First solo out of the pattern: an unexpected adventure in risk management
Air Facts Journal

first solo student in front of Cessna 172 aircraft

That first solo brought all the expected excitement and provided that much needed confidence boost.

It was a great day for that first “true” solo.  A few days earlier, my instructor had hopped out of the airplane and turned me loose for the traditional few trips around the pattern.  That first solo brought all the expected excitement and provided that much needed confidence boost of being out on my own.  Now it was time for me to stray out a bit further but within my 25nm limitation and practice some maneuvers while doing a little sightseeing.  It was a warm autumn day in central Indiana and I was well within the solo minimum weather restrictions established by my instructor.  I performed a thorough preflight and run up, and experienced the child-like joy that happens every single time the wheels leave the runway.  There was a healthy mix of nerves and excitement as I headed south for a quick flyover of my house which was just a few miles away.

As I turned north toward our designated practice area for some maneuvers, I still had the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) for my home airport (KUMP) dialed in.  All of a sudden, I hear “MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY!” along with a report that a small biplane had a propeller failure during the takeoff roll.  After a minute or so of radio silence, the UNICOM monitor announces that the the runway – the ONLY runway – at my home airport is closed until further notice.  Gulp.

My first thought on hearing this was to divert immediately and get the airplane on the ground.  My adrenaline was already flowing and I know from experience that being in that zone is where poor decisions are made.  I took a deep breath, pulled up the nearest airports on the G1000, and made a radio call to my home airport letting them know I was on student solo and was diverting to Indianapolis Executive Airport (KTYQ) immediately.  I locked in the GPS using “Direct to” and switched the radio to the proper CTAF to listen for the active runway in use while pulling up the airport information and tuning in the weather frequency.  I took some deep breaths and entered the pattern with a few other diverting aircraft.  It was a relief to see a couple flight instructors from KUMP on the ground there.

While I was waiting on the ramp at KTYQ, some external pressure was creeping in.  I had a flight to catch for an international trip later that day and I was worried I might not get the airplane back in time.  On top of that, the cloud bases were dropping.  I mitigated these risks by asking one of the instructors if they could fly the airplane back while I grabbed a car ride home.  They were quick to offer help if needed.  I could take those things off of my list of stressors.

A little over an hour after I landed, they announced the runway was open once again.  I had plenty of time to make it back and the clouds were still comfortably within my (and the legal) minimums. I ran through my checklists and got back in the air for a direct flight back to KUMP.  Here’s where I learned about the breakfast fly-in.  Really!?

I get up in the air and zoom out to look at the ADSB traffic and see this.

Garmin display showing multiple aircraft.

The traffic inbound for the fly-in was the most I had ever seen.

(Warning, sarcasm) Can you believe they don’t issue NOTAMs for fly-ins?  Apparently, this is one of those things where you have to actually talk to a human being or visit a relevant website to learn about.  This was the most traffic I had ever seen at KUMP. And of course, it was during my solo flight.  A few more deep breaths and I decided that I had plenty of fuel to make some circles while the traffic dissipated.  There was no way I was going to needlessly overload my brain and risk a dangerous situation.  It sure was entertaining to listen to the radio traffic as a bunch of experienced pros sequenced into the pattern and made it look easy.  I want to get there, but not today.  I waited until there were only 4 planes in the pattern to make my way in.  There were barely any open parking spaces.

As a 51-year-old student pilot, I never fail to learn something new from each flight.  There was a lot of self-talk on this flight to the tune of “just fly the airplane”.  Getting that certificate will only offer more learning opportunities and I realize that if I’m going to do this, I need to expect and embrace those moments.


P.S.  I should mention that the pilot involved in the accident walked away covered in fuel, but unharmed.

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