Staying Okay


Im fortunate my wife wanted to learn to fly when I decided it was time for me to learn. We shared (and truly understood) the emotional highs and lows experienced by each other during our three-month journey to the private certificate.

July 5 of 2004 was very foggy. Our instructors were bored, so they called us to see if we wanted to do some actual IMC. We jumped at the chance. At this point I was six weeks into my training, Id soloed and done one cross-country, but I didnt know what an approach was. The forecast was 800 overcast for the day, so all was good for an ILS return.

I took off first; my wife was 10 minutes behind us with her instructor. After VOR tracking and other exercises, it was time for an approach back into home plate. My instructor “remembered” the localizer frequency, but never identified it. He reviewed the plate as I flew the vectors provided by ATC. Once I was on course, he took the controls.

I watched everything he did, but understood very little other than flying a heading


and tracking the glideslope to the runway. The needles didnt respond the way I expected, based on my studies.

Well, 800 feet came and went; then 500 feet and finally we saw ground at around the 200-foot decision altitude, but nothing associated with the airport environment. Turns out my instructor mis-set the localizer frequency and we werent flying to any nav signal. Oops.

We missed and the ceiling continued to drop. My wife and her instructor landed on their first shot because her CFI appropriately identified the localizer.

After our third miss, ATC asked our intentions, which eventually took us to Providence. My CFI handled the communications because I was very overwhelmed just flying. Did I mention that we didnt have low altitude charts or plates for any other airports and this Cherokee 140 did not have a GPS?

This got fun fast, but ATC stayed very professional as they vectored us for a straight-in ILS with 400-foot ceilings. My CFI did the landing because we couldnt afford to miss again if I botched it. Ill never forget my instructor asking, “Are you okay?” several times. I reminded him that me being okay was based on him being okay, so I asked him the same question several times in turn.

My message is that despite anything wrong your instructor may do, you must work together. If you dont, or if you panic, youve just added more work to an already-busy pilot. Save the panic for later and savor the experience/lesson you just received.

My wife and I both earned our instrument ratings more than three years ago but we still chuckle about that experience. The only thing Im upset about is that my logbook is short 3.3 hours of actual instrument time. Did I mention my instructor wasnt a CFII either?


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