Sunday, August 8, 2010

The First Solo

On June 8th of this year, after months and months of training and several consecutive weeks of landing practice, I achieved my first real landmark in flight training: I soloed!

For weeks and weeks before the solo, Bryan and I were shooting landings. We'd take off, stay in the pattern for an hour and just land, land, land. My landings were hit or miss, truthfully, and a lot of them were not the kind of landings I'm proud of. The plane tended too smack roughly into the earth, or to balloon, or to skip happily down the runway without really landing before we'd firewall the power and go around.

The game changer came when we flew from Winter Haven to Bartow, which has a much wider and much longer runway than Winter Haven. The change in "sight picture" from a smaller to a larger runway did something to my psyche, and all of a sudden I could glide the airplane in to a nice landing. The wheels would squeak, the plane would settle, and suddenly I "got it" for landings. We returned to Winter Haven for some more practice, and I felt good about how things were landings weren't perfect, but they were improving and consistently good enough that Bryan felt I could solo.

Before the solo I went up with a crusty old codger for a stage check, to have a different instructor eyeball me before approving me for solo flight. We did some basic maneuvers, a simulated engine failure, and some spins, which were very interesting indeed. After the flight I was approved, and when June 8 rolled around, The Day was here.

I arrived at the airport and Bryan and I took to the skies in one of the school's C-150's. We did a few turns around the traffic pattern, and except for one moment where I let my airspeed drop, things went well. After several touch-and-gos, we stopped, got off the runway, and Bryan exited the airplane.

"You'll do fine. Just be safe, take your time, and try not to screw up...shoot me at least three landings."

My nerves were on fire as I taxied the plane back to the hold-short lines on Runway 5. I took some deep breaths and went through an extensive engine runup, reading the checklist aloud to myself and double-checking all systems. The traffic pattern was empty, so I broadcasted my intentions on the radio, pulled onto the runway, and...

...took off.

The plane was much lighter without my instructor's weight in the right seat. I was elated as the 150 slowly inched its way up into the sky, and I smiled to myself as I went through the traffic pattern. Crosswind leg; watch airspeed, pitch for VY; Watch altitude; Downwind leg, keep a safe distance from the airfield, listen for other traffic, watch your airspeed, begin descent; Base, watch airspeed, remember carb heat, watch your altitude and your sink rate; and before I knew it the wheels were squeaking on the pavement and I was taxiing back to the hold-short lines.

I made four landings that day, and three of them were landings I'm proud of--one was maybe not so good. But the important thing to ME was, I soloed! I finally felt that the months and months of training had paid off. My confidence soared, and I began to feel that maybe someday soon I would have my pilot's license.

Bryan and I shake hands in front of N5307Q, the Cessna 150 I've been learning in.

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