my controls

My controls. This phrase can have so many different connotations and tones. I've said this phrase in good will and good manner, and even fear or anger. I've used it to correct mistakes, maneuver the aircraft away from WAY TO CLOSE traffic, or demonstrate what I'm trying to convey to the student. Today I used it calmly after my single engine airplane started getting a little too quiet.

In every pilots dreams, or nightmares rather, I think we all hope for and wish that if any adversity or difficulty strikes, we handle it calmly and professionally. It's sure easy to look back on something that turned out to be no big deal and brag, "I had it under control the whole time". Regardless of truth or lie, I think sub-consciously we want to believe we did.

Today I experienced a power loss and engine roughness while departing the pattern. I was a few short miles away from my airport and climbing smoothly through 2000 feet when it happened. I had been here before, a lot closer to the ground previously, but very similar indications. Inconsistent power output, roughness, vibrations, fear. Through my training, and experience as a flight instructor, I've become pretty comfortable in the aircraft I fly. However, when a single engine airplane starts acting like a glider, you get uncomfortable.

Once I glanced at the tachometer to confirm a reduction in power, I said the magic words.

My controls.

I had plenty of altitude for a return to the airport, I felt like I still had at least partial power for the moment. I turned for the airport and informed the tower. I don't think it came out as smooth or as debonair as I had dreamt. My voice was probably shaking noticeably, and I probably stumbled over a few words. Power loss. Emergency. Return to the airport. These aren't words I say very often outside of a controlled training session.

I did everything the checklist wanted me to do. Nothing was working, power was still reduced, engine vibration more than usual, this was starting to sink in. This engine could fail completely any second. Fortunately for me it didn't, and the landing was uneventful. In fact, it makes me feel like an idiot when I land with 'engine trouble' and then taxi to the ramp under my own power. I often wonder if the controllers laugh at that.

Today just emphasizes to me how important it is to just fly the aircraft. In an emergency no matter how big or small the problem, there is never anything more important than maintaining positive aircraft control and flying the aircraft. Teach your students to be calm, and trust the training they received. Follow the checklists, fly the aircraft, and get whatever assistance ATC can offer.