1st solo flight (circuits)

In a true series of comedic relief, only it wasn’t funny, I didn’t think this day would come. After a couple of weeks of not ‘getting’ the touchdown part of my landing technique, which resulted in a few remedial flights; that is my circuit flying all the way down to within 10 feet of the runway is stable but for some reason I have always slammed the aircraft onto the runway like it was a basketball at the touchdown (last 10 feet in the air) part. It finally clicked.

Up to that point I just didn’t get it. Add on top of that a series of cancellations because of weather, instructor availability and inconsistency where I went through not only periods of no scheduled flights and assigned to 6 different instructors, 3 weeks had passed and I was beyond frustration. Yesterday I was cancelled again due to instructor not available and I sat not for the first time at school fuming. In light of the Hamilton hot air balloon festival, I told my classmate that if he were to tie a balloon to me right now he could watch me float way! And yes, last night I did go to the Zuru Night glow event, the last day of the balloon festival and it was their event closing party, which was (unexpectantly) awesome. (Blog post to follow). Anyway, this solo flight cancellation proved to be a good thing.

This morning, oh how the fun continues. A few weeks back my phone charge cable melted as I went to go charge my battery bank, and I have no idea why, so I had to buy a replacement cable. This replacement cable decided to stop working overnight so my phone wasn’t charged. As I’ve had a problem before with my phone and the alarm not going off before, I set my ipad alarm. The ipad alarm was so low in volume I did not hear the alarm. The alarm must have been going off for 20mins before I registered it. By this time it was 5.50am and the agreed ETD for school was 6am. Only my car share driver had sent a message stating meet 5.45am this morning. Seeing my phone is dead I didn’t get that message and instead hear my other two classmates talking outside. Jumping out of bed I now find my phone battery completely dead and had switched off over night. Scrambling to put on my uniform quickly, and luckily I have a habit of packing my bag the night before so I didn’t need to worry about that, I got out the door in under 10 mins. Before you start thinking at least you’re not the only one in at that crazy early time slot, all 3 of us commented that this is the first time any of us have had company so early in the morning, usually we go in by ourself as no one else is usually scheduled at this time!

On the drive to school the other two were hopeful. I wasn’t so much commenting that the mist may not lift in time. Mist is fog but with a visibility of less than 1km in the aviation world. We also refer to cloud as visual precipitation but this is all just terminology. When we got to the school we all went about our preflight business. I sat and did my usual preflight planning i.e. weather, mass and balance checks, NOTAMS (caution notices of any dangers in the area e.g. hot air balloons, birds migrating, unusual movements within the airport [aircraft] manoeuvring area). The weather forecast came out, fog with visibility less than 2km. We need a minimum of 5km to fly at a height of 10,000 feet or less. So at that moment the forecast would ground all of us, but it was still 6.20am and pitch dark. Hopeful as my aircraft ETD is 07.29am. Yes, our ETD time slot really are not rounded to any figure and can be at any minute.

By 7.15am I had completed my preflight check of the aircraft. E.g. oil, fuel, controls, legal paperwork is in order etc, but the runway was still surrounded by fog. I go back inside to the instructor’s office, “uh, this isn’t looking good… Is it?” I hesitated half stating, half already knowing the answer. My instructor for the day looked outside the window, then at his computer screen to check the weather and my scheduled time slot. There was a bit of leeway, meaning no other student was booked into the time slot right next to mine for this aircraft, so the instructor suggested we delay the ETD. It was just a waiting game now as I begin to see the sun rise up from the horizon. The fog was clearing but it was painfully slow as the red and orange tinge off from the horizon accompanies the crisp light blue sky with the rising sun. Now standing back outside next to the aircraft on the apron, my instructor on the other side of the aircraft, he comments, “the fog should disappear once you finish your pre start checks, let’s go!”

You don’t need to tell me twice! “Woo!” Reaching into the cockpit to release the brakes I pull down the aircraft canopy and we push the aircraft back from it’s stand. Now with the aircraft facing the right way I hop into the cockpit, only to find that my pen is not on my knee board. “Uh, I’ve lost my pen…. This hasn’t happened to me before” as I frantically try to find it. I later find that I had put it back in my pencil case which is in my flight bag which is inside the storage cupboard in the school. (That was super stupid of me, and a mistake which I have never done before.) Jumping out the aircraft again I search for it. Once I’m sure that I didn’t drop the pen in the footwell, as I can’t risk having the pen jam into my rudder pedals, think car pedals and something jammed in between those things, I hop back into the aircraft and my instructor lends me his pen instead. Closing the canopy I resume my pre engine start up checklist. Then I start the engine and go to the run up area where I perform my pre taxi checklist, which includes checking the instruments, engine, functions are working, controls, radio, flight safety briefs i.e. I talk about what course of actions will be taken in the event of an engine failure or something not working etc. If you’re wondering at this point about how many checklists we have to go through, my answer is “MILLIONS!!!!!” And I haven’t even reached the runway yet! In fact I haven’t even left outwith 200 feet of the vicinity of the school apron.

Ok, I made a couple of slip ups with the RT in the hour of flying, that’s not bad, I can live with that. Other than that, my solo check went pretty well. It also helped with the minimal winds. It was so light I barely had to make any minimal corrections throughout the flight, and the circuit being very quiet, mostly because everyone else’s flight was cancelled due to fog, including my two classmates who I travelled in with! Thank you fog, who would have thought I would be saying that!?

Of course there are always points I can improve upon like tidying up my straight and level flying. That is, stop descending/climbing within 100-200 feet of my required height, and my speed control coming into base and final (prior to landing) could be so much more efficient. That will come with practise though I have no doubt!

Keep in mind my remedial lessons due to my basketball slam dunk landing and the bad start to the morning that I’ve had, I think I shocked myself the most this morning when I landed smoothly, four consecutive times! Again thanks to the minimal wind and minimal other traffic, which helped a lot, I landed, smoothly! Four times!

Why didn’t I get the touch down part of the landing prior to this?

Why did it take me so long? What was the issue, it’s easy?!

I didn’t panic, I wasn’t stressed, I just flew the aircraft and…. Stable, flare, idle power, land…. As all my classmates and fellow students will confirm, “once it clicks you will just get it” and I did. I can assign this feeling to when you learn to ride as a child and then the training wheel(s) get taken off. You either get it, or you don’t. I’m happy that I did, finally! As I landed and the ATC controller was telling me where to exit, she also said “congratulations on your first solo.” I guess its fitting its ATC who congratulates me first since they’re gonna be my main partner from now on! As she said it I was so happy my brain imagined a victory dance since I couldn’t physically do it seeing the aircraft was still rolling and I was still on an active runway! As I got back to the L3 apron both my instructor for the day and my primary instructor were standing there waiting to congratulate me. That was really nice as my head was floating on cloud 9. (Which is an odd thing to say seeing that being in Cloud 9 really isn’t a good thing!*). This first hurdle has proved another rollercoaster journey. I can’t wait (sarcasm) for the next one! [Rolling up my sleeves, only currently I’m still wearing my short sleeve white shirt], “bring it!”

*There are essentially 10 categories of cloud and cloud 9 is classified as cumulonimbus cloud – which is bad. More info at the MET office – Cumulonimbus.

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