Thursday, February 14, 2008

Real World Cross Country in a Cessna Citation Mustang

On Feb 1, 2008, I accompanied Jim, a Senior Cessna Demo Pilot, on his return flight from White Plains, NY (HPN) to Wichita, KS (ICT) in N327CM. This 1116 nm flight overflew some nasty weather including freezing rain, poorly plowed runways and multiple icing layers and included a LOC BC approach to minimums in the snow. There were some great lessons learned in real world flying of the Mustang.

Getting to HPN

I took a Colgan / US Air Saab turboprop from Boston to HPN. It was a clear, sharp contrast as to why passengers vastly prefer jets to turboprops. Everyone had to sit in the back, behind row 6, for weight & balance. The interior felt 50 years old. Even though it was only a 45 minute flight, the plane was very noisy, and full of vibration which made the hop feel significantly longer. We stayed at 8,000’ initially, dropping to 6,000’ for the second half of the flight, on much the same route as I would have had in the Cirrus. We must have been close to 250 KIAS, as my GPS watch was reporting a groundspeed of 290 kts. Conditions were VFR at night. If I was flying in the Cirrus, I would have been very surprised to see a big turboprop that fast and that low. Opposite direction traffic would have converged quite quickly.

I can only imagine the fuel burn in spite of turboprop efficiencies.

Exiting the plane on the left, it was disconcerting to see the right prop still whirling away. I like walking within 50’ of big props only when they are stopped completely, thank you. In this case, the right engine stayed running while passengers disembarked. Even as an aviation geek, it was not a pleasant experience.

Leg 1: White Plains (HPN) to Terre Haute, IN (HUF)

The next day, we left at 8am to avoid freezing rain in the New York area that was forecast to start an hour later. Panorama, the FBO, was unusually slow about getting our fuel and paperwork finalized, while we watched the nasty pink stuff drift in from the southeast.

After executing our checklists and doing final preparation for takeoff, we turned on the Flight Director. One strange aspect of the Mustang avionics is that you turn on the flight director using the Go Around button on the power lever, but turn it off using the FD button on the Garmin 700 autopilot. I don’t really understand the reason why either button could toggle the flight director.

The Westchester 1 departure off of runway 16 has a sharp turn to 320° at 800’. We were IMC before reducing power from takeoff to max climb. I was hand flying while Jim was handling the radios and pushing the occasional button to keep the flight director in sync with NY Departure’s frequent vectors. With two of us and full fuel, the Mustang handled beautifully again.

Keeping the Mustang tucked the flight director command bars required my full attention but was not difficult. FADEC was a huge help through multiple step up transitions. As I got more comfortable, and the radios quieted a bit, I did more of the button pushing until I did everything but the radios by the end of the day.

We picked up some rime ice through the lower altitudes which was handled fine by the boots. The Mustang wing boots leave a thin seam of icing, about a ¼” high and ½” thick along the front most part of the leading edge, probably where there is a gap between the upper and lower boots. There was no discernable difference in flight characteristics.

There was a huge weather system stretching from Indiana to New York, containing plenty of freezing rain, sleet and snow. We were going to fly from one edge of it to the other. The cloud deck was huge – we didn’t break into the clear until 36,000’ on the way up to our cruise altitude of 38,000’. The XM nexrad showed all the colors of the rainbow beneath us – blue, pink, white. This same system had just dumped 7” of snow on St. Louis.

We planned Terre Haute, IN (HUF) as a fuel stop due to long runways, little traffic and inexpensive fuel. Due to low ceilings, the ATIS confirmed our estimate of an ILS 5 with a reasonable 10 kt tailwind on the 9,000’ runway. This would bring us closer to the FBO on rollout so we could have a quick turn.

While descending through 10,000’, with some rime ice building on the wings again, ATC called to switch us to the LOC BC 23 since winds were now gusting to 20kts, still from the southwest. Jim is a very experienced pilot, with as much time as anyone in the Mustang, but he had never done a LOC BC in the real airplane. So we were both busy in a real hurry. I left the GPS navigation on the left side PFD, while Jim viewed the localizer on his right side PFD. The BC, or Backcourse, button on the Garmin autopilot didn’t function quite the way we expected, but we stayed clearly on course according to both navaids. Presetting the bugs for Vref and MDA was very useful. At the TTH VOR, we descended to the MDA and kept an eye out for the runway. Just a couple of miles out we saw at least the VASI so we could continue our descent. The plane seemed a bit fast so I asked Jim when we should deploy the second notch of flaps. With the distraction of the LOC BC, the weather, the unintuitive BC button, we had both forgotten to drop the second notch at the VOR. Less than a mile out, we put in the second notch.

We landed a bit fast nevertheless, which wasn’t a bad idea given the gusting winds. The runway had patchy snow and ice. Braking action was poor, at best fair in spots. Before I knew it, we’d used up 7,000’ of runway even with speed brakes on rollout. I’d been warned that these slippery jet powered gliders can chew up runway in a hurry and this was a clear case in the real world. We could have been harder on the brakes, but we had plenty of runway and didn’t want the brakes to grab too hard on one side coming in and out of so many ice patches. After we slowed, the tower asked for a braking report so Jim dug in and the anti-skid did the job.

At the end of the runway, we prepared to turn off only to be greeted by a 7” snow bank that would have challenged the propeller clearance on the Cirrus. Jim confidently told me to keep the plane moving and we plowed through like a champ. The 9,000’ taxiway had not been cleared so we left groomed cross-country ski tracks in our wake.

Once settled, we did a near record 16 minute turn, including the long taxi and time to break off the ice seam along the leading edge of the boots with our gloves.

HPN-HUF 2.6 hrs, 1.1 actual, LOC BC 23@HUF.

Leg 2: Terre Haute, IN (HUF) to Wichita, KS (ICT)

We were now on the trailing edge of the storm, heading into clear weather over Missouri and Kansas. Before takeoff, we were cleared up to 10,000’ and of course, encountered some more icing along the way.

Since Jim was heading home, we did not take full fuel in HUF. We were now reasonably light, in go fast mode and the performance showed. At FL320, ISA -1, weighing 7320 lbs, we were truing out at 360kts burning 730 lbs / hr. That’s 20 kts faster than promised by Cessna. When ATC let continue our climb, fuel burn decreased.

As I was more comfortable with the plane, and the workload was lower, we had time to play with the more advanced features of the G1000, including Top / Bottom of descent planning, using different VNAV controls of the autopilot, and re-route planning. A number of these items have been described in my Mustang Wish List(+++ add link).

Since Wichita was VMC, I asked to hand fly the ILS 19L to minimums. ATC was cooperative so we were fully configured on the glide slope at 8,000’ well before the outer marker. We shot the approach at 105 kts, slower than I normally do an approach in light IFR in the Cirrus. We also had a 40 kt headwind, lollygagging along at 65 kts over the ground. I had plenty of time to feel how stable the Mustang was at low airspeeds.

Since this was too easy, just as I looked up from the instruments to go visual within the last 500’, the wind had to shift 50° to the left. While it wasn’t at 40 kts anymore, we still had a significant forward slip, just like a single engine piston. I touched down gently on the left wheel first, albeit to the right of centerline. Even though Jim was reassuring again, I just didn’t know how far I could roll to the left and leave plenty of ground clearance. We easily made the turnout from the dry pavement.

HUF-ICT 1.9, 0.2 Actual IMC, 0.1 Simulated IMC, ILS 19L@ICT

Lessons Learned

Every flight I make in the Mustang builds my confidence about being able to handle the transition and master the twin engine jet. When everything goes right, the first and last four minutes of flight are intense. In between is a calm, comforted state that the plane has so much redundancy, reserve and quality of systems. Flying the Cirrus is very active – monitoring the engine parameters continuously, looking for potential landing or parachute sites, thinking of failure conditions. You anticipate something will break – it’s just a matter of time. Flying the Mustang is less unnerving and significantly less taxing. Something may break, but there’s lots of backup and headroom– a failure rarely means an emergency.

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