A student pilot on Twitter sent me a private message recently to tell me he’d completed his solo cross-country. At the end of his Tweet, he said, “I got lost for about 10 minutes but I made the loop.”
Boy, did that trigger memories! I got lost on my long solo cross-country. I’m not sure whether it was 10 minutes or 20, because once I realized that I was not where I thought I should be and wasn’t sure exactly where I was, I didn’t let things distintegrate any further. I swallowed my pride and called on ATC for help.
This happened in the weeks following September 11, 2001, after student pilots were permitted to return to the air. Prohibited Area P-40, which covers Camp David, had been widened from its usual five nautical miles to 10, and remained that way for awhile, as I recall.
The first leg, from Frederick Municipal to Lancaster, went fine (unless you count the dry mouth and shaky knees). The second leg, from Lancaster to Hagerstown Regional, was where things fell apart somewhat. Trundling along in the Socata TB9, I began to get nervous when I didn’t spy York airport, one of my checkpoints.
That second leg was to was to take me north of expanded P-40, skirting the prohibited area by a generous margin, and then to Hagerstown. As I started looking at my sectional and checking my course heading, images of F-16s pulling up alongside the Tampico flooded my brain. As I saw it, there was a distinct problem with continuing on my present course and hoping for the best. For all I knew, I was headed directly into P-40.
After a couple more minutes of trying to find something recognizable on the chart, I keyed the mike and called the Hagerstown tower. A controller listened to my concern, gave me a transponder code, and when she had me on radar provided vectors to the airport. Simple as that. I think she said something like “good job” when I landed. I was so grateful for her kind treatment of a worried-verging-on-scared student pilot that I called the next day to thank her. The leg back to Frederick went without a hitch.
Moral of the story? Controllers are there to help all of us. Second moral of the story? Don’t wait to ask for help. Painting yourself into a corner will only limit your options, or the controller’s, when at last you see the light.–Jill W. Tallman