To Multi Or Not To Multi

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Brainteasers

Let's begin this review of the single-versus-multi-engine issue by agreeing to disagree that declaring which is better -- safer, faster, more efficient, sexier -- will never be settled in a civilized manner. Red Sox and Yankees fans will link arms and sing "Kumbaya" before pilots come together on this. Still, some of us can't pass up the opportunity to shoot BBs at hornet's nest, so in Brainteaser 174, I asked readers to declare which they favored, single or twin. More than a statistical survey, which usually proves mind-bogglingly dull, I also solicited the logic behind respondents' decisions. Comments ranged across the field from "twins/singles are safer" to "I think everyone should fly hot-air balloons only, because when the burner flames out you simply float into someone's backyard, and they usually hand you a beer." Can't argue with that. As of Aug. 18, 2012, I'd received 212 survey responses and managed to delete 15 of those before I figured out not to answer emails on a laptop while drinking beer in some stranger's backyard. So, of the 197 surviving poll responses, 144 favored multi-engine aircraft over 53 diehards in the single-for-life column. (Statistical margin of error of plus or minus something or other. Results as interpreted by the author are not indicative of scientific evaluations found in loftier surveys, such as Aviation Consumer or Aviation Safety. Discontinue use if excessive chaffing results.)

Ailerona Municipal Airfield

I'd thought the multi-yes column would be even larger, because I specified that -- for our survey purposes -- readers shouldn't concern themselves with the actual costs of multi-engine operations. All flights would begin and end at my fantasy airfield, Ailerona Muni, located in the Soysack Mountains of south-central Iowa, where the weather is always clear, avgas is a nickel a gallon -- plus you can charge it without ever getting a bill -- and there's never a fee for maintenance and instruction, because mechanics and instructors feel guilty about charging to be around airplanes. I know I do. Oh, yeah, and we'll even toss in a free hangar with a powered tug. So there's no reason to turn down this chance to squeeze a fistful of throttles and leave the singles gawking in awe. Except those 53 devoted singles readers saw through the ruse: "Give me one reliable PT-6 in the nose over two finicky 1940s-technology piston engines bangin' away on the wings any day," an anonymous curmudgeon wrote. [Ed. note: We've stripped all identities from the comments. If you think you recognize any uncredited comment as being yours, well, it wasn't. It's from the other guy.] Her email reeked of kerosene, but she had a point. A wheezing Piper Apache can't hold a relief tube to the reliability of today's single-engine turbines. This led to many of the answers being classified as yes-no-but answers, as in, "Yes, I'd take a multi, but I can't afford it," or "No, I have no need of a twin, but whenever I fly over the Cascades on a winter's night, I sure whish I had a spare engine."
Tossing aside the cost factor -- which is significant in leaping from one engine to two -- 22 readers chose twins simply because they were "cool." Those are the kind of pilots we need more of around the field. No one rides a Harley because it gets good gas mileage or handles like a Triumph 650. You mount a Hog because it rumbles and annoys the hell out of the guy at the light in his Prius. Likewise, a deep-throated Baron, when it taxis across the ramp with those lopping big-bore Continentals sucking more avgas than a Cirrus will burn in a month, looks cool. It is cool. Face it: Many of us became pilots to overcome a lack of coolness. Those of us who had bad acne and really liked muscle cars in high school, anyhow.

More levelheaded readers argued the plusses and minuses of twin v. single by alternately sighting safety. Several readers rightfully pointed out that the aircraft's mission should drive the debate. How cool is that? The multi-yes crowd greatly favored the extra windmill when operating over mountains or vast stretches of water. Multi detractors quoted the tired saw: "When one engine fails, the other just gets you to the crash site sooner." To which several multi-engine pilots countered with, "When one engine fails, the other takes me to the airport." Accident stats do not always support the two-engines-is-better-than-one debate. Many twins have crashed with one good engine still on the wing or on the fuselage (think Cessna Skymaster). Causes vary, but almost all readers -- except those devoted to the cool factor -- pointed out that a multi-engine aircraft presents multiple chances of trouble. If the pilot is not properly trained and (this is important) maintains proficiency, then the extra engine can prove to be a negative in an emergency. Sound advice. Building on the training theme, several multi-engine pilots said they'd earned the rating simply to increase their skill levels. "Best $6000 BFR I've ever had," commented one reader, who admitted he'd never fly a twin after the checkride but found that the discipline of mastering the extra engine and systems made him a better single-engine pilot. Tricycle-gear pilots often get the same results when transitioning to tailwheel. Any training that's good training increases overall pilot confidence and ability. Ideally, the Cessna 210 pilot should upgrade to twins in a DC-3 and get the multi, tailwheel, and definite cool factor all wrapped in one.

Several readers asked, "Why limit this multi-fantasy to twins?" And then they suggested a list of three-and-four-engine transports, such as DC-10s and 747s. I particularly enjoyed the reader who suggested transitioning to multis in a Ford or Stinson Tri-Motor. Gotta admire the understated cool factor. A subtler approach to favoring twins over singles didn't buy into the need for the extra thrust. Several readers mentioned the comfort of having redundant systems, such as vacuum and alternator. Engines don't fail all that often. When they do, a competent single-engine pilot can usually make a relatively safe emergency landing. But what about those night IFR trips over the Great Lakes when you'd really, really hate to lose the single vacuum pump? Twins offer a little extra IFR piece of mind in that department. Comfort was a minor factor in the survey responses but shouldn't go unnoted. Going higher to ride in cool, dry air above the clouds drew a few pilots into multis. Yes, Mooneys and 210s can cruise with most small twins while burning less fuel, but you get the gist. Air conditioning on the ramp drew another survey pilot into popping for a twin.

So, will the debate ever be resolved? Of course not. Don't even try. If you spent your kids' inheritance on a tricked-out Cessna 210 or Beech Baron, it really doesn't matter. They'll never fly with you, because you just aren't cool. Get over it. Love your airplane ... and, oh yeah, your kids, too. Both are expensive. Neither calls on your birthday. But pursue whatever winged dream you have and never let anyone try to tell you that your choice was the wrong one, because anything that gets you into the sky and above the ordinary is a good choice. When your kids turn 40, they'll get it. Just make them buy their own damn airplane! And speaking of being above the ordinary, check out this P-51 flying fantasy come true. [Ed. Yes, that's the author's voice in the Above The Ordinary video.] Next up: We tackle the multi- v. single-malt scotch debate.