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Recovering When You Feel Lost

When life gets in the way, it can be challenging to know what to do next. No matter how motivated you are to achieve your goal. 

Thinking like a Pilot can save the day when that happens.

A few years ago, I was a 150-hour pilot. I was flying a Cessna 172 to pick up my daughter for a weekend visit from the University of Florida—a trip I’ve made a dozen times. It had been an uneventful flight, then, about 15 minutes from landing, it happened…

Maybe it was the heat of the day or the drone of the engine. In any case, I had the sensation that I had no idea where I was. I could see the airport in front of me, so I was aware of the situation. But I had no idea how to get to where I wanted to go. It was a terrifying feeling. 

Knowing I had to call the Tower in minutes, I turned to my training and followed three rules that any pilot knows will get them back on track.

The first is to continue to fly the airplane and stay safe. That may sound simple, but how many times have you wanted to cover your eyes and hide when things got challenging? 

The second is to break through your confusion and figure out where you are on your journey. If you can keep yourself stable, you’ll have time to snap out of any momentary rough spot and get focused.

The third rule is to communicate with people who can help. With only a few minutes before entering the airspace illegally, I called Tower and said, 

“I’m a low-hour pilot, a little South of the field, and I am confused. There’s no emergency, but I could use some guidance.”

That simple commutation gave Air Traffic Control everything they needed. In minutes, they lined me up on the runway, and I impressed them with a perfect landing.

“Not a bad landing for a lost pilot,” they said.

All I could do was laugh and be grateful.

Sure, my ego took a hit. But I learned a lesson, picked up my daughter, and had a great flight home.

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. It’ll get you there every time.