I Have Control

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

After a tricky lesson of stalling, with winds in excess of 30kts at 3,000ft. I received a shock on final approach: the speed was already too low to begin with - 60kts - "You're too slow, lower the nose to increase speed and add power" - 50kts - "You're getting even slower, lower the nose right now and increase power". All of a sudden, as we descended below the tree line on short final, we became caught in a massive rotor from the trees. The airspeed dropped out of the bottom of the ASI, the right wing stalled and we tilted over to 45 AoB, probably more. In response to all of this, the student pulled the control column back towards her in fright.

The phrase "I have control" is an interesting one, designed to make the student immediately aware that they are no longer flying the plane, and that it's now under control of the instructor. Most of the time, it's a very useful tool. It becomes less useful when the student is paralysed with fear, is no longer processing aural signals very well, and has white knuckles from gripping the control column so hard. This was one of those situations.

I've never said "I have control" so quickly before in my life. I seized the control column, but to no avail. The student had a firm grip, one which they were not keen to release. The wind pushed us into the runway (though it felt as if we'd gone through the runway) and the whole airframe shuddered and groaned. The sudden impact was enough to shake the student from their trance, releasing the controls and allowing me to prevent a second impact with the Earth. I firewalled the throttle and was reminded, curiously, of the song by Ken Dravis - "You can always go around", more specifically the line "It sure would be nice to fly this plane again, with the wings still straight...". We went around and despite me encouraging the student to have another attempt at the approach and landing, they insisted that they didn't want to and that I fly it, which I did an awfully good job of (in my mind at least - the wings were still straight and the plane would fly again!).

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