Learning the hard way by Tony Invencio

In St. Petersburg this afternoon there was a celing at about 2000′ and rain was just south but not close enough that we couldn’t get a few manuevers in. I made my way out to the C152 and began the preflight. Preflight went quick and I was looking forward to a fun hour.

My CFI made her way out to the plane and I proceeded with the startup checklist. I made it through without forgetting anything and sat and listened to the engine as it rumbled at 1,000 RMP, it sounded alittle rough but not rough enough to stop us.

Winds were kicking up from the west but they weren’t bad enough for us to cancel the lesson. Runup was normal, I did most of it without the check list but I reviewed it when I was done to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I was feeling good that I had made it this far without the CFI having to remind me of anything.

“Cleared for takeoff Runway 24”

Those magical words that always bring butterflies to my stomach. I turned onto the runway, aligned the nose with the centerline and went to full power.

“RPM” “Oil Pressure” “Airspeed”

My eyes made there way from right to left across the panel, everything looked good. I kept it on the centerline and at 50kts I began to rotate, airspeed continued to climb and the plane lifted off the runway. I love that feeling.

This is the first time I had been in this particular plane. The flying club I’m taking lessons at have 3 C152’s I had already flown the other two so I wanted to take this one out for a spin. I thought it was a good idea not to get so used to one plane, so did my instructor.

The climbout was going smoothly, smoother than previous ones, I attributed this to the plane and my training. At two hundred feet I looked out the windows at the city below, things seem to be going by slower than usual. The CFI made a comment about visibility and thats when I started to notice it.

I was fighting the plane more than usual to keep airspeed, I kept having to lower then raise the nose to stay at Vy, our normal climbout speed. I also noticed that the yoke was getting “heavier” it took more pressure to keep the nose up. This was very different than the numerous takeoffs before, but again for a split second I attributed it to the different plane.

I never got a chance to notice the RPM gauge before the CFI asked why I had pulled back the power before we were at traffic altitude. We were at 2000RPM! While I was telling her that I hadn’t touched it we both went for the throttle. The throttle was already full, as was the mixture. Carb heat off. Magnetos on Both, Flaps up, Gas on. Everything was normal inside the plane, outside the plane, we were at 400 feet and 70kts and not really going anywhere.

Quickly I asked “Turn Back” and she hesitated for a second while she double checked everything. It felt like an hour but she keyed the PTT and contacted the tower. We were turning back, she had used that awful word “emergency”. We were losing RPM!

I wasn’t as scared as I should have been, I realize now just how dangerous the situation was. Although we still had some RPM the situation was going to be tight. The city below wasn’t looking like a very inviting emergency landing strip. She took over the controls and started a very shallow left while still attemping to climb. Before letting go I confirmed “Do You have the Plane?” she replied “I have the plane”. It was obvious that she already had taken control but I had always read that you must confirm that SOMEONE had control of the plane before letting go of the controls. I thought that in this situation it was most crucial. I was now a passenger.

As I sat quietly I watched her work. She continued to check the instruments and stuff. I watched as she scowerd the scenery for a suitable place to put down if need be. I saw her fixate on a street. Then the bay. The airport was just off my left and about a half a mile away we were losing altitute and the RPM was beginning to fluxuate between 1700 and 1900 RPM. I wanted to ask her if we were going to make it but I really didn’t want the answer and I knew that she needed to concentrate on what she was doing, saving our lives!

I heard her say it but I really didn’t want to acknowledge it. We were at 300 feet, I thought she had done pretty good considering, but we were still a ways from the threshold. I looked down and saw the buildings I had just climbed out over, I was hoping we were going to make it over them this time.

At 250′ we were high enough to clear all obstructions and close enough to make the runway. She proceeded with a fairly normal landing, except we were comming in way to fast. Since we couldn’t rely on the engine she never pulled the power. She went full flaps, as we crossed the threshold, she was coaxing it down, we blew past the first third of the runway and she pulled the power. We made it down but with the tailwind we were moving way to fast. She applied the brakes and we started skidding she tried to gently apply them but we were still going too fast. We were getting to the end of the runway and looking at the bay. I decided I needed to help just as we went off the runway into the grass. I jammed the brakes on and we came to a stop.

The engine was still running, mocking us really. She pulled the mixture and it sputtered to a stop. I shut it down and we jumped out. That was enough for us for one day.

I’m a 9.3hr student. This was the second flight with this instructor, and as I said the first (and last) time with this plane. I wanted to tell this story because I hope not many of you (students) have or will have to experience it. Take from this story what ever you can/want, I just wanted to relate todays experience.

I had always read about this stuff but never really thought it would happen to me, although I knew that it COULD. I’m going up again on saturday but with a new respect for this business of flying. And a new emphasis on looking over ALL the instruments. Thats one mistake I wont make again.

I dont want to start a huge debate on whether or not we did the right thing by turning back. I realize now that we were vunerable to the “Death Turn” senario but she was the CFI and I wasn’t going to argue. I would have done the same thing considering we did still have 2000 RMP when we initiated the turn.

By the way, no damage was done to us, the plane or the runway lights we almost took out. Our nerves were alittle shot though. We dont know exactly why we lost RPM but we did and there wasn’t anything we could have done.

The most important thing I learned was that no flight is routine.

Tony Invencio