making sensible safe decisions in the event of a problem.
So I thought through how to reduce this risk factor to as low as possible.
1. I went and talked to the tower a few days before and asked the best time to fly (I fly at the busiest GA airport in Australia). I wanted no one else in the circuit to worry about.
2. I decided that I would only fly in perfect conditions. Nil wind or less than 5 knots, not on the day I got my CofA (Certificate of Airworthiness). If conditions were not right, I would wait another day.
3. I did not want a large group there to distract or pressure me to fly when something was not right. So I actually did it without any spectators. I went to the airport on my own.
4. The afternoon before I planned to test fly, I went to the hangar, prepared everything and sat in the cockpit and repeated all the checks and drills for my planned test flight.
Once I did fly, all the preparation paid off. I got into the air with a safe take off. Got up to 1500 feet in close to the field. Leveled out and orbited for about 15 minutes. During this time I checked control movement, feel, etc. Before doing my first landing, I carried out a dummy approach and aborted at 200 feet, then did a repeat of the same, this time almost touching down then going round. The first two were intentional and planned to ensure I did all my checks and everything felt right.
After that I completed 5 very smooth wheel on landings. On my next flight I completed a text book 3 point landing. The thing that pleased and impressed me the most was the training with Alan Negrin had all come back so well, despite a fairly large gap between the training and test flying (a little over 18 months).
So after all that painstaking hard work to build your aircraft, put in as much thought into preparing yourself to do the best you can with your test flying too.
Prepare for test flying based on your skills, experience and knowledge. And take the time to talk to other pilots you respect and can use as a sounding board to work out what is best for you.
Maybe using an experienced test pilot for the first flight is the best thing for you (your family) and your aircraft.
I hope the description of my test flying experience helps others in their preparation leading up to that important day.
Sportsman No 7284, VH- ZIF