Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SOLO ... The day that I have been waiting for since forever.

I woke up Monday morning knowing that today was the day. The night before I had checked the weather in it was predicting light winds at the airport in till around noon time which was when I was supposed to fly. It was forecast for the winds to increase to 12 to 18 knots.

I planned to arrive at the airport about 45 minutes before my lesson but unfortunately that did not happen. I arrived at the airport only15 minutes before my scheduled flight. My delay in leaving home was due to the fact that I was waiting for a copy of my insurance policy via e-mail. I printed off two copies and took off to the airport taking the roundabout way, and then entering the freeway on the wrong exit which took me the wrong direction.

When I arrived at the airport I did my usual ritual of looking over the airplane before I go into the office for the keys. As expected, the aircraft had just about 2 or 3 gallons in each tank so I needed to gas up before my lesson. I had plenty of time since my instructor was working with another student so I had plenty of time to psych myself up for today’s flight. Luckily the airplane was right by the gas pumps so I could use the toolbar to pull the aircraft over around 30 to 40 feet without much effort. I completed my preflight and gassed up the aircraft, and then everything started to fall apart.

My instructor was already sitting in the aircraft when he asked me if I had my insurance yet, and I told him that it was now on file in the office. He asked me for my logbook and my medical certificate, which pretty much told me what he had planned for me today. I hopped into the aircraft did my startup checklist and then realized that I had left the keys of the aircraft on the gas pumps which was the resulted in the first chuckle. After fussing and priming and pumping the throttle while cranking the engine for about three minutes it finally started. Of course, we had another little problem. I kept hearing a banging noise on my side of the aircraft which meant that my safety belt was hanging out the door. Another chuckle. Seatbelt intact I taxied out the runway 21. The run-up was the usual except for the fact that I had the jitters. My instructor, Marc, asked me to do a soft field takeoff which I really did not feel like doing this afternoon as my first flight in two weeks. The aircraft came off the ground pretty easily and then we started the usual departure procedure of climbing to 1800 feet and turn left to the crosswind leg. I looked down at the DG and then noticed that I never set the DG before I took off therefore the company is in the DG were about 100° apart. I then noticed that I could see the ground through the crack of the door and realize my door had popped open. So I looked at Marc and asked him about his procedures and why he did not catch my mistakes. Luckily, he only smiled at me.

The approach was bumpy on short final due to the trees that create a lot of turbulence when it is windy. I was able to fight through this landing and salvaged a decent touchdown. Today was NOT going to be the day because it is too windy. We then took off and scooted over to Wadsworth Muni which is a three minute flight from Skypark. Of course Marc would not let me make normal landings today and would not let me land with flaps. He wanted to demonstrate to me how the aircraft lands with no flaps, and I was successful in both landing efforts. I was even grateful that I had learned this valuable lesson.

Back to Skypark for a few more landings. On my first landing he wanted me to make sure that I came in a high over the trees and dropped in after passing them which meant that my usual aiming for the numbers was out. My first landing was pretty decent except for the fact that I don’t like landing long since our runway is only 2400 feet. After touchdown I still had plenty of runway. After all, this was a Cessna 152. The next landing came out even better and Marc told me to give him one more good landing. Suddenly, I was starting to get nervous and anxious and had every intention to screw up this landing, but I didn’t. On the following landing he told me to keep going to the end and taxi over to the pumps. Before I could shut down the engine he told me to give him three takeoffs and landings and taxi back to the pumps, and then he climbed out of the aircraft and shut the door and walked off. WOW, that Cessna 152 became a Boeing 707 in my mind. Entirely TOO much to remember to fly. What was really weird is that the cockpit got very hot and it felt very weird to be in the aircraft by myself and expected to take off and land, by myself, even though I had been doing it for months.

As I applied the throttle I notice how quickly the aircraft taxied when I was in it by myself. As I crossed the active runway I quickly forgot my call sign, the airport where I was located, in really hard pressed to remember my name. It’s really amazing how short the taxi is to the active when you’re taxiing out for your first solo. I did my final checklist, announced my take off, once again forgetting my call sign, and where I was, and why I was even on the face of this planet. I applied full throttle and was amazed how quickly the Cessna 152 accelerated and jumped off the runway when you’re flying it by yourself.

It was then that I realized that I had reached the moment that I had been waiting for, for over 30 years. I was able to keep my cool, to watch my headings, to watch my altitude, and hoped to stay calm for my landing. Surprisingly, I handled my first landing with no problem even though I was very nervous and afraid. So there I was, doing my first solo takeoff and landing, on a windy day, but fortunately the wind was right down the runway so there was no crosswind factor. One down and two more to go. The second time around the pattern was actually pretty decent, and my landing came out okay, and was actually pretty soft. Two down and one more to go. On my third takeoff I realize how quickly I was climbing and as I looked down at the airport office as I flew by it really struck me this time that all was right with the world. Back to reality now. Instead of climbing to 2000 feet I found myself at 2200 feet on downwind but recovered quite easily made my base and final approach, came over the trees and just before I touched down upon myself ballooning but record covered quite well, and had a nice touchdown. I taxi door to the pumps and shut down and just sat there for a couple of minutes in silence.

Back in the office of course Marc congratulated me, grabbed his scissors and snipped off my shirt tail. Of course I wore my AOPA Pilot-in-Command T-shirt that day because I knew.

So here I am, a day later because I was too excited to even sleep last night let alone to write this blog entry. But I think the whole world knows that I can add October 19, 2009 to my short list of happiest days of my life.


Julien said...

Congratulations from Australia! Well done.

Steve said...

Great write-up Dave and congrats again! You really never can understand the difference in performance solo (especially in a lowly 150/152) until you do it the first time...

Keep up with the rest of your training. You'll have that PPL before you know it!

Todd - MyFlightBlog.com said...

Congrats on an amazing achievement. I think waiting so many years to accomplish this goal must make it just that much more special.

Good luck with your training. I found that after my solo things progressed very quickly.

Safe flying!

Mr. Michael said...

Boy howdy, you did it! Congratulations, ain't nothing going to stop you now, huh? What's next after you get your private? How about you come skiing with me, free lesson?

George said...


Take it from a professional pilot, you'll always remember and cherish the moment...with over 16,000 hours, flying all over the world, I remember that first solo like it was yesterday. I still have as much enjoyment flying today as I did back then.

You will have many years of flying enjoyment ahead of you, good luck and safe flying.