5 min read

Every pilot remembers their first solo flight, but for me it was my second solo flight that brings back memories. It was a beautiful hot summer day in Ontario, Canada. I had gotten up real early and drove up to the Brampton Flying Club, where I had my dual flight time booked for 7am. After completing my walk around the aircraft, which was a Cessna 152, my instructor, David, came out to meet me on the ramp. He asked me a couple of questions regarding the fuel status of the airplane, I told him both fuel tanks were full and I had strained out fuel to check for water and debris in the tanks. He said if everything else was okay we were clear to go.

After doing a run-up and pre-takeoff check, we began to taxiing down toward the runway. The winds were from the northwest, so the active runway was 33 for the day. I taxied onto the centerline, then made the radio call and notified all traffic that my intentions were to take off on runway 33 and fly the circuit pattern. As I rolled down the runway, the aircraft took off and flew flawlessly. I turned downwind, making the call to traffic again (Brampton Flying Club is an uncontrolled airport). After turning base and final, David and I did three touch and gos. Finally, we made it a full stop on our fourth circuit.

I thought to myself, why did he ask me to do a full stop? The flight was only about a half hour at the most. But he said to taxi back to the apron and let him out. He was approving me for solo flight. I said, “OK, are you sure I’m ready?”

He replied, “Yes, you’re fine. I’ll watch you from the ground.”

As I taxied down toward to end of runway 33, the airport was starting to get busy and there were quite a few planes, both taxing and flying. I was a little bit nervous about going solo, without having David by my side. I rolled straight to the middle of the runway centerline, made the radio call and took off. I rotated perfectly at about 60 knots, started to climb out, did all my checks, and turned downwind. Everything was going perfectly until I turned base leg and heard my very first mayday call.


A lot can happen in the pattern.

It was a pilot of a Cessna 172, who had just taken off on runway 33. He was experiencing power loss, and called out that he didn’t think he could fly the circuit because he had three passengers on board, so he was attempting to make a turn around and land on runway 15.

I was on final approach at this point, but I understood the pilot’s intentions so I immediately looked up and located the Cessna 172 initiating a 180-degree turn. I was in complete shock and froze—we were on a collision course, head-on. At this point I was on short final, so there was only one option for me—I decided to overfly runway 33.

As I threw in full power and retracted the flaps in stages, I looked down right below my landing gear and saw the Cessna 172 touch down on the runway. The pilot and his passengers were safe and on the ground; I on the other hand had to fly another circuit with my heart beating fast. The only thing I could remember is getting the airplane back on the ground as fast and safe as possible. As I landed, I flared a little high and hit the ground a little harder than normal, but the airplane was fine and I taxied back to the ramp and had enough flying for that day. This was the closest I ever came to a head-on collision with another airplane.

When I got back to the flying club, David was waiting for me. He said he heard on the radio about the emergency landing and I had made the right decision to overshoot and go around.

Another unique landing

It was still winter up here in Ontario, Canada. But nevertheless it was a clear sunny day, and I had booked another early morning flight at the Brampton Flying Club. This time I was just going up alone on a solo flight to maintain my currency (Brampton’s flying club rules were that you had to fly at least once a month to keep your solo currency valid or else you had to go up with an instructor for a checkride). After completing my walk around of my Cessna 152, I hopped in and did my run-up and pre-takeoff checks.

Again the winds are from the northwest and the active runway was 33. I taxied down toward the runway, centered the airplane, threw in full power, and took off. Everything was fine as I climbed out and flew the circuit. As I turned base leg to final approach, I started to power off and slow down, so I threw in 20 degrees of flaps.

I noticed my airspeed indicator was reading incorrectly: it was increasing from 90 to about 110 knots. I thought it was weird and couldn’t figure out why, but I knew my final approach was looking good and I knew that on landing my actual airspeed was probably 50 to 55 knots. But as my airspeed indicator was still increasing I suspected it was reading backwards. I was scared I was going to stall the airplane, and didn’t know if the stall warning horn was going to give me an audible warning, given the situation. So I kept the nose of the airplane down, decided to ignore the airspeed indicator, and land as smooth as possible.

When I flared I glanced over at it—it was reading 110 knots. I greased the airplane on the runway, hit the brakes, and slowed down to exit on the first taxiway. I knew I had to report this incident to the flying club, so when I got back in to pay for my flight (which was 0.3 of an hour), I snagged the airplane and sent it in for servicing. After they inspected it, they discovered part of the pitot tube system was partially blocked, and the static port as well. The system was replaced and the airplane went back in service.

I have been flying for 21 years as a Private Pilot and have logged over 200 hours of flying time. These are my two scariest incidents I have ever encountered. Flying is very safe.

Gus Piliotis
Latest posts by Gus Piliotis (see all)
7 replies
  1. Sergio
    Sergio says:

    Great story, thank you for sharing. As a student pilot, all these stories help for learning about situations and to keep them in the back of my mind just in case something happens. At the end you said you’ve flown for 21 years and logged over 200 hours… that would be less than 10 hrs per year. I believe you meant over 2000 hours?

    • Gus
      Gus says:

      Hi Sergio,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Actually yes, I have only logged about 240 hours of total flying time, Including both dual and solo time. We can both agree its an expensive hobby, some prefer to call it, ” A rich mans sport ” but for me, its total freedom.

  2. Mike Sheetz
    Mike Sheetz says:

    Thanks for sharing. We can all learn a few things from others. So glad the C172 pilot and his passengers arrived safely. Appears that pilot made exactly the correct decision. Any idea what issues he had?

    • Gus
      Gus says:

      Hi Mike,

      Yes, I’ll have to agree with you, he not only made the right decision, he also made the 180 degree turn back to the runway. I have to give him credit, he must of had a lot of great skills, to be able to turn that airplane around with 3 passengers on board, and land safely. The only thing I remember is he reported ” a loss of engine power. ” Thank you for reading my story, I hope you enjoyed it.

  3. Jack Ellis
    Jack Ellis says:

    I’ve (unintentionally) flown with a partially blocked pitot tube. If you know your airplane, all it takes is pitch and power. A friend of mine who used to be an instructor would drive this lesson home to his students by covering the airspeed indicator and then having them land the airplane.

    In my case it helped enormously that I owned the airplane and had hundreds of hours of flight time in it.

  4. william
    william says:

    liked your comment on pitot tube blockage, my story, early summer morning, just had to get up into the air, we are uncontrolled a/p did a fast runway clear check, nosed the 172 onto #31 pushed the power in and sailes away… the 172 lifted gracefully, just passing through 500 ft., I noticed my airspeed was not alive. looked over at my pitot tube, saw this little red flag waving at me… for a moment I was shocked.. but I remember my instructor always telling me to fly the numbers so,I finished my circuit
    stopped at the end of the runway, grabbed my flag, and was airborne in less than 2 minutes.

    • Gus Piliotis
      Gus Piliotis says:

      Hi William,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my story, sorry for the late response. Just a thought about your comments, wouldn’t you have noticed the red flag, was covering the pitot tube during your walk around. Not sure about most pilots, but I take my walk around very seriously and check and double-check, everything twice. Thanks for responding, hope you enjoyed my stories.


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