1st Solo

(Posted to rec.aviation.student on Monday, April 13, 1998)

From jean@kcco.com Mon Apr 13 10:47:49 1998
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From: jean@kcco.com (Jean-Michel Smith)
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Subject: HEADLINE: Student solos, no one killed :-)
Date: 13 Apr 1998 15:47:04 GMT
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At long last, several lessons (and several weeks) after my instructor first wanted to solo me, I finally did it! The saga started back at the end of February, when we flew out to Sanger Field for a “pre-solo test.” Sanger is interesting, because it is a private field with very narrow runways — the runways are about as wide as a two-lane highway. Landings were no problem, but alas, I hadn’t yet done my medical, so we had to put off the actual solo for another week or so.

A week later the weather was very marginal and it was windy, so we did a little more pattern work. Almost two weeks went by where we didn’t fly due to bad Wx (where was El Nino when we needed it!), then we flew another lesson, but it got dark too early and my instructor wasn’t comfortable soloing me at night. The next lesson we had mild to moderate turbulence and winds at 15 gusting to 25, so while I got to do a lot of wind work and learn to handle turbulence (both very good and challenging) the solo would have to wait.

At last my schedule and the weather cooperated, and today at three o’clock I arrived at Midway (MDW) with the distinct feeling that today was the day. Winds 070 at 7, visibility 10, ceiling broken at 20,000. Checked wind conditions at a few other airports (there was some gustiness that concerned my instructor), preflighted the Cessna 172 (it was a different Cessna from the ones I’d flown before, so I took a little extra time to familiarize myself with the panel). My instructor climbed in, we cruised through the preflight checklist one last time, did our run up, then called Midway Clearance and requested a departure to the south at 180. My radio work, which had been fairly good in the past, was not at its best. Embarrassing to call Midway ground Midway tower, and then to call Midway Tower while still on ground frequency. Ouch! Nevertheless I overcame my initial rustiness and was able to depart Midway Airport without bumping into any airliners.

Arriving at Howell-New Lennox (1C2) I came in too high and had to go around. Two weeks of bad weather and bad scheduling and my rustiness was showing — that was the first go-around I’d ever had to do for anything other than a simulated “plane on the runway” or “let’s go around this time.” Flew the pattern again and found myself low but with too much speed. Twenty degrees of flaps, don’t compensate for the bounce in altitude (we’re too low as it is), cut throttle, and trim for a more reasonable approach speed. Nice landing, and even managed to get stopped before the crossing runway (4). Turned around and back taxied on 31, took off and stayed in the pattern for another approach. No time on base before turning final, this doesn’t feel right, too fast, trim for speed, cut throttle, more flaps. We’re descending at a steep angle but it’s acceptable. Nice flair despite the steep descent, pretty good landing. Back taxi for another go, and we’re off!

I finally realize that I’m flying much too tight a pattern — the narrowness of the runways is throwing off my sense of distance. I fly a longer cross-wind, doubling the distance from the field for my downwind. Much better … this looks and feels right. Beautiful landing, on which we keep it rolling for a touch and go. We do another circuit, everything looks and feels right, another nice landing. Back taxi and take off again on 31, still no sign of any other traffic in the pattern. My instructor asks for my log book as I ascend back through 1200′ MSL and turn to cross-wind. I turn downwind and base, trimmed for a nice approach speed. Turn to final … not very well aligned with the runway, but plenty of time to fix that. Descent angle is nice — a touch high but much better than the first couple of landings. A little extra flaps, a little less power, and another very nice landing. I pull off of 31 onto 4, my instructor hands me my log book and tells me he wants three takeoffs and landings, any combo of full stops and/or touch and goes I feel comfortable with. I stash the log book, wave with a ridiculously big grin on my face, and turn the plane around 180 degrees.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF back taxiing on 31″

Silence … I’ve been alone in the pattern all afternoon, no reason for it to change now. I’m about half way back to the start of the runway when I hear “Howell traffic, Cessna back taxiing for departure on 31, Howell.”

I pull up to the turn-about and position myself to take the active while the other Cessna pulls up and around behind me.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF taking the active for departure on 31, staying in the pattern, Howell.”

Final checklist check, pull out onto 31, full throttle — WHERE IN THE HELL DID THAT THIRD PLANE ON 31 COME FROM!!?!! Cut throttle as the Cessna 120 hastily pulls off onto runway 4. Quick check, still plenty of room for takeoff and no further obstacles, full throttle and I’m airborne, well before the crossing with runway 4. Establish Vy and wonder why the *@#! the other guy didn’t call out his intentions. Curse myself for not having seen him sooner and not being ready for the unexpected. I can see the headline now, “Student dies in head-on with backtaxiing airplane at obscure airport somewhere in the Illinois
Corn Desert.”

Cruising through 1200′ MSL I begin a soft turn for left traffic, adrenaline still surging from my first near-aborted takeoff.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF turning to cross-wind for 31.” My ground track by now is well planned. A little more altitude than I would have liked (1600′ MSL instead of the 1500′ MSL I was shooting for) as I turn to downwind.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF turning to downwind for 31, Howell.”

“Howell traffic, Cessna departing runway 31, Howell.” The Cessna behind me takes off while I’m pulling out the carb heat and reducing throttle. I line up for base, make the turn while announcing my intentions. Hmmm. The mystery plane, silent as ever, has vanished from the runway. A quick scan doesn’t reveal his presence. No one else even close to the runway at either end, which is fine with me.

“Howell traffic, Archer entering downwind for runway 31, Howell.”

“Roger Howell traffic, this is Cessna 738LF. I’ve got you in sight. I’m turning to final for runway 31″

“Roger Foxtrot, I’ve got you on final.”

Another nice landing, almost on the numbers. “Howell Traffic, Cessna 738LF. I’m pulling off on runway 4 to clear 31 for you.”

The Archer lands as I’m swinging the plane around in preparation for a back taxi. What a sweet looking plane, and fast!

“Thanks for the help, foxtrot,” as the archer rolls quickly past me on 31. The pilot waves, I wave back to her, this ridiculous grin still plastered to my face. Nothing more clever comes to mind to say other than “Umm … Roger.” Funny how radio-shyness can hit you when you least expect it.

“Howell Traffic, Cessna 738LF back taxiing on 31, Howell.”

Another plane announces a back taxi as I’m heading toward the end of the runway. “Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF, taking the active on 31. I’ll take position and hold so you have room to turn.” I hesitate then, seeing another Cessna which *could* be on final (if it weren’t for the 50 degree angle he’s approaching 31 at). He appears to be practicing an emergency landing on the field behind me, but I hold up until I’m certain he’s not making for the runway. I pull up and hold, and the other plane swings into the turn-about and pulls up behind me. No reason for the other plane to make for the runway with someone else back taxiing, but my first encounter has made me significantly more cautious.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF departing 31, staying in the pattern.”

Full throttle, right rudder, and I’m airborne a second time, well before the crossing runway. This plane climbs amazingly well with just one person inside!

I’m on the cross-wind turning to downwind when the other plane announces his departure and takes off. He stays in the pattern behind me but otherwise all is quiet. No sign of the mystery plane as I come in for a second, very nice landing. I turn off on 4, swing around in preparation for a back taxi, and hold position as the other Cessna lands. I announce my back taxi and head back down to the end of the runway. A few moments later the other Cessna does the same thing. Waiting in the turn-about, I notice our mystery plane coming in on short final.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF, do you have enough clearance to get by?”

“Roger Foxtrott, I’m fine. Have you heard anything from this guy?” as the 120 comes in for a landing on 31.

“Not a word,” I reply, watching the mystery plane cruise down 31 and turn off into the airport proper. Look over the checklist one more time, double check trim, oops, carb heat still on, turn it off, everything else is in order.

“Howell traffic, Cessna 738LF taking the active on 31 for departure, staying in the pattern, Howell.” I pull onto the runway and give full throttle. A third loop around the pattern, a third very nice landing (they are all *almost* but not quite true greasers).

Pull off onto 4 and pick up my instructor, back taxi one last time on 31, quick glance through the checklist to confirm all is as it should be, announce that we’re taking the active on 31 for a departure to the northeast, check the sky for any more mystery planes on base or final (or weird 50 degree approaches), check the runway one more time (no mystery planes back taxiing here), swing out onto the runway and punch it. We’re not quite as quickly airborne, but we do leave the ground near the crossing of runway 4. Begin the turn to the north-east as we pass through 1000′ MSL, point the nose at the Sears tower on the horizon and continue our climb to 1800 feet.

[ The rest I wrote this morning, Monday, April 13, 1998 ]

I contacted Midway approach about 13 miles out, was instructed to pass over the center of the field and make left traffic for runway 4-right, then cleared to land as I passed over mid field. Perfect approach, but a mediocre landing as I was concentrating on trying to get down early enough to make the first taxiway, rather than just concentrating on the landing itself. Silly of me, but an acceptable landing nonetheless. We didn’t make the taxiway, but rather were instructed to taxi back on the big (inactive) runway, 31-center. Arrived, shut down and tied down the plane, utterly euphoric, with that silly grin *still* plastered to my face.

Oh, it turned out the mystery plane didn’t even have a radio, something I’d never even considered. Perfectly legal, and perfectly normal, except at the airports I’d been flying at until today. Most of my experience up until then had been at airports in class charlie or class delta airspace. What a learning experience! And something I am not likely to ever forget, either! Now I always assume there’s a mystery plane lurking around somewhere, sans radio, waiting to pounce when I least expect it …

And yes, it’s been three days and that silly grin is still there. I am beginning to suspect my facial muscles will be forever frozen in that position. I can’t wait to go up again!

jean.

=== Copyright (c) 1998 by Jean-Michel Smith; All rights reserved. ====
Jean-Michel Smith             | DISCLAIMER:  "It is unlikely that
email:  jean kcco dot com     | anyone shares the opinions expressed
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