I was a student pilot and had just worked my way up to gain enough hours and experience to solo. The day came when finally my instructor turned me loose for those magical three takeoffs and landings which, when done, had me feeling on top of the world and that much closer to being a real pilot.
After a few more hours under my belt and a few days later, having my solo endorsement, I sauntered up to the airport in my best pilot strut to take the mighty Cessna 152 up for some practice. I thought I would head on out and work on my approach and departure stalls. I walked around the FBO long enough to give everyone ample chance to see a real pilot in the making before I headed out to the line, where I inspected my bird.
Now anyone who has flown in a 152 knows there’s not a lot of room inside the cabin when you put a couple good sized men inside. More so, we were always right about max weight depending on the density altitude, fuel load and if I had eaten a large lunch that day. Practicing stalls with the weight wasn’t a major problem and we were able to practice them regularly.
I climbed in the 152, adjusted my cool pilot sunglasses and made a perfect takeoff hoping there were at least two or three people watching in envy thinking to themselves, “Now there goes a cool cat. He’s almost a real pilot!” I felt great and entered the practice area climbing to an appropriate altitude to begin my stalls. Now here’s the thing about a 152 loaded with just me and half tanks of fuel with a light lunch… It’s not as heavy as I remember.
So I poured the power on and hauled back on the yoke. With the lighter load, that yoke came right back and the nose of the plane pointed right up. For a split second I thought “that’s strange” and before I knew it, I was pointing straight down at the ground in a left spin. My next thought was, “This never happened before.”
The spinning ground filled the front windshield for two or three turns as I reduced power to idle, kicked in the right rudder to stop the spin, sharp forward then aft on the yoke to start a slow climb, adding power as I pulled out and started up.
As I was making the climb back to altitude, I was trying to decide what went wrong when all of a sudden I pondered what happened and the alternate outcome had I not done what I just did to solve my dilemma. A wave of fear fell over me and I decided for whatever reason, the airplane just tried to kill me and it’s time to go back to the airport and land.
I no longer felt like a real pilot or a cool cat and as I made a landing one might expect from a blind man, I was hoping those two or three people who might have seen me take off earlier were not still around to see the less than stellar touch down. (In all fairness, a blind man would have done a better job at landing that day).
I taxied up, shut down and my instructor walked out and asked me how it went. For a moment I thought about lying to him for fear he would take my paper solo endorsement from me, rip it up and throw it away. He instead told me I did the right thing, he had faith in me and wouldn’t have let me go if he doubted my abilities.
Not being one to give up, I conquered the fear of what happened and eventually obtained my private license. Feeling a little more knowledgeable, I later purchased that same little 152 which I flew and enjoyed for a number of years. I love every minute I spend in the air flying and still learning. Even though I am a licensed pilot, I still hope to be a real pilot someday.
Editor’s Note: This is the latest article in our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org