My First Solo

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.3 hours

Total Hours: 11.9

I flew my first solo yesterday, January 22, 2009 at just after 3:00pm, Alaska Time. 

After being shut down by ice fog two days ago, I rode out to the field with confidence, hoping that today was the day. I had taken a few days to work through and process my previous lesson, which had not gone so well, and spent a good deal of time mentally preparing and going over all the procedures in my head so that I would be ready. And, first thing I did when I got in the plane was crack the seat handle all the way up.

Up to this point, my last hurdle with landings was smoothing out my roundout, or flare. I kept finding myself pulling back on the yoke too much, which would cause me to balloon up. I also couldn’t seem to break the urge to pull back for the flare with both hands, when I should have my right hand on the throttle. In order to work through this in my mind, I tried to shift my thinking about the roundout and level off to being a single smooth motion, instead of acting as if it were two, which is what I had been doing. To put it another way, it’s not descend, descend, descend… over the numbers, now pull up, rather it’s descending… now approaching the end of the runway, slowly and smoothly start to pull up and level off. I discussed it with my instructor and he put it very simple terms that could relate to, “When when you get to a corner on your bike, you don’t just yank the handlebars to the right, you make a gradual turn.” 

The concept must have sunk in, because when we flew around the pattern and came in for our first landing of the day, I did it just like I was taught. The roundout and level off was one smooth motion and the touchdown was way more precise than any I’d had last week. Add to that the 5-7kt drifitng across the runway, I even got a bit of crosswind training, straightening out the crab and dropping the upwind wing slightly just as we got over the runway.

After about five trips around the pattern together, it was obvious that I had it down. Mark got out of the plane, signed my solo endorsement and sent me on my way to do three full takeoffs and landings on my own. Although I definitely felt ready, I knew that it wouldn’t be good to think about it too much, so I just sat there in the plane for a minute or two, making sure I had my checklist and tower/ground frequencies ready and called for taxi clearance back to runway 7. 

The scariest part for me was probably that moment right when you roll forward onto the runway, line up with the centerline, and start to push in the throttle. After that, whatever doubts you may have right then just disappear. They have to, because before you know it, you’re in the air and watching the world drop beneath. You suddenly feel like a pilot.

I could see Mark and Hart standing over by the hangar, watching me as I took off. I flew off the runway and climbed towards the Chugach Mountains, marveling at the 172’s performance with just one small person it it. At one point, I looked at the rate of climb indicator and noticed that at 75kt, I was ascending at 1100-1200 FPM. Gotta love this cold Alaska density altitude!

I made my first turn over Costco parking lot, set my trim for the downwind and took a few moments to enjoy the view over the Anchorage area before starting my descent. I did a solid job controlling my airspeed and descent rate throughout base and final, and as I came down over the end of the runway, I leveled off and pulled back gently on the yoke until I felt 654 touch the ground. It went as well as I could have hoped, and even though I had been having trouble keeping the plane on the centerline through nearly all of my landings, this time, I kept on top of the rudder and held her straight all the way through. I think remember letting out a cheer for myself as I did my rollout and exited the runway.

My second and third trips around the pattern went just as well, as did the landings. My second was a little flat, but still pretty soft, and during my third, I pulled up just a little too hard and rose back up a bit on the flare. I remembered to add a quick burst of power so that it wouldn’t stall too high and drop hard, and even though the touchdown was a little harder than the first two, it was well within acceptable limits. The middle of the runway was very icy, so during all of my rollouts, I had to veer to the side where the snow was before using the brakes. 

During my alone time in the air, I found myself feeling a bond with the ATC guy as we communicated; after all, since Mark wasn’t in the plane to help me out with commands, it was just me and him. After I had done my three landings, a couple of the ATC guys called up on the radio to congratulate me on my first solo. That felt really good. 

When I taxied back to the hangar and shut the plane down, Mark came up, opened the door and said, “Welcome to the club.”

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