Thursday 23 October 2008

flying solo

Oh yes. Uh huh. Yep.

Yesterday I finally did it - my first solo, and I have to say that it was one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. I still can't stop smiling about it a day later. Actually I think this smile will last quite a while.

It was a bit of a weird one actually, as I really didn't expect to be flying at all yesterday. When James called me at about a quarter to ten and asked if I still wanted to go solo I couldn't say no now could I? I was told to be at the airfield for 11 when one of the other instructors would fly with me and make sure I was safe to go solo (I think James still has some kind of restriction on his instruction so legally he couldn't just send me off for my first solo without someone else checking that I'm not likely to embed the aircraft in someone's front lawn...).
It wasn't all plane sailing (geddit? no? oh well...) as this guy wanted me to do some things 'his way' rather than the way I'd been taught - so I got progressively more stressed and less neat the longer I was flying with him, I mean, telling me to use an entirely different set of flap configurations for my base and final legs right before I was meant to go up on my own for the first time surely isn't the best of practices.
(When I landed and taxiied back to the hangar James asked me what had gone on and really wasn't pleased. It would seem that trying to teach a student different methods immdiately before sending them solo genuinely isn't good practice. Will be interesting to find out what the CFI says about it...)

Anyway, despite the stress and horror of the check flight (which included an Engine Failure After Take Off - EFATO, a flapless landing and a glide landing), I was left alone in the aeroplane, on the taxiway, with the engine still running. Oh my god. It felt weird, eerie even - the cockpit felt so empty - I couldn't stop grinning though.

Run through my power checks, pre-take off checks, spin around to check out the downwind, base and final legs of the circuit - make sure nobody else is around to hit, initial radio call "G-XXXX, ready for departure", listen out to see if anyone's on final - nothing. I'm nervous. I can hear my heart beating inside my headset. I'm nervous but elated, thrilled that I am, for the first time ever, the pilot-in-command of an aeroplane!
So no-one's on final - better take off then!
Radio call "G-XXXX, lining up and taking off". Taxi onto the runway - flaps down to 10degrees, line up, breathe...
Full throttle and we're rolling. She's alot quicker with only me in the cockpit. 55kts, pull back and we're airborne. This is it. I'm flying!

65kts, trimmed for the climb, wow - she climbs fast with so little weight on board. Turn over to the lake to follow the noise abatement route, we're at 300' already - lose the flaps...I'm over the lake now, turn back onto runway heading, still climbing. I can see my visual references - the road and the railway line. Start turning onto crosswind, still climbing, still 65kts. Now we're at 1000' - level out, throttle back, still turning. We're on crosswind - I can see the runway perpendicular to the right wing. Wow, I'm doing it, I'm really doing it!

Ok so I'm over the golf course and the runway is no longer visible over my shoulder. I'm trimmed perfectly, flying straight and level, altitude a stable 1000', engine rpm around 2200, I'm cruising between 85 and 90kts. Perfect. Time to turn downwind. Must maintain a level turn - don't lose or gain any altitude - I can do this. Yes, perfect. Ok I'm nearly level with the end of the runway, time for a radio call "G-XXXX downwind runway 26, to land". Now for the checks.

Brakes - yes there's pressure through the pedals. Slight wobble as I press them (they're the top half of the foot pedals, the bottom half are the rudder controls, hence the slight shimmy when I press them). Good. Undercarriage - they're permanently fixed so this is just a memory formality. Mixture - is fully rich because I haven't changed it at all since taking off. Good. Fuel, yep. Flaps - they're fully up just as they should be. Instruments - all looking good, serviceable, the DI (Direction Indicator) is still aligned with the compass, excellent. Carb heat - check this, the engine rpm should drop a little when I put this on - it does, good. Turn it off again - I don't need this until I cut the power on base/final. Hatches and harnesses, yep, everything's still fixed in. Ok - downwind checks done, we're all good!

I've been talking to myself pretty much the whole time - it helps me to think everything through.

Ok the end of the runway is on my wingtip, I need to think about turning base soon. Right, pull the power out - about 1700rpm should do. Carb heat on and I'm turning. Flaps down, airspeed down to 75kts and trimmed, I'm slowly descending now. Nice and stable. Right, time to turn final - pull more power out and get the airspeed down to 65kts. 20degrees of flap now. Line it up - the end of the runway is stable in my view, I'm trimmed and using the throttle to control my rate of descent.
I can see no-one else is ahead of me so I call final - "G-XXXX, final runway 26 to land". Cool. I'm stable, confident and smiling. Looking left out of the window for a second I see that I'm coming in with a glider as my wingman - he's landing on the glider side of the runway. He's close but everything's exactly as it should be. This feels amazing...

Ok the runway's getting bigger in my view now, time to cut the power right back. Nearly down now - it's time to flare - we float for a second then bang. I'm on the ground...

Braking, braking, rolling off to the left. I stop. I'm down. It's done. Breathe. Ok don't relax just yet - still got to get back to the hangar. Do the after-landing checks - flaps up, carb heat off, electrics off. Ok, time to taxi back.
One last radio call "G-XXXX crossing threshold, runway 08" - checking, looking, making sure no-one's landing or taking off while I cross. Ok I'm over. Back to the fuel pump.

Parked, engine idling, 1200rpm. Final electronics off. Radio off. Kill the throttle, lean the fuel mixture and wait for the engine to stop. Key out, master switches off, headset off (my ears can breathe again!)

I've done it. My first solo flight. James comes over and shakes my hand - I can't stop smiling. I guess now I can call myself a pilot...

1 comment:

  1. It is so fantastic to read that. I never got as far as flying solo, but reading that felt as if I was up there with you. I can imagine the expression on your face after that.

    I am envious I admit, but so proud of you for having achieved that. You will never forget that experience for the rest of your life, and I shall re-read this piece to give myself a boost whenever I feel down, it is so uplifting.

    Fly high my friend. It's not going to be easy to beat this in the future, but I know you'll never stop trying.