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Small possible emergency (Long post)

Louis9820

New member
This is mainly me just getting my thoughts out and replaying the events in my head as well as thinking about my mistakes and what I could have done different. But I felt that posting this would be worth getting some feedback from more experienced pilots and possibly helping another student learn from my experience.

Today I was out in my local practice area for my first solo outside of the pattern. All was going well doing flight maneuvers, started with slow flight for a little bit then moved to power off stalls. Did two power off stalls to first indication and recovered then setup for some power on stalls. Completed my first power on stall which I was not supper happy with it so I did a second one (these were to full break). After recovering and regaining air speed and lost altitude I started to setup for a third one. Then I heard a loud pop. My first thought went to what just fell and started looking around the cockpit. Then it clicks that I am wearing noise cancelling headphones and the pop was loud enough to be heard through them. I start checking my engine instruments and note that my oil pressure has dropped out of the green ark. It is not into the red but definitely out of the green and lower than it should be. Instant adrenalin jump and heart dropping feeling. I quickly check the rest of the instruments and start turning back for the airport. The engine was responsive and I did not feel any lose of power or control just oil pressure low. My first thought and first mistake was to try and call my CFI to let him know what is going on and ask for help. I call him but could not hear him because of typical airplane noise. We do quickly text back and forth forth for a minute but I quickly realize I am not going to be able to get help via text and fly the plane at the same time and ditch my phone into the passenger seat. I then start to communicate with ATC as I had flight following going that I am going to be returning to the airport with possible engine issues, they instantly hand me off to the tower. I tell tower I am returning with possible engine issues, they ask if I am declaring an emergency and my heart sinks again. I state not at this time as I still had power and control. At this point I am about 20 miles out & 3500 ft AGL and my mind is racing and I am feeling super over whelmed and nervous. I am watching the oil pressure that is slowly climbing back up into the green about 3-5 min after the pop. This is where my second mistake takes place. I decided to start a descent to get closer to TPA (1200 MSL). Looking back I should have kept my altitude up longer in case I did fully lose the engine I would have had more time to respond and figure things out. But I continue, I climb down to about 2000 MSL for the next 10 miles or so on my way back. At this point being about 10 miles out I have the airport in sight and tower has given me the pattern entry information and asks if I have the newest ATIS. I state no but I will try and get it, He says no do not bother and gives me the ATIS information and states to keep him updated on the situation. Tower wanted me to setup for a straight in approach but in order to do so I would have had to turn off my direct course to the airport and I wanted to get as close to the airport as fast as possible. I tell tower that I would like to continue on my path and setup for a right base as it would allow me to continue on a straighter course in. Tower approves my request. At this point I am about 7 miles out at 2000 MSL. My third mistake I again start a descent down to get to TPA of 1200 MSL I just get to TPA and again hear another pop, this one is quieter and do not see a drop in oil pressure but again my heart sinks as I think I lost my engine fully. After checking again and still seeming to have fully power response and control of the plane realize that I should have considered my altitude earlier on and I finally decide to climb back up to 2500 MSL to give my self more altitude if I did lose the engine. The rest of the flight from here on out is normal I safely land the plane and taxi to parking were I am met by flight instructor making sure I am okay.

At this point my hands are shaking like crazy and I am still amped up on adrenaline but I am on the ground. My and instructor and I talk for a bit about what happened back an forth and he checks out the plane seeing if there is any clear issues. He did not find anything super obvious but said I did the right thing in coming back and landing. I walk away from this with a few thoughts some good some bad. My mistakes I have acknowledged above but some things I felt like I did do well though. The decision to comeback and not try and continue my flight I felt was justified. Telling the tower that I wanted to continue on course and not turn out I felt was a good thing to do.
 

Zeede

Administrator
Staff member
Whew! I'm glad that you are back on the ground safely! Great instincts in turning back immediately!

Yes, I would have stayed at a higher altitude until you had the runway made, but otherwise I think you did well. Aviate, navigate, communicate.

Does your headset have Bluetooth capability? I only connect mine for phone calls (I don't like the distraction of music while flying) but yeah, otherwise it is impossible to make a phone call while flying.
 

321Captain

Active member
Yeah, I think you did just fine. It’s pretty normal for a pilot at your experience level to get a bit of the adrenaline rush when things go south. We have all scared ourselves at some point in our flying lives. As far as the engine, I would be interested to know what the mechanics come up with. It kind of sounds like piston “detonation”, although I don’t know how common that is. I did read about it a million years ago when I was a student pilot like yourself. You made the right choice about heading back to the airport. As far as the altitude stuff; Ya gotta descend sometime. The fact that you were thinking about it and looking out at the possibilities if you experienced an engine failure, just means that you were being a pilot. The big takeaway for you should be that you should always have a plan B in your head. It doesn’t have to be a constant thought process, but more a phase of flight thing. Have a plan for what you would do after takeoff if you lost power or the engine completely. Always be looking for possible landing spots in cruise while enjoying the scenery. It actually pretty much becomes second nature the further down the road of your flying career/hobby. Always have fun.
 

MsHighAltitude

Administrator
Staff member
Glad to hear you are ok. That was a lot to deal with for first time solo outside of traffic pattern. Good call on heading back to the airport. It's always better to be safe than to be sorry. Like @321Captain said, consider what you would do if the engine quits--any closer airports you can land at? what's your plane's glide ratio? best glide speed? Hopefully before sending you out on your own, your instructor has drilled the engine out procedures (like, ABCDE) into you, and hopefully none of us will ever have to go through that list IRL.
 

Louis9820

New member
Whew! I'm glad that you are back on the ground safely! Great instincts in turning back immediately!

Yes, I would have stayed at a higher altitude until you had the runway made, but otherwise I think you did well. Aviate, navigate, communicate.

Does your headset have Bluetooth capability? I only connect mine for phone calls (I don't like the distraction of music while flying) but yeah, otherwise it is impossible to make a phone call while flying.
Yes my headset does have Bluetooth it was connected to my iPad for traffic alerts and foreflight notifications at the time. In the moment I didnt reall want to fight with it and try to reconfigure/ connect to my phone. I think I will have it connected from here on out as a backup.
 

Louis9820

New member
Glad to hear you are ok. That was a lot to deal with for first time solo outside of traffic pattern. Good call on heading back to the airport. It's always better to be safe than to be sorry. Like @321Captain said, consider what you would do if the engine quits--any closer airports you can land at? what's your plane's glide ratio? best glide speed? Hopefully before sending you out on your own, your instructor has drilled the engine out procedures (like, ABCDE) into you, and hopefully none of us will ever have to go through that list IRL.
There was a closer airport that I could have very easily made if I did lose the engine completely at the first pop. But after checking all the engine gauges and feeling what the plane was doing I did not feel any lose of power so I decided to head for my home airport.

My instructor and I have practiced engine out procedures several times, he is at the point of reaching out and pulling power to idle randomly and without warning.
 

Louis9820

New member
Yeah, I think you did just fine. It’s pretty normal for a pilot at your experience level to get a bit of the adrenaline rush when things go south. We have all scared ourselves at some point in our flying lives. As far as the engine, I would be interested to know what the mechanics come up with. It kind of sounds like piston “detonation”, although I don’t know how common that is. I did read about it a million years ago when I was a student pilot like yourself. You made the right choice about heading back to the airport. As far as the altitude stuff; Ya gotta descend sometime. The fact that you were thinking about it and looking out at the possibilities if you experienced an engine failure, just means that you were being a pilot. The big takeaway for you should be that you should always have a plan B in your head. It doesn’t have to be a constant thought process, but more a phase of flight thing. Have a plan for what you would do after takeoff if you lost power or the engine completely. Always be looking for possible landing spots in cruise while enjoying the scenery. It actually pretty much becomes second nature the further down the road of your flying career/hobby. Always have fun.
I really want to know what the mechanics find too. One of the other instructors said it could have been detonation but typically that is more than 1 pop at a time and should not have caused a large drop in oil pressure like it did. Like you said always having a plan B now is super important for things like this. We have the typical crew briefing on the ground for engine out before rotation/ after rotation, with and without runway remaining, determining what altitude we circle back to the airport at after take off. But I realize now that is great for the rake off but like you said making a new plan once fulling in cruise or out in the practice area should be thought of at all time as well.
 
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