Instrument failure after takeoff and becoming an outside-in pilot.

This is my first post as a relatively newly minted private pilot (about 4 months ago). The learning curve has been steep and it’s the kind of thing that humbles one, so I haven’t felt the sense of entitlement that one needs to write. But I am beginning to spot a few things that may help others, so here goes:

I was taking two friends for a cross country from Centennial Airport (KAPA) to Rocky Mountain Metro (KBJC) and had a learning experience. Preflight went great, the Cessna 172SP I was flying was in great shape and a nice plane with airbags and great avionics. I taxied to 17L  for departure, cleared for takeoff, took her up to 60 knots before rotating because we had 3 people on board with full tanks at 6000 ft with a 180HP plane, so I wanted plenty of speed as I rotated.

Climbing out KAPA tower told me to turn west, cross over I25 and then continue on-course. I looked at my gyroscopic magnetic heading indicator and west was to my left and the I25 was to my right. I got that sinking feeling of “something’s wrong” without consciously realizing what it was. If you fly out of KAPA you probably already know what happened.

I radioed tower with “Tower just to confirm, you want me to turn left? and then cross over I25 and on course?”. Reply: “No, turn right and then on course to Metro”. My spatial orientation kicked in and I turned right and all was well.

My vacuum powered magnetic heading indicator had seized. I had set it correctly before takeoff. I had plenty of vacuum on the gauge. All other instruments were fine, but that one instrument seized in exactly the opposite position to where it should be pointing. I realized that as I turned right, checked my magnetic compass was working, and started thinking about whether I should turn back or continue. I decided to continue and my subsequent reading of FAR 91.205 looks like I made the right call. Required equipment for VFR is a “magnetic direction indicator” which means I was OK just using a magnetic compass.

Besides some serious turbulence at Metro on landing caused by a strong mountain breeze, the rest of the flight was fun and uneventful.

So my takeaway from this is to become more of an “outside-in” pilot rather than an “inside-out” pilot. Meaning that I need to focus on orienting myself using external landmarks and the attitude of the plane and then verify with instruments, rather than focusing on instruments and then verifying with external landmarks and plane attitude.


3 thoughts on “Instrument failure after takeoff and becoming an outside-in pilot.

  1. Interesting story Mark. I always enjoyed the “I learned about flying from that” stories in Flying Magazine, -to which my Dad subscribed to back when he used to fly. He owned a V-35 Bonanza from 1969 to 1975, and sold it when he sold his construction business. Though I am not a licensed pilot, I’ve been up in a lot of different small airplanes and enjoy anything related to general aviation. I hope you will post more Flying stories in the future. Seasons Greetings to you and Mrs. Maunder.

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