After several days where the weather forecast looked downright wrong for flying on Saturday, it started to look hopeful. I was all prepared for the lesson but despite the weather forecasts, I wouldn’t know for sure until the morning when I first looked out the window. That thought must have been in my head throughout the night because I dreamed through that wake up and evaluate sequence at least 4 times. From my memory, it wasn’t looking good. When the alarm finally went off and the sky was more blue than white with dead still trees I knew it was time to fly!
Immediately after the lesson my son and I were scheduled to be picked up at N94 by a colleague who is already a private pilot. We would be off to Smoketown Airport (S37) for the 2013 Fly-In.
My original plan was to get to the airport early and pre-flight. In that way I would be able to complete the lesson and de-brief ahead of schedule so we could leave for Smoketown on time. My wife would come by the airport about 15 minutes ahead of time to drop off my son and we’d be ready to go. Would be their first time at the airport as well.
Finalizing those plans took a few extra minutes so I was a little later to the airport than expected. No issue though as pre-flight was uneventful and my instructor was on time.
No surprises…the preflight briefing was that we would be staying in the pattern today. Music to my ears as that’s what I wanted to keep doing until I got it. She did say the was going to take the airspeed indicator away as well. We discussed that last week so I knew that was coming.
Fuel on the plane was around half. We discussed and agreed to do a few circuits first and then take a break to refuel (N94 is self service) and then go back up again.
As we take off she informs me I would be doing the radio calls as well. Was totally ready for that since I had already done it the week before towards the end with no problem. Only other “new” thing was that she asked me to essentially describe what I was doing at each point. For some odd reason that appealed to me as well…I think more so because I could now do that effortlessly without it interfering at all with the actual flying.
First loop was non-eventful. Landing was really good. We spin around and off we go. I take a look at my watch (another thing I couldn’t do before…this despite the fact there is a clock right in front of me) just to get an idea of the timing of each loop.
Airspeed indicator is taken away….via Post It. Only thing she said to me was that if the Post It happened to fall off, don’t go grabbing for it, she had a whole pad. I had to laugh because I could totally see myself reaching down for it on instinct and that would not be a good thing.
Approach starts and I pull back the power. Without the indicator it’s all a matter of sound, feel, and descent rate. I made an educated guess as to when to put in the first notch of flaps and then basically did everything by picture. On base to final turn she reaches over and peeks under the Post It….”you’re right on 70 knots.” Perfect. That landing was fine as well. Somewhere, something clicked because along with the stable airspeed my roundouts and PATIENCE over the threshold got remarkably better. I can only say I had a feel for it somehow and had no worry about it.
Next time around she said we would do a flapless landing..uhh..sure, why not. My briefing on it occurred on crosswind. Basically, same speed as we had been doing but the approach would be a lot flatter. All I can say is…that was exactly what it was. A LOT flatter than normal but, with that said, it was about as routine as it gets.
We did another approach with a go around (damn cows!) and then on the final loop we set up a little high and wide. Wind was picking up which I actually liked because it keeps you more active throughout each part of the approach. On final, coming in a little high she had me do a forward slip. I knew the process and I had the wind direction figured so I knew technically what to do but this was really the first operational pass at it. Fortunately, it didn’t take much of a forward slip to get things back to where they needed to be so in that regard it all worked out. Actually looking forward to a strong crosswind so I can really work on the technique.
Time for a fueling break.
My first set of loops. Kind of look familiar. Now for the downside of this cool app. When we stopped for fuel, the App sensing no movement for a period of time assumed the flight was over and stopped logging. So, when we went back out again, nothing was recorded.
After refueling the wind picked up and there was a little rain. We were going to go up and do a few more. No argument from me! This time we would do a power off glide. We seem to be progressing quite quickly but ok…
Rain was a little heavier up at pattern altitude but nothing to be concerned about. It was sometime around then I mentioned being done soon because my family was showing up. She asked what time. I told her I had told them to come late so it wouldn’t interfere with the lesson.
So, she says…”Well, let’s make this one a power off, no flaps landing.”. Uh..sure, why not just start doubling up on things which can go wrong. I joked and said something to that effect and she responded back that, “Hey, sometimes everything goes wrong on the same day.”
Abeam the numbers I put on the carb heat and she said that he had the throttle from that point on. Everything was stable for the approach but now my issue…all this time I had trained with my hand on the throttle and now she’s blocking it. My right hand had nothing to do except fine tune the trim wheel. I had to laugh because I had to now fight what was actually the right thing to do. Once again, the landing was really flat but there was never an issue with managing the descent.
As we slowed down another plane was getting ready to take the runway. She asked if I had my logbook and medical certificate with me.
“So how do you feel about flying the plane solo.” Ok…this is a total surprise. I had to buy a second and said…”Well, there’s an airplane that wants to take off so…” I guess that was the first major mental slip of the day. She kind of joked and said something like…you’ve got to let me out of the plane first which means we will exit the runway…there’s plenty of time. She takes the airplane and has me reach back to ensure I’ve got my paperwork. Of course it is all there.
Brain goes into fast forward. Damn. I knew it was coming but I honestly didn’t expect it that day. Then I thought for a moment about what had just happened. I just managed about 5 different situations, some normal, some emergency and they all went off as routine. My instructor would never offer if she wasn’t convinced. I’ve tried to remain as humble as possible in this whole process so I may learn as much as possible. It all just came together and I realized…I’m ready. So I said, “Ok”.
We positioned the plane for taxi and she signed my documents. As is standard, my instructions were 3 takeoffs and landings. She asked if I had any questions. Trying to be the model student I did have one and, thinking back, it was an honest question. We had successfully gone through a lot of emergency procedures related to flight and landing but we didn’t go through a lot besides textbook on takeoff, primarily engine out. I know what to do but my question was specific to the active runway. If there was an engine out on takeoff, what, in her opinion, was the best option after 28? In the end, I think the answer was the best thing. I told her I had looked at the maps and couldn’t really find anything. She said…there aren’t a lot of options. You try and get 800 feet AGL and look for the best option. In a way, it was somewhat humorous. Or at least I laughed about it at the time. In actuality, roads are almost never an option but in this case I81 is straight, in line, and cable free just after the runway so that is an option…it’s just the lack of a horn on the plane which could make the whole process dicey.
I idle the aircraft to let her get out. She steps out and begins to walk away. Without thinking I latch the door (SMART!). A second later she comes back to check the same thing. Seeing that I had thought to do that she smiled and turned around.
Ok, let’s do this.
I back taxi out to the runway and line up. She’s nowhere in site which I guess is a good thing. I take a REALLY deep breath and make my call. Final check and I’m off.
All is routine on the takeoff roll. I’m in the air and establish a 70 knot climb. Part of my process is to take a glance back on climbout to make sure I am tracking the runway centerline. In doing so, you turn your head to the right and of course notice the seat next to you is now empty. I’m tracking the centerline and also realizing this is totally for real. I did the obligatory yahoo / holy crap scream to myself (remembered not to press the transmit button) along with the realization that I am Pilot in Command. I am now the only one who can fly and land this airplane. I truly believe this is one of those make or break moments in training. How are you going to handle this? You can think through it on the ground but it’s not real until you are there. I know I had a millisecond of healthy panic and then just started FLYING!
Just as I had done earlier, I started narrating all of the things I was going. Radio calls as required but I just talked and flew the plane. It was totally routine. No concern, just focus…and a wrinkle inducing smile as I went around the pattern. Landing was just like all the others.
1 down…darn, only 2 to go.
And then…I had to back taxi to the runway threshold. During that time I glance back towards our hangar. My CFI is out but she has her back to me and walking to another hangar. She said she would have a radio but has been quiet (which is good). In the hangar, however, I see 3 people. That’s my family. I lost track of time and now they were here. Now I had an audience other than the guy who mows the lawn.
Stay focused. Off I go and the routine is the same. I make the base turn and final and with the freshened wind I find myself a little high. I knew I could do a slip to get back on the glideslope but I made the decision (which on de-brief was a good one) to do a go around. I actually think this should be part of the first solo. There was ZERO concern on my part. The go around was just the right thing to do and I am glad it was easy to make the decision. I am sure my family was concerned and I know my CFI said she was going to go inside so she could fully hear the radio but there was no alarm. We had done these before. I got back to positive rate of climb, cleaned up the airplane, made my go around announcement and re-flew the pattern.
Next landing was not perfect but routine.
One more. Another opportunity to see my family who I hope was now a little more at ease. Next and final circuit…I flew it and set it up good. I think I carried a little more speed across the threshold and held it off pretty well. I bounced once but always kept the nose up. So, not a great landing but not a groaner either.
It was then I heard my instructor on the radio. Simple instruction. “Good job, take it in to parking.”
I exited the runway, executed my after landing checklist, drove the plane to parking and shutdown. My family was the first there to greet me. I was still in mission mode though. I smiled at them but said they would need to give me a minute while I finished getting everything done. I didn’t want to miss a thing
De-brief was great. I got my first Solo/PIC entry in my logbook and my limitations for solo. General but muted congratulations all around. She’s not a shirt cutter but either way is fine. It was a good shirt but if I saw scissors I wasn’t going to complain. But..It’s seeing the endorsement in my logbook and on my medical (now official) student certificate that I was looking for.
I was also told what to expect coming up.
It’s truly one exciting chapter finished and another to begin!