I started a bit early this week. That wasn’t the plan, but here we are. I have two long solo flights scheduled for the weekend, but there’s weather moving in Saturday afternoon, so I wanted to get out early and get it done. One problem. The plane I always fly is booked for Saturday morning. No problem, I’ll just take one of the other planes! Oppo, meet N9040K, a Piper PA-28-161.

It has a slightly larger engine than the Minion (the Piper PA-28-140 which I normally fly) and at 160 hp, it adds a little extra performance. It also has a slightly longer, tapered wing. The Minion has the classic “Hershey bar” wing which, as you can probably guess, is a rectangular wing.

The 161 wing is a couple of feet longer and it’s tapered over the out halves of the wing.

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All together, this makes for a slightly faster, better climbing, more responsive airplane. Where the Minion flies like an old truck, I discovered today that the 161 is a lot more sensitive to control inputs.

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Today? Yes! Today!

I had to do a check flight in the 161 with an instructor before the school would allow me to fly it solo. This is where I was reminded that different planes fly, well, differently. We flew out to the practice area and the instructor ran me through the wringer - stalls, steep turns, emergency landings, etc. The best one was an emergency descent. That’s where you point the nose down and let the plane come hurtling toward the ground. I hit a personal record on that one - 143 mph!

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I found that the 161 flight performance means I have to be less heavy-handed with the controls. It was easy to over-control it and I had to pay a lot more attention to throttle inputs to maintain the target altitude. Where the Minion gets there eventually, the 161 gets there sooner and by the time I got back around to checking, it was too late and I was too high. It also took a lot longer to slow down and descend if I overshot my target.

Then, just to mess with me, my instructor shut off the GPS and told me to find my way back to the airport. No problem! From the ground references I had in sight, I knew the general direction, so I pointed the nose south and flew until I could see the airport. If I hadn’t known where we were, I could have pulled out my phone or my tablet or the paper chart I keep in my bag. While things look unfamiliar when you’re flying over them, it’s really easy to either find your own way or call for assistance if you need it.

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Overall, it was a fun plane to fly, but I have a lot of work to do if I continue flying this plane after my cross-country. I certainly won’t be using it for my FAA check ride!

Today was a great day in the air for me, but wasn’t such a great day for a fellow (student?) pilot.

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This is a Cessna 172 owned by one of the other schools at the airport. The pilot was taxiing to the active runway (from right to left in this picture) and for some reason, hooked a left into the ditch. I took this picture from the pad in front of my school, Texas Flight. One of the staff members was in the hangar when this happened and she heard it, but didn’t see it. She heard the engine rev up just before hearing it crash.

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The right landing gear is folded up by the right wing strut. This is a fixed-gear plane, so that gear shouldn’t be there. Fortunately, it stopped before it hit the poles, but there’s a good chance there’s structural damage in the fuselage and tail. Everyone around said that it will probably be totaled.

This all happened before I arrived for my flight. By the time I got back from my flight, they had already offloaded all of the fuel, jacked up the plane with a giant air bag, and were working on a temporary repair so they could roll the plane back to a hangar.

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Depending on how it happened, it may or may not initiate an NTSB investigation. If there was a control failure like a braking problem, then a report would be required. If it was just pilot error, then a report might not be required. I’m sure I’ll get the scuttlebutt this weekend.

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Until then, Happy Early Weekend, Oppo!