Safety Publications/Articles


Holding at CAMBE

When you jsut can't hold it any longer

The names have been changed to protect the guilty and innocent.

I am an instructor at a flight school near Orlando, Florida. It's hot here in the summer, and we drink a lot of water to stay hydrated, especially when flying about eight hours each day in airplanes where the only way to stay (relatively) cool is to have outside air blasting in our faces.

I did ground work with a student early one afternoon. In an effort to keep chemically balanced, I usually drink a liter of Gatorade first, and then keep refilling the bottle with water throughout the day. I drank the Gatorade while talking with my first student, refilled the bottled with water, then went flying with my other student, Bob.

We headed for Kissimmee Gateway Airport, planning to fly the DME arc from the west and then do the VOR-A approach. It was about 2 p.m., 90 degrees Fahrenheit even at 2,000 feet msl, and bumpy. In other words, we were in Florida in the summer, where every day from May through September the terminal aerodrome forecast reads, "TEMPO 1723 2SM +TSRA BKN 025CB."

Bob, a CFII candidate, was under the hood in the right seat, pretending to instruct me, while I acted as a safety pilot in the left seat. He had an instrument rating and an instructor certificate; this was practice for an add-on instrument instructor rating. Thank whatever gods there are that he wasn't a new instrument student.

I was hot and still thirsty despite the Gatorade, so I drank the liter of water en route to Kissimmee. About the time that we turned east on the DME arc, I realized I had a little problem. Two liters of liquid in the past hour were having the expected effect. We were in a Cessna 172, which of course doesn't have any facilities. Further complicating matters was the fact I am of the female persuasion, and my student is a guy.

I can do this, I thought. I just have to hang on through this arc and the approach, and we'll be back home 20 minutes later. I may walk funny from the airplane to the building, but I can do this. After several eons, we finally turned to 020 degrees, inbound on the VOR approach.

Just outside of COOPY, the final approach fix, Orlando Approach called to vector us off to the west. For what seemed like hours, but was really only about 10 minutes, we flew on random west to southwest to south headings while a Beech Baron flew inbound, and finally we were given a 060-degree heading to reintercept the final approach course. I was in serious pain at this point, but given my options (or the lack thereof), I was still convinced that I could make it back home.

At long last, we hit DME 16 (from the Orlando VOR), which is the missed approach point for Kissimmee. We had the ATC-issued missed approach instructions of turning to 270 degrees and climbing to 2,000 feet, and then vectors home. Thank goodness, I thought; my eyes may have turned yellow, but I'm going to be able to do this.

Then Bob turned to me and said, "Remember, I still have to hold at CAMBE to complete this lesson." A holding pattern? Now? No, Bob, I didn't remember that, but thanks for reminding me. I checked the lesson plan; he was right; he did need to do a hold on this flight, and I couldn't ask him to land just because of my problems.

On the way to CAMBE, I tried to think of what to do. Finally realizing that I just couldn't wait until we landed, I looked around the cockpit to see what we had on board that I could use as a makeshift receptacle. I rejected the empty water bottle, since the threaded opening at the top was too small. After perusing the rest of the airplane and finding nothing, I returned to the water bottle. How can I do this? What would MacGyver do? Suddenly I realized that I had a multipurpose tool with me. I'd forgotten that there was a knife blade on it. Most of the time, I use the pliers on recalcitrant oil dipsticks, and occasionally the screwdriver on the vertical speed indicator. Hmmm, I'm just desperate enough to try this.

"Bob," I said, "I have a problem."

He jumped slightly and peered at me from under the Foggles. I suppose it's not something you expect or would want to hear from your instructor. We don't have problems, right? We know everything, and can solve or fix anything.

"Bob, I just drank two liters of Gatorade and water. I'm going to get into the back seat with the empty bottle. Take your Foggles off and fly around the holding pattern until I come back."

Looking less startled and much more amused, Bob removed his Foggles and headed for CAMBE. Bob is a medium-height guy, so his seat was pulled up fairly close to the instrument panel. I pushed my seat all the way back, which made a gap of several inches longitudinally between the seat backs. As we bumped our way across central Florida, I shakily planted my right leg on the floor behind the front seats. A little wiggle and some help from the turbulence, and the rest of me followed into the back.

I got settled into the seat directly behind Bob and started operating on the bottle. Cutting the top off just where it widened out gave me a large plastic container with about a three-inch-diameter opening. This still wouldn't be easy, but at least I had a chance now. Matters were further complicated by the fact that there was a strong southwest wind at our altitude, so every time I got established, so to speak, bam! We turned right 180 degrees. It was also still fairly bumpy; I finally just put the bottle in what I hoped was about the right spot and kept my fingers crossed. It worked very well, despite my indoor plumbing.

Whew, what a relief. Now that I could think again and life had returned to normal, I realized that I had a second problem: What to do with the contents? I couldn't replace the lid since I'd sliced it off with a knife. My original plan of discreetly disposing of the bottle once we were back home was negated when I saw how full it was (no wonder I'd felt awful). I scooted over to the left and opened the window a few inches. The maximum window-open speed for a 172 is VNE, or 158 KIAS, and we were only doing about 90. Bob gave the window one brief anxious glance and then kept looking steadily forward. I poured out the contents; luckily, we were over a wooded area.

I climbed back into the front seat, put on my headset, and instructed Bob to go around the holding pattern two more times, now with the Foggles on. After that, we flew home uneventfully. I never flew with Bob again. That was his last lesson in the course; he passed the end-of-course test and his FAA checkride on the first try.

Bob was a good student, but I'll always remember him as the pilot holding at CAMBE. I'm sure Bob will always remember me.

Victoria Baker, CFI, holds commercial and airframe and powerplant certificates. Now a flight instructor in Florida, she previously was an engineer with Boeing, Cessna, and Raytheon.

By Victoria Baker

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