A Bug Interrupts a Flight Lesson

“At this point though, the wasp had disappeared. We assumed it was dead. We were wrong.” Joel Kimmel

The flight began normally. Little did I know how crazy and funny things would end up becoming. It was my student’s last flight before his first check ride in the private pilot portion of our Part 141 curriculum, which comes just before a student’s first solo. We were flying a Cessna 152.

We had a long taxi because the main runway nearest the flight school was closed, as it would be for the rest of the summer as it went through updates and repairs. Taking off just behind us was a SkyWest CRJ. Our takeoff was normal, and everything was going fine—until about 50 feet agl, when I saw something small fly off the dashboard and straight into my student’s lap. I ignored it at the time and continued talking to ATC, who then told us to begin our outbound turn to get us away from the departure end of the runway, to make way for the CRJ. I heard the tower telling the CRJ our position and asking for them to report us in sight.

“SkyWest (call sign) has the little bugger in sight,” the SkyWest pilot said, referring to us.

I responded on frequency: “Who you callin’ little bugger?”

Radio silence.

I then said, “But, seriously, jokes aside—thanks for bein’ here, guys.”

He responded: “Hey, we’re right here with you, man. No problem.”

I smiled. I had thanked them because the events of this story took place in June 2020, when aviation had come to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, at the time, it felt as though it was just us two up in the sky that day. Well, us, and a stowaway.

As we were climbing through about 2,000 feet, the unexpected happened. I glanced over at the thing that had flown into my student’s lap. Turns out, it was a wasp.

“Oh, my…” I said quietly into my mic. My student, focused on flying, didn’t say anything. I continued: “OK, I don’t want you to worry, but there’s a wasp on your crotch. I’m going to reach over and try to kill it, OK?” He said: “Oh… Sure… OK.”

I then proceeded to awkwardly try to smush the thing with my checklist—trying not to get fresh in the process—when it moved and started hiding right under the seam of his pants.

Realizing things were getting a little too personal, I took the airplane from him and let him try to find it and kill it. At this point though, the wasp had disappeared. We assumed it was dead. We were wrong.

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I should mention that these communications with the tower and the SkyWest jet were happening at the same time as my student and I were trying to vanquish the wasp, but what I’ve related so far gives a good rough timing of how it all went down.

Then tower gets in on the joke from before: “Little bug—I mean, Cessna (N-number), contact departure. Safe flight, talk to you in a bit.”

Little did he and the SkyWest pilot know, we were dealing with a literal little bug in the cockpit, making the irony palpable.

So, the flight continued normally for a while. I had my student practice some steep turns and stalls, then it was time to head back in for some touch-and-goes. We were entering the pattern and doing a forward slip to a go-around when I saw something fly at me this time. My student turned to me in shock and, with a look of horror on his face, said, “Oh…”

“What? What is it?” I asked. “Is it on my face, my shoulder—what?” (I had trouble seeing or feeling anything; we both had masks on because of COVID-19 policies, and I was wearing sunglasses.) Then, before he could answer, the wasp jumped off me and onto my student. I quickly took the controls again, and he struggled to get it off of himself.

Finally, I grabbed the checklist and whacked it off his shoulder and onto the floor. “He’s on the floor,” I yelled. “Stomp him out! Get him!” My student stepped on the wasp, finally extinguishing it. Once ready, my student took back the flight controls, and we finished our landings, successfully completing the flight.

I should note that at no point during the flight did either of us completely ignore the airplane or fight over controls, and we both used clear communication when transferring use of them between us. Once we were on the ground, we both had a good laugh about the whole thing, and I apologized profusely for grazing his thigh and having lost my cool a little over a wasp. He wasn’t the slightest bit bothered and laughed it off.

I wish I had a better moral to this story, but I’ll leave it with this: Don’t be one of those pilots who takes everything too seriously. There’ll be times in either your training or your career when you’re stuck in a small space with another person and the most unexpected stuff happens—it’s a place where many good and bad memories are made. In those moments, emergency or not, you have the choice to make it a good memory or a bad one. A lot of us always say, “Well, I would’ve done X, Y and Z,” but until you’re actually in that situation, you really don’t know what you’d do. Remember that there’s no one simple fix to any situation, so just make the best of it, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride and laugh about it in the end.

This story appeared in the April/May 2021 issue of Flying Magazine

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