Private Pilot Magazine|
Usually, if I hear the work "bargain" in an aviation context, I either drop everything and flee or I attack the nearest
person with a flying Combodian chop.
It's fight or flight, baby. Yet in the realm of flight, there really is a genuine, bonafide aviation bargain. I refer to the multi-engine rating.
Why is this bargain such a well-kept secret? Because "getting a multi" usually means flying a light twin, and light twins have gotten a bad rap.
Impressionable minds have come to regard light twins as not only hard to fly, but as downright tricky and dastardly. Spit an engine, so the story goes, and asymmetrical thrust will screw you into the ground before you know what hit you.
Ah, balderdash. Light twins aren't hard to fly. Sure they're unforgiving of incompetence or inattention - and they can be unforgiving of really bad luck - but that's just the nature of aviation. Heck, it's the nature of marriage, for that matter.
But long ago I said "I do" to the second engine, and what bliss it's been! Powerplant bigamy puts my mind at ease when I'm over water, jungle, hills or when I'm over anything at all at night.
This brings up the following happy little secret: In cruise, the pilot workload in a twin can actually be lower than it is in a single. In a one-lunged bird, you're devoting 15% of your brain-power to a constantly changing solution of the forced-landing scenario (and if you're not, you should be). In a twin, though, you can let your guard own a bit. Sure, as in any aircraft, you need to know where to stuff it if things get wildly ugly, but that's not the same concept as maintaining the constant forced-landing vigil.
Not that I object to such vigils. I still fly single-engine airplanes and single-engine helicopters. Taming a twin doesn't mean you have to ignore single-engine aircraft; the multi rating simply gives you another option, options are a good thing. Top of Page
Best of all, this option comes at a relatively tame price. We're talking less than most of us blow on perpetually obsolete computers every year. A common benchmark for adding a multi-engine rating to your certificate is about $2000, but it's certainly possible for a quick study to come in at a bit less.
Meanwhile, two-lunged birds, just like their single-propped counterparts, can be rented with ease. Some places will hand over the keys for $150 an hour. Yes, that's with gas included. Sure that's more than a 172 or Arrow will set you back, but it's a heck of a bargain for the fun you'll have. And fun is the operative word. I can't explain why, but light twins are a lot of... well... fun.
By contrast, not everyone thinks flying in recalcitrant weather is fun. No problem. Despite the myths I've heard, you don't need an instrument rating to put those six levers in your hand. Count'em, six. That's two prop levers, two mixtures and two throttles. Talk about a feeling of power!
And talk about losing power. The last engine failure I had was on July 12, 2000, over the western Pacific. I was in a twin, and it was such a nonevent that I didn't even spill my coffee. Had I been in a single (not that I'd have taken one out there, but some pilots do), I would be somewhere near the bottom of the Marianas trench right now, where weird creatures would be eating my tender parts and my coffee would have long since floated away.
So I'll float this your way: The multi-engine ticket is fun, affordable and practical. It's the best buy in aviation. It's a great way to safeguard you tender parts. It's - I dare say it? - a genuine bargain.
About the Author - Ed Stephens, Jr.
"Tropical Ed" left Los Angeles for Pago Pago in 1991 and spent most of that decade living and working in the tropics. He flew as a helicopter and regional airline pilot, operating in Panama, Samoa, French Polynesia and Micronesia. On terra firma, he has also toiled as an economic analyst and newspaper columnist. Stephens is ATP-rated and holds a degree in economics from UCLA.
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