Friday, March 29, 2013

Hello, Aztec!

(voice like Andre the Giant)

Jodie says she had no doubt we would own another airplane, but that she thought it wouldn't happen this fast.  When the Tiger sold, I joined the local flying club to get access to its three airplanes.  The club is great for people learning or who want to occasionally fly.  For a variety of reasons, however, it was not serving our needs.  I was nevertheless determined to make it work, for all of the reasons that led us to sell the Tiger in the first place.

At the same time, in the wake of turning 40 and selling my airplane, I was looking for  a challenge that meshed with my love of flying.  So I called my instructor and scheduled the first lesson toward adding a multi-engine rating to my commercial pilot certificate.  We sat in the FBO before the lesson, catching up, and I told him about the frustration I was experiencing at being without an airplane for trips.  We talked about the airplane I would be flying for my multi-engine training.  My instructor owned it with a couple partners, and they had an opening for another partner.....

We went and flew the airplane.  A few days later, we became part-owners of this Aztec.

It is a GREAT airplane, and I'll spec it out below.  First, I want to point out that it is fantastic NOT to be the sole owner/maintainer of an airplane like this.  Second, I note the irony of the fact that because I don't yet have my multi-engine add-on completed, I can't fly it without an instructor.  Jodie said to me, "Did we just buy an airplane that you can't fly?"  Yes, Sugar, we did.

Nicknamed the "Az-truck," it has two, 250-horsepower, fuel-injected engines, a useful load of 2,100 pounds and can take off, fully loaded, in well under 1,000 feet.  It cruises at about 210 miles per hour* and can travel more than 1,000 miles without stopping for fuel, with enough fuel remaining for about another 100-150 miles in reserve.  With full fuel tanks, it can still carry just over 1,250 pounds of passengers and baggage.

*About 170-180 knots.  This plane was built during the mis-guided era when airspeed indicators were in mph instead of knots, and the performance specs are all in statute miles instead of nautical miles.  

It has six seats, which are plush leather and very comfortable.  It also has noise-canceling headsets for each of the seats, with streaming music for the comfort and entertainment of pilot and passengers alike.  Baggage goes outside the cabin in two, huge baggage compartments, one in the nose and one in the tail.  Each compartment is large enough for several suitcases and/or 150 pounds of unruly children.  That's enough for both of ours and a nephew!

Here's what gets me excited - the instrument panel.  This airplane has pretty much everything I could possibly want in avionics.  It has a pair of Garmin GNS 430W and 530W GPS/NAV/COMs, an Avidyne EX500 MFD, a Garmin GTX330 Mode S transponder, XM weather, radar (displayed in color on the MFD), strikefinder, TIS, TAWS, an S-Tec 55X autopilot with altitude pre-select, an HSI, and a backup AI.  It has alternators on both engines and vacuum pumps on both engines.  

Honestly, it has so much installed, the easier question is what it does not have, which basically boils down to an engine monitor and a working clock.  I suppose it will also need ADS-B at some point, too.

So, how does it fly?  Well, in a sense it simply flies like a Piper.  It is heavy in roll and in pitch, and requires constant use of the electric trim to fly it well.  In that respect it doesn't seem very different at all from the Turbo Arrow IV in which I got my commercial certificate.  It is very stable - I hand-flew an LPV approach my first time up in it, and it was a piece of cake, if a little faster than I am used to.  It has a strong, upward pitching moment when you deploy the first quarter of the flaps, which takes some getting used to.  In short, it handles like an overloaded, 15-passenger van.  That's not to say you can't bend it around the sky, but commercial maneuvers require a firm grip on the yoke, not the two fingers I could use with the Tiger.  As for the single-engine stuff, well, it seems okay.  I've flown it around with one engine shut down and feathered, and it was fine.  I haven't done any of the Vmc stuff yet, so we'll have to see about that.  

Anyway, that's it.  I'm very happy to be an owner, very happy not to be the only owner, and looking forward to flying the wings off it....

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Both Jodie and the kids see a smile when they look at the picture of the plane that appears at the top of this blog entry and below.  To see Emma's impression of the particular smile that appears to her, please move your mouse over the picture below.