When I was shopping for a plane two years ago, my goal was to get a capable IFR platform for my instrument training and eventual instrument flight. Not being an instrument rated pilot, I leaned on my friends and flight instructor for advice. The overwhelming response was “you gotta have an autopilot.”
The point simply boils down to safety. While you’re on an instrument flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), you have your hands full. You’re writing down air traffic control (ATC) clearances, responding to ATC commands, monitoring the health of your aircraft and oh yeah, you’re flying the plane. Nothing beats a good autopilot for lightening your load when things get tricky.
As luck would have it, after a few months of “close but not quite what I want” planes, I discovered N96988 at Skywagons in Placerville just outside of Sacramento. There’s a great story there that I’ll write up one day but the point is that I found the plane I wanted and it came with a great GPS (GNS 480), a MX20 multifunction display (MFD) and best of all an STEC-55x autopilot. When I purchased the plane, I knew it was a capable autopilot but only by what I read, I didn’t have enough experience to put it through it’s paces. Without having an instrument rating, my use of the autopilot has been limited to flying VFR flight plans on long trips (an all too rare occurrence). That all changed this past weekend when Martin, my instructor, and I gave that amazing little box a workout. Continue reading