Dealing with the anxiety of the flight test phase?

I am 6 hours into my flight test phase and am definitely struggling with the anxiety of everything that could go wrong.

For background - I have been flying for 25 years, have a little over 500 hours in Cessnas and have an instrument rating (though not current).

So far nothing really scary has happened with possible exception of finding a small engine compartment fuel leak AFTER a recent flight test. 

Yesterday I flew for about an hour - at 5000 feet agl, right over top of my airport. Yet even with the altitude and proximity to home, my anxiety level continued to grow the longer I was up.

I did distract myself by doing the CAS tests but as soon as they were done I did a "how am I doing check?". I decided that my anxiety level was reaching my limit.

I wanted to stay up longer to get the 40 hours down, and the weather was beautiful, but I had just reached my stress limit. So, i reduced power and managed a decent landing. 

I don't think I ever really considered how the flight test phase would affect me. I was so busy building and besides, not many people talk about this subject.

I presume the more I fly the easier this will get, but that doesn't really help me right now.

I was wondering if anyone had any tips for dealing with the anxiety of flight testing?

Here's a short vid of my climb to altitude:



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Comment by Ronald W. Gorsline on November 1, 2016 at 1:30pm

I have 31 hours of Phase One as of last night and some of the anxiety is still there.  I'm becoming a little bored with the 50 mile radius restriction and would love to extend my flights to other places.  My 650 flies great and I've had no real problems, I feel quite safe in it.  

Comment by Gary Welch on October 30, 2016 at 10:45am

Hi Larry

I used the 3M Di-Noc carbon fiber that I bought off of Amazon. I think the whole panel and console cost only $25. This was probably the only part of the build that didn't piss me off. I have a low aggravation threshold! I had never used anything like it before. This stuff is not like any normal vinyl I had ever used before. It has almost no tendency to create bubbles or creases. And it is completely "undoable". Don't like the way it looks? Just warm it up with the heat gun, pull it off and re-lay it down again. If it gets stretched, the heat gun will return it to its original dimensions. There is not a single bubble or crease anywhere in my panel. It came out absolutely perfect the first time. Since installing it some time again I have had to remove and reinstall many screws. The vinyl hold up amazing well to screw heads being torqued down. Also, the stuff does not scratch. So, yeah, I really like this stuff.  

I ave a complete flight test plan that I am using. It is very comprehensive. There was a guy whose master thesis was to develop a flight test program for the 701. This included a complete set of flight test program cards. I copied this and modified it for my 601.

The test program does distract and helps with anxiety. What I'm finding though is I can only prep for one or two of the tests before each flight. Typically the tests take less than a half hour to complete. Then I have another hour or moire to kill and this is when the anxiety starts to build.

I have 11 hours on her now and the anxiety is definitely lessening, but still there.  

I, too, am an engineer. I also had not flown in 4 years prior to my brief and poorly executed transition training. The skills are starting to come back, slowly.

Good luck with your build!


Comment by Larry Zepp on October 30, 2016 at 9:09am

Hi Gary,  Your new bird looks great! I especially like the appearance of the carbon fiber look laminate on the panel - very classy. I am planning to do the same. Was it hard to apply?

My Zodiac 650B is in the fwd. fuselage construction stage, can't wait to get it on the gear. I am a 187 hr. Cessna and Grumman trainer pilot. I wonder if using the flight test cards available from EAA HQ might ease your test flying by offering some tasks for each flight? I can relate to the stress level, because I am a perfectionist engineer type that has been building and not flying for the past 5 years.

Best Regards,  Larry Zepp

Comment by Gary Welch on October 21, 2016 at 1:23pm
Thanks Jon. I appreciate the suggestions.

I am lucky that I have a number of very experienced Zenith builders regularly looking over my work and always available to ask questions or opinions. One of these is an A&P as well.

I'm amazed when people have the desire to build a second plane! My first, and only, pretty much sucked the life out of me. Building an RV is s while nother level of complexity and commitment. I wish you luck with it!
Comment by Jon Reddick on October 21, 2016 at 1:01pm

Watching your video made me wish for a moment that I was still flying, rather than building again.  I sold my XL this spring after building it and putting 100 hours on the tach, and am now working on an rv-6a.  I remember like it was yesterday the apprehension of that first flight, and the thrill of those first 40 hours in awe of this thing I built with my own two hands.  Still, it was a short but significant moment of prayer before applying full power that first time that calmed my nerves and enabled a successful launch!  

I actually had very little anxiety during the rest of the test period, and think that it can be attributed to several things:

1. Knowing that the plane was built with a "do it until it's right" mentality.   There were a few squawks during the build process that I let slide for a few days, but my conscience kept me from moving on until they were redone and done right.   We're building light airplanes, not nuclear reactors, and these planes will fly and fly well with a wide variety of quality of workmanship differences.  However, if there is anything you know you could have/should have done better, go back and re-do it now for your own peace of mind.   

2. Get an A&P with fresh eyes to look over everything.   In every other plane, we place confidence in our thorough walk-around and their once-a-year signature in the logbook.   If they don't see anything concerning, then what makes your plane any less safe than any other you would fly.  

3. The first 40 hours require really thorough pre-flight and post-flight inspections.   It's tedious but, like you found with the fuel line, necessary.  If nothing is wrong before taking off, the chances of something going wrong in the air are basically the same as in any other aircraft.  

4. The additional pilot program is a huge benefit, and taking along an instructor or skilled pilot can give you confidence that, should something go wrong, two brains will be working on the solution instead of one.  Along the same lines, my instructor was big into engine out practice, and we did so much of that, that by the end, dead sticking the 601 in was a piece of cake.

5. The last thing is, of course, to fly it more.  As I said before, I had very little anxiety during the test period because i was, largely, right over the home airport.   The anxiety started to build for me as I finished the test period and began to take trips, sometimes hours away from home.   Changes in the weather/temperature over the winter made things sound and feel slightly different than I was used to and all of that led to anxiety during some of these trips.   However, each time my passenger and I landed safely back at home my confidence grew to trust that if I started out with a plane that was functioning properly, the likelihood of it continuing to function properly is high.   

I've only been a pilot for 2 years and only have 150 hours, so I welcome anyone to correct this post where it errs in judgment, but it accurately reflects my experience and I hope it serves as a help.

Congrats on finishing your build!  

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