A combination of flight training programs bulging at the seams as airline pilot hopefuls race to get their ratings and prices of light twins hovering at historic lows attracting buyers with the cash to maintain and feed them has led to more and more pilots seeking to pick up their multi-engine ratings. We surveyed a number of operations across the country that offer the training to find out what’s involved, how long it takes and what it should cost.
Our conclusions: A pilot with a private or commercial ticket and instrument rating, who has been flying regularly—and is used to studying—should be able to add on the rating in less than a week of dedicated work that includes about 10 hours of instruction in the airplane, 15 hours of ground and simulator time and two hours for the checkride for a total cost of $5000 or less.
We think that programs that include simulator time help to keep the overall cost down. Based on conversations with numerous programs we also came away with the opinion that the least expensive way to complete the training is to do it in the shortest time possible—a week or less. Conversely, an effective way to drive the price of the rating into the stratosphere is to take dual at intervals of a week or more.
While being one of the most expensive ratings—per hour—that you’ll ever get, the multi-engine add-on is often the most fun. What’s not to like about wrapping your palm around two throttles, shoving them from quiet to noisy and experiencing greater acceleration that you’ve ever felt in a piston single? Yeah, if something goes wrong, it can go wrong fast and ugly, but you’re there to learn about just that—handling a high-performance flying machine in all conditions.
Getting the rating is truly a blast, but it cannot ever be treated as a lighthearted romp in a hot rod airplane. After all, the training and checkride involve shutting down and feathering one engine—that’s practice bleeding. Every once in a while that engine refuses to restart and your practice emergency transforms into a real one. In addition, the required Vmc demonstration means taking the airplane into a corner of its flight envelope—an action that must always be carried out with respect.
We strongly recommend that you pick a school that includes training in a simulator that reasonably replicates the airplane you’ll be flying. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at least should have the levers for the throttles, props and mixtures in the same relative position and have avionics similar to the airplane.
The simulator allows you to safely learn the motions to go through when an engine does take a vacation without rolling you upside down if you make a mistake. After all, the push for high-quality simulators came about because of airline crashes during recurrent training—professional airline pilots, with professional airline instructors, flying empty airplanes were losing control and crashing when practicing engine-out procedures.
In addition to learning how to fly a twin on one engine, the chances are that the twin will climb, cruise and approach faster than what you’ve flown most of your career. You’ll need a little time to adjust to and plan for the higher performance.
What can you expect in a multi-engine course? We looked at syllabi from several schools and found, not surprisingly, that they had a great deal in common. After all, they are targeted at a goal of a proficient multi-engine pilot who can meet the requirements of the FAA exam.
If you have a single-engine airplane rating, there is no FAA written knowledge examination involved in picking up the multi-engine rating. With that segment of the normal FAA rating troika kicked aside, all you have to do is pass the oral and flight test.
As with any checkout for a new-to-you airplane, you’ll start out with getting to know the systems. You’ll see similarities to complex airplanes you’ve flown such as how the landing gear operates and the emergency extension procedure(s). The fuel system will be more complex than a high-performance single because it has two engines to feed plus, there has to be a way to crossfeed fuel from a wing tank on one side to the engine on the other.
Knowing the fuel system cold will be required because it may have quirks that can bite. For example, a twin may have auxiliary tank(s) that will only supply fuel to the engine on the same side of the airplane. Fuel in those tanks becomes nothing more than dead weight when the engine on their side is shut down. Fuel tanks may have to be used in a specific order. On some twins, when you depart with full fuel, the mains have to be selected for the first hour or so as the return fuel from the engines goes back into the mains. If there isn’t room for the return fuel it gets pumped overboard.
On twins in which the aux tanks are placarded for use in level flight only, they aren’t kidding. Due to their design, they cannot be relied upon to deliver fuel during takeoff and in climbs and descents.
Once you’ve studied aircraft systems you’ll get into aerodynamics peculiar to single-engine operations in a twin and the speeds you’ll need to know for the particular airplane and their significance: minimum control speed (Vmc), single-engine best rate of climb speed (Vyse), single-engine best angle of climb speed (Vxse) and safe single-engine speed (Vsse). You’ll learn about the yaw induced by having only one operating engine and getting the maximum rate of climb on one engine by banking slightly into the good engine and applying enough rudder to minimize drag by flying with the ball off center in the race by half its diameter. You’ll also learn why the airplane becomes uncontrollable in yaw if the airspeed is allowed to drop below Vmc with full power on one engine.
You’ll come to understand that loss of one engine means loss of 50 percent of the power available to make the airplane perform. Because the ability of an airplane to climb is dependent on the amount of power available in excess of the power necessary to hold level flight at Vy, loss of 50 percent of the airplane’s power doesn’t cut the rate of climb by 50 percent; it chops it by close to 90 percent. That’s a huge deal and must be engraved into a multi-engine pilot’s very being.
At sea level, on a standard day, most piston twins will climb at more than 1000 FPM with both engines turning. With one engine out, the prop feathered, flaps up, gear up, the cowl flaps closed and the pilot doing everything right to minimize sideslip and drag, almost none of those same twins will climb more than 230 FPM.
Take a moment and think of that in vertical feet per nautical mile. A good rule of thumb is 130 feet upward per one nautical mile horizontally. If you lose the engine as the gear hits the wells at 200 feet AGL, plan on covering more than six nautical miles before you get to a 1000-foot pattern altitude. You’ll learn that if there are obstructions or high ground that you can’t avoid in those six miles that it’s probably better to pull the power back on the good engine and aim for something soft and cheap. While descending, be sure and maintain your speed above Vmc when you are using power from the good engine so that you don’t make the upcoming landing inverted.
In the airplane you’ll spend the first lesson or two flying with both engines running as you do all normal, crosswind and short field takeoffs and landings, steep turns, slow flight, stalls and emergency descents.
After that you’ll begin to wonder whether the engines on the airplane are capable of operating simultaneously for any length of time. Your instructor will introduce you to and then have you handle engine failures on takeoff, in climb, cruise, on descent, approach, while maneuvering and just prior to landing. You’ll learn about single-engine go-arounds—in many cases once the gear and flaps are down you’ll sacrifice at least 500 feet of altitude reconfiguring the airplane before you can get even the most leisurely rate of climb—it may be better to just say no and land the airplane. Single-engine go-around attempts have killed more than a few multi-engine pilots and pilots taking multi-engine dual.
If you have an instrument rating you’ll then do much of the above under the hood and you’ll have to demonstrate at least one single-engine approach on the practical test. You cannot opt to get a VFR-only multi-engine rating—you’ve got to do the instrument flying part. We think that adds about two hours to the training if you are instrument-current when you show up—if not, be prepared to spend three to four hours under the hood getting up to speed.
Our survey of training uncovered programs that ranged in amount of dual instruction time from a low of five hours to a high of 20. Overall prices—not guaranteed—ranged from $2025 (cash; credit card $2100) for a VFR multi-engine course in an Apache to $8000 for a 15- to 20-hour IFR course in a Duchess. The former is at Prairie Air Service outside Wichita, which has been in the multi-engine training business for more than 30 years. Its proprietor, Herb Pello, told us that realistic numbers for an IFR multi-engine rating are 10 hours of dual and a total of $3500 for everything.
The $8000 price is at Sunstate Aviation, in Kissimmee, Florida, which only offers its multi-engine course to its students as a part of a program to obtain advanced ratings in preparation for a professional pilot career. Sunstate’s Mike Camelin told us that it also reflects a need for aspiring professional pilots to have more than a minimum number of hours of multi time.
All of the training facilities we surveyed included time in flight simulators in their courses. One such school is HOVA, in Ashland, Virginia, which offers a 10-hour course in a Tecnam P2006T for $3980 plus examiner’s fee.
We noted that a lot of schools have only one multi-engine trainer so if it breaks, you’re sitting until it’s fixed. Also make sure the school you’re going to attend can schedule your ride with a DPE within a day of the end of your training—we’ve heard some horror stories about the DPE shortage in some regions of the country.
Multi-Engine Trainers: The Airplanes
The market for new twins that are regularly used as multi-engine trainers is, charitably, slow. Accordingly, the chances are that the multi-engine trainer you use will be a little long in the tooth. That’s not necessarily bad if the flight school shells out the bucks to maintain its airplanes. The good news end of the equation is that the oldest of the types regularly used as a trainer—the Piper Apache—is one of the best because it is the most demanding of good pilot technique and teaches pilots that Vmc speed is to be treated with respect. We’ll run through the types of airplanes most likely to be on the multi-engine training flight lines and give a little background on each.
• Piper Seminole
From our observations, the Seminole seems to be the choice of most multi-engine schools. The 180 HP per side twin has counter-rotating props that minimize Vmc. Its relatively low operating costs caused schools to largely move away from the Beech Baron, Cessna 310, Piper Seneca and Aztec as trainers.
Even though Seminoles are widely used, some schools told us that they can require quite a bit of maintenance because they don’t always hold up to the pounding involved with training.
The 56-knot Vmc is the same as the flaps-up stall speed, so students don’t get to experience the violent roll-off associated with slowing below Vmc. Essentially a twin-engined Arrow, the Seminole has benign handling—we think it’s an easy airplane to transition into, helping to keep the time involved in obtaining a rating down. We saw rental rates ranging from $240 to $400 per hour.
• Diamond DA-42 Twin Star
Diamond’s diesel-powered Twin Star elicited divergent opinions from multi-CFIs with many saying it was a poor trainer because it was too easy to operate. In the event of an engine failure the pilot pushes the power levers forward (FADEC means no mixture or prop controls), identifies the dead engine and flips its on/off switch to off. That’s it.
We think that makes it a superb trainer for someone planning to move directly into jets who doesn’t need to know how to shut down and feather a piston engine. Power management is jet-like, including indicators reading percent power and—as with a jet—there is a need to carry significant power on final with the gear and flaps down. Plus, the seven-bus electrical system is comparable to what pilots will experience in turbine equipment.
We saw rental rates from $239 to $360 per hour.
• Tecnam P2006T (Pictured below)
Powered by two 98-HP Rotax 912 S3 engines, the Tecnam P2006T meets or exceeds the performance of other light twins. Handling is precise, although it responds as one would expect in a twin heavier than the 2712-pound gross weight P2006T.
The small engines cannot drive big alternators, so engine shutdown may also involve electrical load-shedding—as is often the case in larger piston twins and some jets. Inflight visibility is the best of the light twins. Gear cycle time is 18 seconds—an eternity if an engine quits shortly after takeoff. The POH is poorly designed, with a user-unfriendly presentation.
We saw rental rates as low as $230 per hour.
• Piper Seneca
Even though it is a six-place airplane, the Seneca remains popular in the training world, particularly the non-turbocharged Seneca I. With counter-rotating props, Vmc is minimized because there is no “critical” engine. Handling is heavy and ponderous, making it an appropriate trainer for those who anticipate transitioning into larger twins.
Because the Seneca has larger, thirstier engines than other commonly used multi-engine trainers, we found prices to be slightly higher overall—in the $240 to $300 per hour range.
• Beech Duchess
With excellent handling (it doesn’t have the quirky behavior on takeoff and landing of the Seminole—Beech did its T-tail right), decent performance on 180 HP a side and two cabin doors, the Duchess is a popular multi-engine trainer even though the marque was never produced in large numbers. Stall speed is, however, higher than Vmc, so some effort has to be made by CFIs to impart respect for minimum control speed during training.
Flight schools told us that replacement parts are a problem due to price and availability. We think that will result in the Duchess slowly fading from the training scene. We saw rental rates starting at $267 per hour.
• Piper Apache
We admit to being fans of the world’s largest flying sweet potato as a trainer for several reasons: It’s challenging to fly well, its roll-off at Vmc is for real and teaches respect for minimum control speed, pilot technique has to be precise to get what single-engine performance is available and the needs of its hydraulic flaps and gear require that a pilot understand complicated aircraft systems.
We saw rental rates in the $250 per hour range.
We think $5000 is a realistic price for a instrument multi-engine rating if the pilot follows some basic guidelines going into the training process:
Don’t mess around. If you decide to get the rating, set up a schedule so that you can concentrate solely on your training and do so in less than a week—anything longer means you’re going to spend more money and time getting through it.
If you’re instrument rated, show up current on instrument flying.
Show up with an open mind and ready to learn. Cody Sivcovich of St. Charles (Missouri) Flying Service told us that the pilots who come in with the attitude that they are hot shots who know everything prove to be the ones who take the longest to get through training.
Have read all of the material the school provides in advance on maneuvers, multi-engine aerodynamics and the training airplane, and know the systems and numbers for the airplane.
Then go and do it.