Lesson 14: Solo in the Practice Area

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.3 hours 

Total Hours: 15.6

Today was my first solo flight away from the airport. My lesson plan was to fly over to the practice area and work on a specific list of maneuvers. It seemed simple enough, but due to the high volume of air traffic this morning, I got in a good deal of radio practice and looking for other planes as well, which kept things challenging during the entire flight.

Before leaving Merrill, the tower gave me a squawk code on my transponder so that Anchorage Control could have me on their screens for flight following and traffic management. I was directed to dial them up as soon as I was over the channel and I remained in contact with them during the whole time I was practicing my maneuvers. The woman kept alerting me to traffic in my area, and although I kept reading back, “654 looking,” I rarely saw the planes that she was referring to. When I did seem them, I let her know. I’ve found that other airplanes can be hard to spot, although I’m getting better at learning how and where to look.

Always keeping an eye out for traffic, I went through my list of maneuvers- slow flight, stalls, S-turns and turns around a point. Being the first time I’d practiced stalls on my own, it was indeed very exciting when the nose of the plane dropped. It took some concentration to remember to push the nose back over and add full power, while coordinating with the rudder so as not to have the left wing drop too much. 

I felt good about my ground reference maneuvers, and did turns around a small island on a frozen lake, and the S-turns along a straight section of powerlines. There was a bit of a crosswind, so I had to correct the bank angles to compensate accordingly. 

As I headed back to Merrill for touch and go’s, I was told to watch for two F-15’s that were coming in from the north. Eventually, I spotted them as they descended over Elmendorf. After switching back to the tower frequency, I began my descent, although since I maintained my 2,200′ altitude all the way across the channel, I ended up coming in pretty high and had to lose a lot of air in a hurry.  At one point I was considering bailing on the landing and just going around, but I made the decision to stick with it. I used up quite a bit of runway, but landed ok. 

My second landing was a floater and my third was a pretty bad bouncer. I made sure to stay focused and fly a good solid patter for my last one and did much better. Still not quite fine tuned to that point between pulling up too much too fast, and not enough too late. More often than not, I either float or land somewhat flat. That will just take practice and continued concentration and evaluation. One instructor suggested that I try glancing over my shoulder at the wheels as I’m leveling off, just to give me a feel for where they are in relation to the runway. 

All in all, it was a very good solo lesson and a big mental workout. I definitely learned alot about cockpit management, traffic alertness and how to stay focused when new situations evolve. At one point during my climbout, I had to make a correction when the ATC alerted me that I had crossed into Elmendorf airpace. Looking down, I realized that I had strayed to the right of Ship Creek, which is the airspace boundary.

My radio skills continued to improve, as I had to tune my two COM’s to five different frequencies, between ATIS, Merrill Ground, Merrill Tower, and two different frequencies for Anchorage Control during the course of my flight.

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