Its not very often you hear the words “Advise ready to copy a phone number, we’re going to need you to call when you land”. To a non pilot it may sound like no big deal, but to this date, hearing that sentence was the most terrifying moment of my entire flying career.
I haven’t been around in the industry very long, but I’ve been scared a few times. Partial and complete engine failures, electrical problems, landing gear malfunctions, none as scary as hearing ATC say those few words to my call sign.
I was flying with a commercial pilot student training him for his multi engine add on rating to his commercial. We were flying a Seneca 3 on an IFR flight plan and we had just finished a simulated single engine ILS approach. In a multi engine aircraft we routinely train engine failures in all flight scenarios. This particular time we were training a very common tested instrument approach scenario with a little twist.
In my experience with light twin airplanes and flight students, I feel its a very valuable experience to be introduced to single engine go-arounds. Its one of those scenarios that are extremely rare, yet extremely difficult. Yet with the right training it can become a manageable event.
In the Seneca we are unable to apply ‘full power’ because of turbochargers used to boost engine performance. So at sea level atmospheric pressure the boost supplied by the turbos is well beyond the limit of the engine.
This brings us to our scenario this specific day. Approximately 200 feet above the runway on short final I instruct my student to conduct the single engine go around. In the blur of the action he instinctively added full power. This got my attention and my focus which eventually led to the near deviation. While on the climb out I focused on ensuring no damage was suffered from the operating engine. This was not only going to be a lesson for the student, but for me as well.
We had been given clearance to 2000 feet and to fly a heading of near due south. During the climb out my attention stayed focused on the engine instruments and I failed to monitor my student closely enough to catch his climb right through our altitude. I contacted ATC to query if we were cleared to 3000(praying we were). Nope.
Power came to idle and the nose pitched down as I dropped the aircraft back to our assigned altitude as quickly as I could. The deviation from our assigned altitude was the largest deviation I had ever allowed to happen during my flight training, let alone my time as an instructor. ATC made no comment at the time and we continued on our flight.
A few minutes later we got the call.
“Seneca, advise ready to copy a phone number. Possible pilot deviation resulting in a loss of separation. We will need to investigate, and you will need to contact us when you land.”
This invoked a complete wave of terror and panic. I began thinking of how this would affect the rest of my flying career. I was unsure of what the consequences would be, unsure of what to expect and completely clueless of what to do.
I could think of nothing else but what would happen when I landed and called the number I just wrote down.
After an uneventful completion of the flight, I made the dreaded phone call. I talked with the supervisor and he advised me that it was a possibility that a pilot deviation could result from the event. He mentioned he has some more internal investigating to do and he would call me back if a deviation would not result. So here I sat and waiting in terror wondering what could possibly happen if I actually received a pilot deviation.
A few minutes later, actually quite short period of time, he called me back.
No pilot deviation would result. A wave of relief as intense as the wave of terror I felt when I first heard the words over the radio…