Close Calls is a column detailing the “close call” experiences of fellow pilots. I invite you to contact me at CloseCalls@TheAviators.TV to anonymously share your stories. The experience shared and lessons learned will be of benefit to all readers. Confidentiality will be assured and I will not use your name or aircraft ident without your permission. If your submission is used in Close Calls you’ll receive a copy of “The Aviators: The Complete First Season” on DVD.
By Anthony Nalli
Our pilot was working in the pattern on just solo hour number two working toward her private pilot’s license. She really enjoyed circuits… the routine of taking off, turning crosswind, downwind, base, final and then having the wheels touch the runway only to get to do it all over again.
That day, the skies were clear and blue with a bit of a crosswind – overall, a good day to practice. It was her second circuit of the day and she was feeling comfortable. She turned final and made her call then noticed the runway was approaching rather quickly.
“I was coming in too fast,” our pilot recalls. “I pulled the power back but it was too late, I felt the wheels hit the pavement… hard!” As her 172 sped down the runway there was a gust of wind and the aircraft began veering to the left.
“My foot smacked down on the right rudder but I had the sensation that the plane was tipping so I instinctively removed my foot. That’s when the plane veered back off the runway and onto the grass!”
“All I could think at that moment was “I’m off the runway… Oh God, oh God!” Our pilot anxiously relives. “I was speeding on the grass heading toward an intersecting runway. I started to actually make out the runway lights directly ahead of me. There was no time to think – I needed to act fast.”
Our pilot jammed the throttle forward and felt the plane lift as she gently pulled back the yoke, her eyes glancing down. Airspeed: 60. Trim. Airspeed: still 60. Her mind racing and wondering “Why can’t I gain airspeed? I’m going to stall and I’m 100 feet off the ground!”
Flaps up a notch, yoke slowly pulled back, the plane finally did begin to pick up airspeed. “I take what feels like my first breath since I turned final. My body is hot and shaking from the adrenalin.”
Now 400 feet above the ground, our pilot continues to check her instruments. “The plane is still moving slowly. I’ve missed something!” Her eyes frantically search the panel… Carb heat! She pushes in the carb heat and the plane purrs and soars within seconds.
Turning crosswind, our pilot is still shaking but she tells herself over and over to focus. As she’s about to turn downwind her thumb finds the call button and is actually surprised at how calm her voice sounds!
On the downwind our pilot performs her pre-landing and takes what feels like her second breath. Before long she’s back on final.
“I tell myself that I can do this but part of me is absolutely petrified,” our pilot admits. Focused, she lines the plane up to the runway and her eyes dart back and forth between the runway and the instruments.
Closer, then closer still, then our pilot was over the runway and let the plane gently find it’s way to the ground. She rolled to the taxiway, made her call clear of the runway, and took what felt like her third breath.
“That experienced has defined me,” confesses our pilot. “When I initially got out of the plane my confidence was shot. I was so disappointed in myself for coming in too hot, then rolling off the runway. I was going to quit my lessons. I told myself that didn’t I have what it took to be a pilot.”
“However, after speaking with my instructor and a few other pilots they focused on not what I did wrong but how I was able to stay in control and fix the problem at hand. That’s what pilots do… they remain focused and do what needs to be done… because they have to!”
Our pilot concludes, “The whole incident took just a matter of seconds, but it felt like a lot longer. My mind was racing trying to correct what I did wrong all while I was seriously freaking out inside. But I was able to do everything I was taught. Not only did that experience teach me to stay calm while flying, but also in many other life scenarios… assess the situation and then act.”
“More times than not when talking to another pilots, our “close calls” come up in conversation. We’ve all had them but training kicked in and we’re still here to tell the story,” attests our pilot. “My incident wasn’t life threatening but it was enough to get this student pilot’s adrenalin pumping.”
Anthony Nalli is the Executive Producer of the hit television series The Aviators (www.TheAviators.TV). Anthony can be reached at CloseCalls@TheAviators.TV. Season two of The Aviators premieres on PBS in September and the show can also be seen online at Hulu.com now and iTunes in September.