It was a fairly warm summer, and exasperation with my quest to add my multi-engine land (MEL) rating was starting to grow like beads of sweat. In turn, my ME instructor-whose patience and professionalism has long since earned him sainthood-had been a pretty good sport all through this process. But, we still had some practice ahead of us, since I wanted Commercial privileges from the rating as well as to be comfortable with this well-worn-but-reliable Seneca I on the gauges. It was during this training that I learned to think before touching anything in an airplane.
The days mission was designed to add more polish to my skills. I had gotten fairly comfortable in the Seneca, which was just a big, two-breasted sister to the Archers and Dakotas in which I had many hundreds of hours. While humming along with one turning and one burning, we managed to stumble into a flock of gliders plying the local thermals. The CFI judiciously gave me back the bad engine and we motored out of there in a hurry, in search of another Zip Code over which he could visit his torture.
We decided to stake out some territory over a nearby Vortac and do some single-engine holding. Still under the hood, I dialed in the approriate frequency, spun the OBS until I got a centered needle with a To indication and smartly rolled into a standard-rate turn toward the station.
We made a bit of small talk and, soon, I noticed the change in his posture indicating I was about to lose an engine. Sure enough, the Seneca then drunkenly lunged off course, the engine power needles split, I mashed a foot to the floor and began to secure the failed engine. After the basic items-identify, verify-we agreed the engine had failed and I began to secure it. Throttle, prop and mixture were all retarded, and the engine shuddered to a stop. Thats when I reached over to the switch panel on my left and cut off the mags to the good engine.
It didnt take long-three or four nanoseconds, Id guess-for me to realize and correct my error. With a loud pop, the good engine regained its composure and settled back into a steady rhythm. Thankfully, I was still under the hood and didnt have to look the instructor in the eye. If I had, my face would have been as red as the mixture control handle I had just pulled.
I ended up sailing through the MEL checkride. But Ive never forgotten that episode and learned, the hard way, to pay attention to which switch is which.