Lesson 12: Solo Touch and Go’s

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.3 hours 

Total Hours: 13.2

I was thinking about how nice the weather was as I rode to Merrill for my next lesson, which I was expecting to be dual. When I walked in the door, Mark surprised me by asking, “Are you ready to go up by yourself again?” Since it was indeed such a great, clear calm day, he suggested that I go do my second supervised solo and practice takeoffs and landings for an hour by myself. When I said OK, he pretty much handed over the keys to the plane and turned me loose.

Essentially, this would be my first solo flight from start to finish. I was certainly a little nervous, but I took the combination of confidence that I had in myself and that Mark had in me and ran with it. 

I went out to 654, sat in the cockpit for a minute to visualize what I’d be doing, and then very methodically went through the checklist as I did my preflight inspection and started up the plane. I found myself putting alot of attention towards little things that were more peripheral to the process of actually flying the plane, such as where I’d put my notebook and my pen, how I’d keep track of the time, should I put this here or here… probably because it was my attempt to begin establishing a system of how to handle those things for the future.

I got a bit nervous when I noticed that the traffic was using runway 25. Although it’s the same runway as 7, and follows the same pattern, just backwards, I’d never done touch and go’s in that direction. I reassured myself that I knew the visual reference points to follow, I’d just be doing everything in reverse. When I was ready, I called for clearance, taxied up to the runway and took off. 

The view on climbout was incredible. Flying west, I could see the huge coastal mountains off in the distance straight ahead standing out against the clear blue sky. In fact, all the mountains were out- Denali, Foraker, Hunter, the Talkeetnas and the Chugach. It was truly a beautiful day for flying. I could also see the 747’s taking off from Anchorage airport, which is always a pretty cool sight.

I was also a little nervous when I came in on my first final, “would I remember how to do this?” I though to myself. Of course, there was really no time to answer, I just went through the motion and landed 654 like I had been taught. It’s starting to become trained muscle memory now, and more practice will only increase my skill at landing and handling the airplane.

The first one went well, as did most of my landings. Some were certainly better than others. Sometimes I floated a bit too long or ballooned up a bit, but I always remembered to add power and bring it back down gently. Other times I had trouble keeping straight with the rudder on the icy runway. It can be tricky to manage the torque effects on the ice, when there is little to no friction for the wheels to help steer it from going left. It seems like the snow and ice make things worse if you don’t have the rudder well under control when you first touch down.  Also, with snow covering about two thirds of the entire runway width right now, there is only about a 30 foot wide strip of clear, icy asphalt, which looks pretty narrow when you’re on final approach. Flying lessons in Alaska in the wintertime- very exciting.

I did 12 touch and go’s in all, and I tried to evaluate each landing individually during the next climbout, hoping to improve on the next go around. I definitely need to make sure I’m holding off when I level out so that I bleed off the excess airspeed without floating back up before I start raising the nose. Being the most precise action of the landing process, this just will take more practice. Also, I need to make sure I’m looking down towards the end of the runway when I begin the flare.

I’m getting much more used to adjusting the trim wheel everytime I make a change, and my ATC listening and communication skills are improving. A couple of times I had to extend my downwind, and on one lap I had to come in for a very long final, which forced me to not just rely on the regular pattern cues and visual checkpoints as I did my approach. 

When the hour was done, I requested a full stop, did my last landing and rolled out easily on the snow before braking and turning off and taxing back to the hangar to secure the plane. My excitement level is growing, now that I’m experiencing solo flying – I equate it to leading your first rock climb, and I would say that the feeling is very similar. There are actually a few parallels with flying and climbing, which is probably why I’m enjoying this so much.

After today’s lesson and 15 solo landings and under my belt, I feel like it’s really coming together for me now.

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