Stephen Trussel

The gusting wind made me somewhat uneasy as I taxied the small plane onto the runway, but the rental agent had assured me that it was safe to fly, so I pushed the throttle forward and focused on the gauges. This was my thirteenth solo flight, and I was intent on accumulating hours to qualify for the exam...

As soon as I was airborne I knew I had made a mistake. The plane was being tossed about like a leaf in a storm. "I don't belong up here," I thought, and banked sharply to reenter the pattern. All I wanted was to be safely back on the ground. I followed the landing procedures I knew by heart, but something was very wrong. I couldn't get low enough. The wind kept pushing me up. It became very warm in the cockpit, and I headed for the sky, climbing a few thousand feet to gather my thoughts. My teacher's words echoed in my ears: "Altitude, altitude. If you get in trouble, climb."

I heard a pilot requesting directions to another airfield, so I radioed down, "Are you sending people away from this strip?" The reply came back, "No, no problem, you can land." I descended again, but the result was the same; I couldn't get within 20 meters of the ground! Once more I climbed, shaken now, buffeted all the time by the powerful wind.

My best hope seemed to be to try from further out, giving me more time, but since that would put me outside the normal path, it was potentially dangerous. I backed off about a mile and started my descent, broadcasting a constant warning to any planes which might be around. "Extended approach, extended approach," I kept repeating. And that landing was one of my best. Relieved, drenched in sweat, hands shaking, I taxied back to the parking area. "Next time," I thought, as I turned in the keys, "I'll trust my own judgment." The agent merely smiled as he collected his fee.