My first flight as a qualified pilot didn’t go according to plan. Shortly after takeoff and departing the airfield’s circuit, the oil pressure needle went sky high. So I immediately head back to the airfield, mentally preparing for an emergency / forced landing if the engine quits on me.

Ultimately it was a false alarm, with the oil pressure gauge reading incorrectly, perhaps a poor earth connection or just a faulty gauge.

Hope you enjoyed my first flight as a qualified pilot, first urgent action needed, and also my first YouTube video. There’s more flying adventures to come soon, so make sure to like this video if you do, and subscribe to come fly with me in the next one.

Interview with Airbourne Aviation

How did it feel to finally have your licence?

Absolutely awesome feeling to finally get my licence, it was a childhood dream and life goal to get my pilot’s licence! So once I finally had it there was a lot of disbelief, with a side dish of ‘imposter syndrome' going on, but it’s a great feeling that I don’t think will ever fade away, until perhaps I have 1000 hours under my belt.

It’s been a long time coming, with quite a few breaks in my training (birth of my daughter, changing aircraft twice, winter weather, etc), but it all started back in March 2018 when my amazing wife gave me the kick I needed, buying my first 2 hours of training for my birthday, and she’s probably regretted it ever since! 😆

Originally my GST was booked for 21st March 2020 which was cancelled due to strong winds, so rebooked for 27th March… then as we all know Covid19 lockdown (v1) was announced on 23rd March, so that put a stop on everything. Once training was allowed to start again, it took me a while to get my skills back on the C42 and finally passed my GST in September 2020, and it couldn’t have gone better.

What were you most looking forward to in the flight?

My first flight with my licence was something I was naturally looking forward to, and surprisingly I wasn’t anxious about at all. I had planned a flight, first to fly over my house in South Wonston, then onto Chilbolton Flying Club for a quick stop, then over to Wing Farm, both farm strips I’d been looking forward to visiting for a while.

How did you come to realise something wasn’t quite right?

The flight was going smoothly, with all startup checks, run up checks, and multiple glances across to the T’s & P’s gauges during the first phases of flight showing very little wrong. Shortly after departing the circuit and heading for South Wonston on the first leg of my plan, I was carrying out a FREDA check and spotted the oil pressure gauge being maxed out.

What were your first thoughts?

My first thoughts were “this can’t be right” and as you can see in the video I pause in disbelief for a few seconds, then I gave the gauge a few taps in the misguided belief that the needle might just fall back to a normal reading. So after glancing back to check how far from Popham I was, and glancing down to check the fields below, I then tried a few throttle adjustments to see if the pressure changed at all, which it did not.

My gut was telling me that “it must be faulty reading as surely the oil pressure can’t read that high in any failure scenario I knew of”, but I knew there was no way I could take a chance on it, so I turned back to the airfield.

What were you thinking on the way back to Popham?

I’m not sure if it was naivety or just good training that allowed me to stay calm throughout (surely the later), but I never really felt out of my comfort zone, although that might have changed if the engine had been struggling or worse. But being an engineer (albeit of the software kind) I was mostly trying to work the problem, and understand why or what could have caused it.

I had about 1,500 ft of height available (2,000 ft on the QNH) and knew I could safely glide into a number of nice looking fields and a little later into Popham’s runway 08. But to use the engine whilst I had it, I decided to gently climb to 2,000 ft on the QFE, which allowed for an overhead join and just having some height ‘in the bag'. I’m not sure if this was the right thing or not, but my theory was if I’m overhead or at any point of that join I should be able to glide into a runway in an emergency.

If the experience were to repeat itself, what may you do differently, if anything?

With hindsight I remember debating whether I should make an urgency / pan-pan call on the Popham frequency which I hadn’t yet left, and I really should have made the call. After I got home I dug out my Pooley’s Communications book to check, and as I thought, I should have declared a pan-pan due to the technical fault in the aircraft. So that’s definitely something I would do differently.

Other than that, I feel I dealt with the situation fairly well, and was happy that I stayed calm throughout, as until you face an actual urgent/emergency situation it’s hard to know how you’ll react. With all that said “I only know what I know now”, so perhaps there’s something else that I could have done differently, and I’m eager to get back flying to learn more.

I think it’s worth noting that as pilots we can always improve, and we should never stop learning. No matter how many hours you have (in my case just 57 right now), there is always something a flight can teach you.