Full throttle, right rudder and we were headed down the runway. The airspeed indicator read “0”. Come on! I waited for it to pick up. Soon, the nose lifted off the runway, yet the airspeed indicator stayed “0”. “Have I forgotten anything?”, I wondered. But I am getting ahead of my story.
It had been a gorgeous day out in the California Central Coast. When my college friend Manu, decided to visit California, as fellow pilots (and wanna be pilots) we started planning a cross country flight. I had just gotten my license to fly a month ago and had barely taken my first passenger in the air. I was excited and thrilled to plan a flight. In those days most of my cross countries tended to be up and down the California coast line, either following the coastline or Highway 101 which prevented me from getting lost. This was really important since all I had in the cherished 152 I flew those days was a single NAV/COMM. No GPS, no glass cockpit with traffic, weather and all the latest avionics! I navigated using 101 highway or the coastline. So the immediate choice for destination was Monterey.
We departed SBP and flew peacefully up the Big Sur coast past Morro Rock, Cambria, San Simeon, Carmel and landed in Monterrey without incident. It was one of those crystal clear, gorgeous made for flying summer days. The plan was to use public transportation to head to Fisherman’s Wharf, have lunch, visit the aquarium or walk around Fisherman’s Wharf before heading back. Owing to the 4th of July holiday, the bus service was not operational, so we grabbed a cab instead to Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked in amicable friendship to Canary Row, made famous by the novel by John Steinbeck of the same name. It was a popular destination for some exquisite cuisines. After a delicious meal, we enjoyed the sights of Monterey. All too soon it was time to head back.
Once airborne, I continued to monitor the instruments to see any sign of change. Everything looked good except the airspeed indicator. After a brief hesitation and consultation on our options and whether it was prudent to fly on land as opposed to the coastline which afforded fewer emergency landing sites, we proceeded as planned along the coast. The sun was slowly making its way west. We could see the waves gently crashing against the coast. It truly was an incredibly beautiful day. With nary a problem, except for the airspeed indicator that still refused to budge, we flew in contentment.
The airspeed indicator still stubbornly read zero. The greatest challenge ahead was the landing. Level flight was easy. With no flaps and full throttle we flew at the optimal airspeed the aircraft afforded. Landing phase involved, slowing down the aircraft, and application of flaps and airspeed indicator was vital to ensure we did not get close to stall speed. I remembered the innumerable landings I had practiced in that aircraft. The innumerable times I had learnt the exact way to set up in the pattern, the throttle and flap settings to use to fly the aircraft down gently to the runway. Reaching the Morro Rock, I made our first call to SBP Tower and after that flew the aircraft, the same way I had flown it so many times before. Just as a safety precaution, I left off using any flaps until on final. Touching down with a gentle whisper, I marveled at the beauty of it all. I had flown that aircraft so many times, I could fly it blind folded!
Staying calm and flying the plane and doing everything needed was the key. As we learned afterwards, the pitot-static system had failed. As they say a good pilot is always learning. A little too soon, but still definitely a lesson well learnt!