1.2h CPL – Complex Airplane

The past three weeks I had been studying intensively for the commercial written exam. It turned out that nearly all knowledge was already covered by previous courses for the private pilot license and instrument rating. Still, I wanted to work through the entire online class and immerse myself in my new goal: the commercial pilot license.

Cessna 182RG at Aspen Flying Club, KAPA. For CPL students just $139/hr wet. Sweet!

I scheduled this Cessna 182RG for my first lessons. I arrived early at the airport and went to the test center to ask if they had time in the afternoon for my written exam. They were happy to give me an appointment but didn’t even want to give me a specific time. We agreed on “sometime this afternoon” and I went on to do my first walk-around on a complex airplane. By the way, as a Canadian friend reminded me, the definition of complex is just an arbitrary definition by the FAA. The requirements are a constant speed propeller, a retractable landing gear and flaps. In Canada by contrast, complex starts at a high weight and a minimal stall speed of 80kts or so. However, this airplane is complex enough for me, so let’s start with the walk-around.

Curiously looking at the airplane, I got an introduction to the new items on the checklist. The landing gear had sensors for the up/down position lights, inside the cockpit was a reservoir of hydraulic fluid for the gear and in the middle on the floor was a pump handle for manual gear extension. The flaps and ailerons on this aircraft were modified with gap seals, which improve cruising aerodynamics but increase stall speed due to the lack of airflow over the flaps. The nose gear had many springs and sensors and you can tell that engineers needed to put as many things as possible into the little space under the 235hp engine. Then on the inside, the airplane looked like a spaceship to me. Two Aspen flight displays, a touchscreen Garmin and its little brother underneath. Even the magnetic compass above the panel was a modern version, a dry, vertically opposed compass, connected to the Aspen avionics.

Cockpit of the Cessna 182RG with Aspen and Garmin avionics.

It was time to take off the first time. I rolled to the runup area and with a density altitude around 8’000ft I adjusted the mixture for best power during the run-up. The mixture control was very sensitive compared to the Cessna Skyhawks I had been flying in the past. During takeoff all seemed normal to me, except that I thought 235hp would feel different. I believed it was just the density altitude. On the shallow climb out I twisted the mixture richer just a little bit to help with the hot cylinder head temperatures and the engine responded with higher power output. I was shocked and learned a lesson. When flying a new plane you don’t know how full power feels, however, it is wrong to simply assume that a certain behaviour is normal.

We flew out to the training area for my first commercial maneuvers. We started off with a few steep turns, which turned out reasonably well. This was followed by some power on and power off stalls. Everything went well, even the power on stalls of which I used to be afraid of. It seems that through a lot of reading I finally gained enough knowledge about the topic to fully understand the aerodynamics. Sure I could perform them before and never had big problems. But there is a difference between just being able to perform a maneuver and having the full understanding of what is going on.

I flew back to Centennial for a few touch-and-goes. GUMPS was the new memory checklist I had to learn.


  • Gas on both
  • Undercarriage down and locked
  • Mixture
  • Propeller high rpm on final
  • Switches

It felt great to use the gear lever, feel the aerodynamics change during the process and then make the callouts for the indicator lights and check the mirror under the wing to see if the nose wheel was extended. I made wing-low landings in the crosswind, opened the cowl flaps upon touch down and on climb out I had to look for positive climb rate before retracting the gear. By the way, there is one thing I really don’t like about glass panels. While on a steam gauge a glance at the instrument is enough, the Aspen requires me to read the tiny numbers on the screen. I found that this was increasing my head-down time in the pattern. Probably with time and practice, this will become second nature but at the moment it feels like a step back from the steam gauges. However, I must say I enjoy the slaved compass which never needs adjustment.

Back on the ground I went back to the test center for my afternoon appointment. I scored 97 out of 100 points and was ready to BBQ after this eventful day. 🙂

Happy landings!

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