So to start with, I got lost in my first Solo cross-country. Not very proud about it, but I thought it should write about it. Some of you might have gone through it, and some may have not.
But, I have, and as a trainee pilot, its a scary situation to be in. What got me out is knowledge and keeping calm. I believe these two things can get you out of any situation.
First of all let me tell you that I had to leave India to get my first Solo cross-country. This happened after 20 hours of total flying time which included one solo flight doing circuits and landings. So to my credit, we know that my experience was limited. The aircraft we used for my first cross-country was the Robinson-22.
The first solo cross-country
For those of you who doesn’t know, this is a very important event in a pilots life. And well, I screwed it up. So let me describe the day, it was a beautiful sunny day. As my instructor used to call it, it was a perfect flying day!!. I was scheduled to fly from North county airport, West palm beach, Florida to an airport called Pahokee which is in Florida too. A short flight, perfect for a solo cross country. In my initial days of training, I wasn’t allowed to use the gps, so we depended on maps.
A day before, we had planned the whole route on the map, taking into account the possible winds. My instructor briefed me on the route very well before the flight and I was very confident too. I would also like to add on that I had been to Pahokee once before.
So it was 0945am, and I was all set for the 1000am flight. I was a bit nervous knowing that I was on my own if something went wrong, but confident. I reached the weather and also the routing, it was all perfect. On the map we had checkpoints marked, coinciding with headings, distances and also the time taken.
At sharp 1000am I started the engine and by 1010am I took off after completing my whole startup checklist. After I took off, I fell a sense of nerve wrecking fear and also felt immensely free. Well, I was up in the air, with the birds, on my own. Luckily there were no birds to add on to my misery.
In 10 minutes of flying time, I found my first check point and consequently the next one. The third checkpoint was up in 14 minutes of flying time. I kept heading, speed(80-90kts) and altitude(500ft) as planned. 14 minutes were over, and I couldn’t find the third checkpoint. All I could see around me was miles and miles of swampland. I decided to fly for 2 more minutes to see ahead. I couldn’t find the checkpoint.
I flew for a few more minutes and now I was certain I was lost. I decided immediately to not go further. “What should I do now!!”, “Shall I turn back?”, “Shall I go further and check?”, I thought. I checked my fuel gauge, I had enough fuel to make it to Pahokee, as I had taken fuel for a round trip. In between all this another thought came into my head, “People would make fun of me”. Well, then I wished if my instructor was around.
I had wasted a few more minutes in all this. And then I decided to put my Huge Indian head into the matter. Of-course I should’ve done this long time back. Better late than never, right?. I decided to follow what I had read in one of the aviation books long time back, The 5 C’s.
The 5 C’s
The first C- Circling.- I decided to circle in the same location and look on the map and figure out where I was. All I could see is miles and miles of waste land. But this helped me from not getting further lost and not gaining on distance.
The Second C- climb. – Let me tell you I had never flown above 500 ft until this time. So, I gathered my guts and decided to climb to a 1000ft and then 1500, but couldn’t spot anything other than these wastelands.
The third C- Conserve.– I don’t think I did a good job at this as I was still in orbit and maintaining around 60kts. But I still found an option of being in orbit better than moving ahead as I had enough fuel.
The fourth C- Confess. – I further went on to give a blind call on the RT. The call included my call sign, where I took off from, where I was going to and finally that I was lost. I repeated onto doing this a few times. After a few more calls, an aircraft called me back. It was a fixed wing commercial airliner. I could make out from his voice, he’s pretty old and experienced. This was a very emotional moment for me.
The fifth C- Comply. -He called out my aircrafts name and let me know that he’s heard my call. I said, “Sir, I’m lost and can’t find my way to Pahokee, I’m a student pilot a solo cross-country”. He responded, “Do not worry son, we are here for you”.
Let me tell you, though nobody was there with me at that time physically, his words felt very assuring. He asked me to climb further, and with hesitation I climbed to 4000 ft. Now I could spot the okechobee lake which was the only lake in the area. I coincided it with the map, and I knew a road led from okechobee all the way till Pahokee. I thanked him immediately and told him I have found my way.
I further flew down to the lake, and went on to follow the road until pahokee. Landed there safely, switched off and ran to the FBO to call up my instructor. The information had already reached them. They had made arrangements for me to refuel at Pahokee as well. After having a cup of coffee, I headed back to North county airport and this time everything went fine. I found all my checkpoints on time. On landing, I could make out that my instructor was upset. I apologised, he said its alright and we moved on.
I thank god for getting me back on ground safely. Later on we figured out that the winds were stronger than we had expected, which caused me to drift away from my route. And me moving further ahead, just added onto the drift. The winds and my fear of getting humiliated(and not turning back) wrecked my first cross-country. Let me share with you a few lessons I learnt that day.
- When in doubt, incase of aviation, always turn back. You can fly another time, another day.
- Never come into Peer pressure while flying. I didn’t turn back on time thinking about the humiliation I would have to face. But just think, what if I had turned back?? Would the situation occur.
- Read as much as you can, all that knowledge might save you some day.
- Keep calm. Panic will just add onto your misery.
- Plan for every aspect before you set out for any flight. Never get carried away.
Well, this was my first solo cross-country experience. Thankyou for for your time. Happy landings!!