A humbling solo flight

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.

152 in a spin
How did that happen?

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: editor@airfactsjournal.com

7 Comments

  • I remember practising solo power-on stalls in a Diamond Katana … the snap nose drop once you got the nose really high made me glad my harness was on tight! I’m not much of a heavy guy myself so that must have been part of it.

  • This story is rather common… I did it too. And I know of others. Second day trip to the practice area and first time doing stall practice solo.
    * I feels it’s important for CFIs to do spins with there students because it’s common for students to spin planes

    I was solo to the west practice area… second solo out of the pattern. Stall pratice, I’d been told by my CFI to really hold the nose up really high (rather then just holding it on the horizon). Skyhawk 045 stalled as planned but I didn’t lowered the nose completely (to a safe AOA) before I pulled the flaps up. Prior to pulling the flaps I had felt the left wing dropping off slightly so, I had right aileron correction in with heavy right rudder — adding to the situation. As I pulled the flaps… over it went. The nose felt like it cartwheeled striaght down & then I felt the wings catch the nose came up a bit and it started to turn.. I tripped the poor thing. to this day I wonder if I didn’t hammerhead a skyhawk in a spin.

    Initially I thought I was in a steep spiral …. I tried to get out of it by leveling the winds. I was surprised when the ailerons just felt unconnected and did nothing. It then hit me, turning unresponsive ailerons; “oh my G○d, I’m in a spin!” I then noticed I had the controlwheel held ALL THE WAY BACK. My next thought was, ” okay the 172 is a very stable plane if I just let go of the controls, if should come back to me.” Well, I did in a “jesues take the wheel” type move and it DIDN’T. It continued to turn… I looked down at the ground as it turns below me; it seemed oddly hypnotic, peaceful. I began to wonder what people would think if me killing myself in this airplane. THENNNNN… this the feeling of this presence in the backseat came to me, and heard it say in my ear, “YOU KNOW HOW TO FIX THIS!!! SO DO IT!” I thought YES, yes I do. P.A.R.E….. I reach out fully identifying the throttle. Cuz’ (Cuz I thought well the next stupid thing I can do it pull the mix) I was fully prepared to run down the full P.A.R.E list, but as soon I pulled out the throttle…… the nose yawned out of the spin. I had power on the whole freakin time, & it was feeding the yaw of the spin!! I pulled out of the insueing dive and counted my blessings.

    All this occurred in the space of 7 to 9 seconds…

    Unfortunately my CFI, NEVER really fully debriefed it for me. When I told him, he insisted it did happen and walked back into his office sorta ignoring my request to talk about.

    It’s been probably 10 years since then and I have since gotten a spin endorsements… but I always look back at that as the day I learned to respect the airplane.

    • Correction::
      “”Unfortunately my CFI, NEVER really fully debriefed it for me. When I told him, he insisted it didn’t happen”

  • Greg, don’t feel bad about the experience; I think most of us have felt that shock at one time or another. I remember right before my first “practice-area” solo flight, my instructor told me not to do any power-on stalls. But I did it anyway. The way it happened to me was, I went up for the departure stall, the stall warning horn sounded, and the very next thing I was conscious of was me flying straight and level in the exact opposite direction. I didn’t have time to react or ponder, or put in any sort of control movements; and those few seconds were forever blanked from my memory. It’s like I lost 5 or 6 seconds of time… It was a while before I practiced power-on stalls again, too. And I was very conscientious of the rudder from then on, also… Live and learn. Good story, Greg.

  • Yes, I agree that this is a too common experience and seems to support spin training… or more emphasis on spin awareness/avoidance. Every pilot should experience a spin, if for nothing more than saving a few seconds of ‘what the…!!!’ if/when you find yourself in an incipient or fully developed spin.

    The issue seems to be finding aircraft that are certified for spins AND finding a CFI who is comfortable teaching spins.. Or at least that’s the problem around my airport.

    My story is somewhat similar (but not as severe) and mostly (OK, all) my fault. I was flying an LSA, which had very benign stall habits unless you forget and perform a power on stall with full flaps. I thought the ball was centered, but after a quick break, a fully dropped wing and a windscreen full of sideways earth I remembered to pull the throttle, use a lot of opposite rudder and managed to talk the airplane into level flight again, albeit a bit above the max flap extension speed.

    After some deep breathing and making certain there were no unusual odors or stains, I flew back to the airport for a passable landing. Next time I’ll remember the flaps…

    But I vote for more spin-related training! You ‘done good’ Greg!

  • No mention of practicing stalls while the airplane is in an “uncoordinated ” flight condition. Keep the ball centered by applying correct rudder input and the airplane will not brake violently. I’m just saying. I teach how to avoid stalls more than how to stall.

  • Greg, thanks for sharing your experiences. From your description it sounds like you entered the spin soon after lift-off and I’d imagine a 2-3 turn spin takes a bit of altitude… What was your estimated altitude AGL when you started to spin?

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