Lights. Camera. Action!
That’s how I always remembered it.
Strobes. Transponder. Throttle.
No pounding heart, sweaty palms or shaky legs as I raced down the runway, applying a little right rudder to maintain center line, eyes glued to the airspeed indicator.
At least not yet.
Airspeed indicator needle gradually turned, as the airplane gained speed. 40, 50, and finally 60 Knots. Gently ease back the yoke and lift-off. I was airborne.
Oh my God! It finally sank in. I was all alone in the cockpit having just performed a take-off, for my very first solo flight. I still had to land this aircraft all by myself. Would I remember all that my instructor had drilled into me?
I had had exactly 24 hours of private pilot instruction, way beyond the FAA required minimum of 10 hours dual instruction. As I approached 20 hours, I had asked my instructor with growing impatience,
“When are you going to let me solo?”
“Soon,” she had responded, “Soon.”
Finally on this very fine October day, she had said “If you can do three good landings in a row today, I will let you solo.” At last the golden words were spoken! After seven landings, she eventually relented, hopped off at the base of the tower and said
“Do three landings to a complete stop and taxi back each time, I will be in the tower if you need me”. So off I went, excited to be finally able to solo!
I tried to remember all that I had not paid attention to, during my instruction. Climb to 1000 feet before turning crosswind, turn to 200 heading, then downwind. Ease back the power to 2000 RPM, report midfield. Carburetor heat in. What was I forgetting? DUDUK! DUDUK! The pounding had begun. Here comes the end of the runway. Ease back to 1500 RPM. Slow down to 80 knots, 10 degrees of flaps, turn base. No one on final, turn final, another 10 degrees of flaps, adjust power as needed, look long, hold the nose up and gently touch down. Thud! Okay not so gently after all. Apply brakes and off the runway. Big sigh, one down, two to go!
I taxied back timidly, behind a commercial airliner. How am I going to get around him to the run-up area? What did my instructor say about wake turbulence? Never mind, too late, I was off again, this time a little more self confident and assured. Everything was going as planned. I knew I could do it. Or so I thought. But nothing about flying is certain.
Extended downwind this time (Is it a tradition I wonder for controllers to baffle and unnerve student pilots on their solo flights?). I still managed to safely land for the second time and taxi back for my third solo. Hurrah! I thought, almost there.
But wait, too early to celebrate yet. In my haste to get off the runway, I turn too fast without slowing down completely and veer off the taxiway.
“Do you need help?” asked the controller from the tower.
“Umm, Can you ask Michelle to come down please?”
So down came my instructor,
“Are you alright? Do you want to stop now?”
Of course not!
So off I went again, this time a little more subdued and careful and finished the third solo without incident.
Yet, it was not until a couple more months had elapsed, a different aircraft and a switch in flight schools that I finally soloed again. This time I made it through without incident, and received a sign off to conduct solo flight. And for the next month had the pleasure of flying solo locally and on my cross countries, to finish the solo requirements for the FAA private pilot examination. Though the memories of this second solo are vague in my mind, it is the first solo that I remember with fondness.
Pilot’s log dated October 21st, 2000:
1st Solo SBP winds 300@25
Not bad at all I think. Not at all bad!