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From sports car to limo and back

Fly the table for smoothness

My sporty Van’s Aircraft RV–4 is an ideal commuter for getting to and coming from corporate flying assignments, but I’ve got to leave some old habits behind when I get to the bigger airplane.
Illustration by Andrew Baker.
Zoomed image
Illustration by Andrew Baker.

The aerobatic sport airplane shines in terms of its crisp handling, light control forces, and perfect balance. It’s a joy to hand fly, and it’s got a fun, frisky personality that’s enjoyable to indulge.

Corporate jets are reliable, highly automated, and powerful. They require forethought, self-discipline, and crew coordination to fly well, and pilots strive to do the same procedures in the same way on almost every flight.

There are times, however, when it makes sense to unleash a corporate jet’s full strength. Before a recent takeoff in a moderately loaded Cessna Citation, for example, I briefed our passengers to expect a sudden burst of initial acceleration. Because of the relatively short runway, I planned to hold the brakes, run the engines up to full power, then release them all at once and gain flying speed as quickly as possible.

If, for some reason, we had to abort the takeoff, getting to decision speed quickly would leave as much remaining runway surface as possible to stop. Such “static” takeoffs are standard for short runways, but they feel much different to passengers than the “rolling” takeoffs they’re accustomed to at long runways.

The passengers understood and seemed to look forward to the energetic departure—and the Citation didn’t disappoint. The airport we were leaving was just a few feet above sea level, and a brisk winter day with cold, dense air had the jet surging forward like a sprinter out of the blocks, and it reached its 100-plus knot rotation speed in about 10 seconds.

Once airborne, I retracted the landing gear and flaps while pitching the nose about 17 degrees above the horizon. I engaged the autopilot and programmed it to maintain a steep climb during our initial ascent to 7,000 feet, and we clawed our way skyward at about 4,000 feet per minute. It was an aggressive climb rate and angle, and the airplane’s performance was impressive.

My fellow pilot, a veteran corporate flier, was fine with the static takeoff, but not the steep climb.

“Why don’t you lower the nose to 10 degrees so that you don’t send the passengers floating at zero Gs when we level off?” he said. “Fly the table.”

He had a point. Now that we were safely airborne, I should tone it down and fly with a little less exuberance. The passengers knew to expect quick acceleration on takeoff, but I hadn’t said anything about a maximum-effort climb.“I’m talking about the table in the cabin,” he said. “Fly in such a way that items placed on the table won’t slide off in flight. That makes it easier to be smooth.”I adjusted the autopilot so the airplane would fly at a faster airspeed, and the pitch attitude obediently came down to 10 degrees and stayed there for the remainder of our climb into the flight levels. But what did the pilot mean when he said to “fly the table?” I’d never heard the term before.

“I’m talking about the table in the cabin,” he said. “Fly in such a way that items placed on the table won’t slide off in flight. That makes it easier to be smooth.”

Flying the table is the opposite of the crisp, hyper-precise style that aerobatic pilots fly. When maneuvering in my own airplane, I seek out maximum performance. When climbing, I’m as close as I can get to best rate. During rolling maneuvers, I use full aileron deflection. It’s an all-or-nothing affair.

Jets require a different discipline. It’s extremely rare to bank more than 30 degrees, ever. At high altitude, the maximum rate is 15 degrees. Pilots strive to begin and end climbs gradually and roll in and out of turns slowly.

One of my fellow pilots keeps the yaw damper on, even when the rest of the automation is off, until the airplane is less than a mile from the runway. The yaw damper prevents the side-to-side motion from rudder inputs that passengers can find disconcerting—but tailwheel pilots like me tap the rudder pedals almost constantly on short final to fine-tune alignment.

In some areas, however, corporate pilots commonly push their airplanes as far as possible. Citations, for example, typically fly at or near their service ceilings at 41,000 to 45,000 feet. Doing so keeps them above faster airliners, reduces fuel consumption, and extends range. When corporate jets descend, pilots typically fly as fast as their airplanes allow to 10,000 feet, and then they bump up against the 250-knot FAA speed limit.

As one of my mentors likes to point out, “Anything that costs this much needs to go fast.”

Few sport or aerobatic pilots spend so much time at or near their airplane’s airspeed redline.

Despite the fact that the disciplines of sport and corporate flying are vastly different, the satisfaction that comes from doing each well is similar. Whether it comes from the crew coordination in flying a demanding instrument approach or nailing the up- and down-lines in an aerobatic sequence, the sense of accomplishment is the same.

It’s the reward for a job well done, and it’s available for the taking to every pilot on every flight. You just have to remind yourself from time to time whether the airplane you’re flying has a table or not.

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Dave Hirschman
Dave Hirschman
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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