It was Clive’s first solo flight in a long while. The check-out pilot said he was “good to go”. The weather was ideal for VFR* and he had a solid landmark in the red-and-white ribbed smoke stack on the port side of the runway.

Thirteen minutes into his touch-and-go routine, Clive climbed into a cloud. Strange, he was sure it was a clear blue sky when he made his approach.

His heart fluttered a little but within moments he was in and out of the cloud.


There was a puff of smoke from the exhaust, followed by that dreaded clatter. The engine sputtered and the propeller whip-lashed and stalled.

The aircraft stopped, and ever so slowly dipped and plummeted. Clive was at a height of 5,000 feet and the ground rushed to him.

His instinct urged him to: Pull back! Pull back! Pull back on the control column.

His training screamed: Push down! Push down! Push down to earth!

[What would you have done?]

Clive landed safely.

He pushed down—picked up airspeed—regained control and landed.

VFR* – visual flight rules

*** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019 ***

As I’m travelling, please forgive me if I’m late in responding to your comments. Thank you.



    1. Hello Bill,

      Very true. I’m an aircraft engineer by profession and well-aware of all the redundant safety features even in a single engine airplane, let alone an airliner. In the world of aircraft mechanics we speak of that one loose nut – the one between the pilot’s seat and the control column. Ordinarily it is a laughing matter until one learns that more than 85% of all aircraft accidents are traced to pilot error. A distant second is weather.

      All good wishes,

  1. If I’m already strapped with a parachute and there is an eject button on the aircraft, that’s what I’ll do. No use going down together with the plane in pieces, both instinct and training may go so wrong.I think my survival instinct will take over first. If it fails, so be it.

    1. Hello Windy,
      Can you imagine as you settle down for the flight, the pilot walks past you and enters the cockpit – and he is wearing a parachute LOL.
      Yes, instinct and training can let us down – true. We do our best and leave the rest.

  2. Well having travelled on Cessna and Aero Commander planes up into the highlands of Irian Jaya with a “bush pilot” character I can assure you there are moments of terror dealing with updrafts and downdrafts among those close together peaks where you are flying blind through clouds at times and I’m glad the pilot knew how to deal with those situations. But we did lose one pilot in the Pacific just north of Irian Jaya and had another one crash in the jungle so mother nature can play tricks in spite of good maintenance and well trained pilots. Your firm most likely serviced the required long hour service requirements and it was always a hassle to get the engines out of Indonesia for service in Singapore and back into the country.

    1. Hello Ian,

      Travelling over the Irian Jaya mountains takes iron nerves, especially back in the 1970s/80s and I suspect even now. You’re right the updrafts and downdrafts are unpredictable and dangerous when you’re in a small aircraft with nowhere to set down. Pilots who did those runs probably harboured a death-wish.

      In the 1970s I worked on Aero Commanders and Cessnas – scheduled maintenance before I moved to the workshops where I spent the better part of my engineering life. It’s possible I worked on your engines. And yes, Indonesian customs back then were horrendous. But my workshop was Indonesian DGAC approved, and I was a signatory.

      Those were the days…


  3. Training, training, but the beginning of the ‘training’ has to be how to remain calm. If panic sets in then instinct takes over. I believe that many mistakes are a result of instinctive, irrational fear,

    1. Very true, Jane,

      Knowing and doing… can be a bridge too far.

      I’m an aircraft engineer and also taken a short flight familiarization course. But when the airplane dipped, hell, I wanted to pull up!

      My son did a lot better. Part of his training was to recover from a stall and also an engine failure at take-off. And he did both beautifully. He was 16 and I was so proud of him.

      All good wishes,

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