It doesn’t matter how many hours you have in your logbook. Or how many type ratings you have. The fact is, the first time you fly an airplane as the sole PIC (Pilot In Cockpit) it is a new experience. Being all alone “up front” on that first flight can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes downright scary. But it can also provide the biggest legal “high” anywhere.
For me, that experience has included a Cherokee 140, a 172, a Cherokee 6 and Arrow, Model 35 and 36 Bonanzas, a B55 and B58 Baron, a Duke, B100 and C90 King Airs, and the Citations Mustang, CJ1+ and, most recently, M2.
We prepare for each of those events by studying manuals, training in a simulator and airplane, mentoring, and even sitting in the cockpit for hours at the hangar. But there is nothing else quite like doing it the first time by yourself.
My M2 experience began with a copy of Garmin’s G3000 PC Trainer. This was followed by a couple of days in ICT at Flight Safety and two hours in their full motion simulator. Then two days with a mentor experienced in the airplane. Call me anal, but I want to be comfortable for most situations when the passengers arrive.
And they did arrive in early July for a flight to Gunnison, CO (KGUC). I was hoping for CAVU conditions in the mountains but it was not the best weather for a first time flyer.
KGUC 10SM OVC060
KTEX 3SM BR SCT035 OVC048
KMTJ 8SM BKN075
Forecasts called for good visibilities with rain showers developing into thunderstorms within two hours of our arrival. Flying the M2 is the easy part. But running the G3000 like a maestro conducting a symphony requires some practice. And flying into Gunnison on the 4th of July often requires holding.
Had I practiced enough?
We departed Dallas in clear skies and dropped into Amarillo (KAMA) for fuel, since I had not yet received my RVSM approval. What a bureaucratic waste to fly at FL280 burning so much extra kerosene. On the next leg, nearing Gunnison, the G3000 offered the ultimate in weather briefings. One of its great features is its ability to look at scores of METARS along your route. We were descending in the clouds at FL240 with all anti-icing on.
“November 921 X-ray Tango, I just had three aircraft divert from Telluride to Montrose,” came the news from Denver Center. “It looks like you can go direct to COGRI for the DME arc to runway six and possibly get into Gunnison.” We were in light rain and turbulence, and it was getting interesting.
Now, all that training was being put to good use. I programmed the boxes and V-Nav, set minimums, and watched the G3000 do its magic. Denver had to put a little pressure on me. “X-ray Tango, there are two aircraft behind you for the approach.” This is subtle pressure to cancel your IFR flight plan so the other guys don’t have to hold. Especially in the mountains, I always wait until I am certain of landing, just in case I have to miss and find myself climbing in IMC without a clearance. We broke out just inside the FAF and I squeaked on a landing just like I do at least once a year.
All that preparation made the entire flight one of the most comfortable ever.