So I’m a little bit behind on my blogging. I’ve been focusing on making videos and sharing my aviation adventures through social media, but I haven’t had time to sit down and write a blog entry.
It’s the 15th of May and I’ve already logged nearly four hours this month. The weather in Central New York has been most cooperative and it has been a nice change of pace.
Last Tuesday my instructor and I went for a pre-solo check ride lesson. We went to the West Practice Area where we practiced turns about a point, steep turns and then he pulled the power back to idle and we simulated an emergency landing. I didn’t feel 100% about my performance. I feel I was safe but I have high expectations of myself. On the way back to the airport we did a couple of landings and I brought the airplane down safely, both landings being what I would call “very good” (on a scale of one to six, I’d give them a 3.5 or 4). I felt good but not great about the lesson in general, by my attitude was positive and my instructor’s attitude was encouraging. That night he sent me a text message letting me know that my next lesson would be with another instructor for .5 hours.
Now, I was pretty sure that I knew what this meant. My instructor and the other work together with students and one cross-checks for the other to make sure they’ve covered everything they need to cover before letting a student solo. On Thursday I met up with the other instructor, where he told me that he was just going to ride along to see how I do. We did four turns around the pattern.
One of the things that I noticed with the other instructor is that the airplane definitely handled a little differently with the other instructor. It wasn’t a huge difference but it was noticeable. I considered this a good thing because it was evidence that I could “feel” my environment. I made four landings: a good and a couple of very goods. One of my approaches was too high and I opted to do a go around and the instructor was happy that I made that decision and had demonstrated that I knew when to go around.
When we got back to the hangar, my instructor and a fellow student were waiting. The instructor I had just flown with told my instructor that I made safe landings and that he recommended that I solo. My instructor grinned and asked me the big question, “Are you ready? Do you want to give it a try?”
My practice landings right before this were while sharing the pattern with a C-130 doing some touch ‘n goes, so I knew there would be a big guy out there with me. I thought about it for about five seconds and then I smiled, “I’m going to do it.”
And then I was alone in the airplane. I went through the checklist and did everything just as I was taught. I continued to talk out loud, just as if I was telling my instructor what I was doing. My radio calls were great, I felt confident. After the first takeoff I said out loud, “Oh my god, I’m flying an airplane.” I noticed a difference in the handling again because the right-seat was empty. I was nervous but confident. It felt great.
My first solo landing was my best landing to date. I went again, feeling great. My second landing, which I decided would be my last for the day due to the C-130 and the increasing wind gusts, was great, not as good as the first, but better than my average. Because of the C-130 landing behind me, I had to pull off at a taxiway and wait for the runway to clear before I could get back down to the hangar (we have a closed taxiway this summer and we end up doing a lot of taxi-ing on the active runway). While waiting for the C-130, I sent a Facebook message out: “So I just flew an airplane by myself!”. I was so excited about the experience that when I finally got off the runway (after taxi-ing to the hangar area), I said, “Griffiss Tower, Cherokee 89R, cleared the active and just finished my solo!”. I couldn’t contain myself. The ATC guy congratulated me. I had a feeling that the guys in the C-130 might have smiled. Getting back to the hangar I felt amazing when I got out of the airplane. I shook hands with both the instructors, posed for my solo flight picture and hugged my fellow student. The first milestone of my aviation journey, the milestone that I had dreamed about for years, had come true. It was a truly life-changing experience for me.
On Sunday I decided to exercise my new found solo powers and do some practice landings on my own. I made five landings: a great, a couple of excellents, a very good and a “most outstanding”. The hardest part of being a solo student is pushing the airplane back into the hangar by myself.
The excitement of this accomplishment lingers with me a week later. Tuesday’s flight, which introduced me to VOR navigation, was wonderful. I finally feel confident in the cockpit. I don’t feel cocky at all, I know I have a lot more to learn before I can go for my ticket and I know that I will ALWAYS be learning as a pilot, but I feel so great now.
Flying is awesome.