Flying a Twin in the Sunshine State

Dear Groupon,
I love your random aviation related deals but you are making me very poor.
Pat the Pilot

Last year a deal came along to fly a Robinson helicopter for half price right here in New Jersey. Since I had never flown a helicopter before I had to give it a try. Fast forward about six months and yet another deal comes along. This time it was a one hour flight lesson in a twin-engine airplane, a Tecnam P2006T. The flight school was located at Page Field in Ft Myers, Florida. After giving a call to my aviation partner in crime, Matt, we decided to buy the deal and make a vacation out of it. Lucky for us my family happens to have a place just 30 minutes from Page Field in Ft Myers.

Once we starting planning we realized the annual Sun n’ Fun fly-in convention would be taking place around that same time. So it worked out great. We would fly commercial down to the house grab the car, drive up to Lakeland to check out Sun n’ Fun, and then fly the twin before heading back to New Jersey.

We arrived at the airport on beautiful vfr day. The flight school is called Paragon Flight and from our experience it is a top-notch operation. We met chief instructor Jeff Wolf right on time and started our ground school. We both went into this experience with almost no knowledge of twin-engine operations so the classroom instruction was a must. Jeff explained the basics of flying a twin and the overall topics needed for a rating. Some of the key aspects I remember are ‘critical engine‘ and ‘Vmc – velocity, minimum controllable’.

After ground school we went out to preflight the plane. The Tecnam is powered by two Rotax 912 engines. They are very popular engines that have a high power to weight ratio as well as the ability to run on automobile gas instead of leaded aviation fuel. This airport is lucky enough to have mogas available. The biggest difference for preflight purposes was checking the oil. You have to spin the propellers around by hand until you hear a burp noise come from the engine. Once it burps the oil is in the right place to cover the dip stick and check the level. Inside the plane the biggest difference for us was the Garmin G950 glass panel. It was rather intimidating at first having flow only steam gauges but it was surprisingly easy to get to used to.

The flight itself was a blast. The take off was very different from our trusty old 172s. The deck angle of this plane makes it feel like you are pointed straight up and climbing like a rocket. Once we were up Jeff had me do the usual turning maneuvers to get familiar with the responsiveness of the controls. By far the most exciting thing we did in flight was single engine work. Up until ground school I had no idea that you actually shut off the engine in flight. Yikes! It turns out the Tecnam is a solid single engine performer. After shutting one engine on a hot Florida day and with 3 adults on board the plane was still able to climb 200-300fpm on the single engine. The final noteworthy phase of flight is the landing. It lands very flat and tends to straighten itself out quickly.

Overall the plane is blast to fly. It has a huge and comfortable cabin. It’s docile characteristics make it an excellent multi-trainer, which is what it was designed for. The school is even going to add air conditioning to it soon to make taxing in the Florida heat more bearable. The gross weight is only 50lbs more than a 172SP at 2600lbs but you get two engines with great climb performance. Something to think about if you want to take an extended over water flight out of Florida. Jeff and the staff at Paragon did an excellent job accommodating us. If I ever need to rent a 172 while I am down there they are first on my list.

Update 7/12/2012
DOH! It looks like the same exact plane I flew had a gear up landing on July 6 2012. The good thing is no one was injured. It looks like the plane didn’t suffer too much either. The cause has yet to be determined.


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