To Go or Not to Go by Cindy Keller

I am a flight student with about 35 hours in a Katana DA20. I soloed several months ago and have been working on my cross-countries. Recently, after taking a month off for various reasons, I scheduled a solo flight. I was nervous, but excited to be getting some flight time.

I was a little more detailed than usual in my preflight after so long, I didn’t want anything to go wrong! As I taxied to the run-up area, my nerves calmed, and I focused on the task at hand. I began to go through my run-up checklist. Everything was going well until I cycled the propeller. I experienced a much greater drop in RPM than I had ever seen and significantly higher than was stated on the checklist I was using.

I took note of the drop and opted to continue with the run-up. Everything else was textbook, but that RPM drop was bothering me. I decided to check it again: maybe I’d read it wrong the first time. Again I experienced the high drop in RPM.

I sat in the plane for several minutes debating what to do. What would my instructor do? I had never had any trouble with the aircraft at the school before. After debating with myself, I finally decided to taxi back. My flight would have to wait for another day. I taxied back, tied down the plane and went inside.

When I reported what I had experienced, I was surprised at the reaction. Most of the people around said they would have flown the aircraft. Had I made a bad call? A discussion ensued about the purpose of cycling the propeller and the proper technique. When I left that afternoon, I had learned a great deal; more than if I had flown.

When I got home, I thought about the day’s events. I had learned much about the mechanics of the aircraft and inspired a useful discussion about technique, but something was still bothering me. With all the people saying they would have flown the plane, I had to wonder about my own judgement. Had I made a good decision?

I lost a night’s sleep going over the experience in my mind that night. The next day, I decided to talk to a friend about the situation. He has been flying since before I was born and has thousands of hours. He’s always been the voice of reason when I have questions about my flying.

That discussion would teach me the most important lesson a student can learn. And one that may save my life some day. We didn’t discuss the mechanics of the aircraft. We talked about my decision to turn back.

I told him about my doubts in my decision to turn back; especially after so many people said they would have flown. I questioned my ability to make sound judgements as pilot in command. I’ve rarely seen such a strong reaction. He told me what I already know deep down. No matter what anyone else would have done, I had made the right decision for me. That’s what being pilot in command is all about. He told me I should NEVER question the decision to not fly.

There is a lot of peer pressure as a pilot, especially for students. And there are a lot of big egos. My ego may be a bit smaller after this, but I can sleep soundly at night knowing that I made a good choice. I flew a few days later with a renewed self-confidence and a little wiser.

Cindy Keller