The problem with unanticipated emergencies is that when they happen it takes forever to identify them. Things like engine failure or blocked instrument probes are common enough among the bug smashing piston pilots that it’s something we consider every single flight, and preparing for those emergencies is the primary focus of initial flight training and instrument flight training. We pay lip service to other less common emergencies but their rarity doesn’t detract from their lethality. During one trip to Florida one of the rarer in-flight emergencies threatened to end my flying career, but thanks to a small piece of aluminum I lived to see another day.
In the two years that I’ve been flying there have already been a number of moments that I will never forget. From my first solo lap around the traffic pattern to my first time flying an airplane through the clouds my adventures in aviation have included some amazing experiences that make all the hard work (and hard earned money flushed straight out the tailpipe) worth it. That said, there’s one flight that I took this year which will probably always remain my favorite flight of all time, and the story starts three weeks prior in the beginning of August 2015.
A few weeks ago I took and passed the practical exam for my instrument airplane rating and I have been putting it to good use ever since. One of the more complicated things about the instrument rating are the emergency procedures while in instrument conditions, and especially the lost communications procedures. That’s where I had some trouble during training, but with a little studying I eventually figured it out and aced that section of my oral exam. Little did I know I’d soon be needing to use that knowledge in a real life situation less than a month later.
When I did my initial EMT training (basic) I always had the goal in mind that one day I would move to the next level and do my paramedic training. Basic EMT stuff is cool, but there are very few drugs they let you touch. Being a newly minted private pilot is basically the same thing — you can go fly around, but the limitations of that certificate make it impossible to do many of the cool cross country flights that you’d want to take. With my EMT training, I figured there would be time for that P later and working as an EMT-B would be rewarding enough in the meantime. I never made it, and I was determined that I wouldn’t let my flying career take the same path. So as soon as I had paid off my private pilot debts I signed up for a Part 141 instrument school, and six months later I took and passed my check ride.
I was an EMT long before I started my private pilot training. In that field, just like in an airplane, time is a critical tool. Understanding a patient’s heart rate and respiratory rate is an essential diagnostic tool, and therefore one of the very first things an EMT will check with any patient. The problem facing every single newly minted EMT is learning how to properly take a patient’s pulse while flying down the highway in the back of an ambulance and also trying to juggle a bunch of other numbers in your head at the same time. I eventually mastered that skill, and years later when I was working on my instrument rating I realized that the exact same time related tricks I learned as an EMT are useful in the cockpit as well.