2nd Solo

KMDW to KLOT and Back: An Evening at Lewis

Posted to rec.aviation.student on April 24, 1998

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From: jean@kcco.com (Jean-Michel Smith)
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Subject: First unsupervised/night solo!
Date: 24 Apr 1998 17:50:10 GMT
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[ what follows is a long blow by blow of my second solo, sans spel cheker as I’m typing this on a unix box without ispell installed. ]

Last night my CFI signed me off for my first unsupervised solo, from Midway (MDW) to Lewis (LOT) and back, with a stopover in Lewis to hear an FAA Flight Examiner discuss how best to prepare for the oral and practical tests. A small taste of what is to come when I finally do get my PPL, to take a plane and go someplace, actually do something worthwhile wherever it is I’m going, and then fly back home again! This is an evil hobby, more addictive than heroin, more addictive even than cigarretts! If I thought I was hooked before, that was nothing compared to this first, brief taste of airborne freedom!

The flight to Lewis was pretty uneventful — departure from MDW on 31L on a heading of 240 (I fudged a little bit so I could follow the river to the smokestacks, as I knew the way pretty well), flew past the field at 2000′ MSL to enter a left downwind for 27 at Lewis, flew the usual left-handed pattern and landed. Things were really quiet there — after landing there was one plane which began taxiing as I was heading toward the ramp on the east end of the runway, otherwise not a soul to be seen (or heard). Two other planes were parked when I arrived and swung the C172 around. Powered off, pushed the plane back into position and chalked it up. Double-checked the after-landing checklist, then locked it up and went inside.

For those within easy flying distance, Leslie Henninger’s symposium on preparing for the check ride is really good — she points out lots of do’s and don’ts and explains exactly what the test will cover, and what common mistakes people make. Definitely worth checking out.

It was dark by the time the symposium ended, so the second half of my solo was another first — my first solo at night. I chatted with some other people from our flight school (a private pilot working on his commercial had given a couple of other students a ride in another Cessna), and stuck around to ask the flight examiner a couple of questions. Afterwords I headed out to the ramp and preflighted the plane for the return trip, did my runup, and got in line on the taxi way for departure. The plane in front of me took off as I went through the takeoff checklist. A few moments later I took the active on 27 and began my takeoff roll as someone entered base for landing. I was quickly airborn and, after ascending above pattern altitude, turned to 060 and headed back to Chicago.

ATIS was painfully garbled, but I did manage to get the identifier (oscar) and the winds (120@5) and called Midway radar about 10.5 NM out. I was instructed to head strait for the field and respect left traffic for runway 31 right. Midway can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to find at night (a dim sea of lights amidst a bright sea of lights), but I spotted 4 left without too much difficulty and found myself in a pretty good position for a 45 degree entry into the downwind for 31L. OK, maybe it was a 55 degree entry — I was a little farther south than I would have liked. It would have been perfect for a strait-in on 4 right though. :-) As I was making my entry I was cleared to land. I passed abeam of my touchdown point, trimmed for 90 kts, 80 kts on the base, and 70 kts on the final. Came in just about perfect, but the plane just floated and floated … then came down and bounced! My first bounce ever! It bounced again, and then started oscillating into more frequent bounces. Damn, I was moving fast, and this bouncing was not good. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t much that I liked about this landing, other than the initial approach. I applied full throttle for a go around and got things trimmed up for the climb back to pattern altitude as the tower comes on clearing me for the go-around back into left traffic with same intentions. I’d forgotten about that damn 5 kts tailwind!

As I turned to downwind I noticed my altitude had gotten a little high (1600′ vs 1500′ MSL), so I began my descent early. Maintained 10 degrees of flaps through the entire pattern until turning to final (this time a little longer downwind and final, as I was still a touch high). Full idle on the power and 40 degrees of flaps, trimmed to a very slow 55 kts. I was tempted to drop my airspeed even more, but refrained. I came in pretty steep, right over the numbers, glided in ground effect for a horribly long time (my hand was on the throttle ready for that second go-around) then touched down (plonk!) and bounced (plonk!), bounced again (mini-plonk), and was then rolling far too quickly for comfort on a short runway. I began breaking rather aggressively and still used nearly all of the runway. The tower instructed to turn off on 4 left, then cross 4 right before contacting ground as they had a jetliner on 5 mile final for 4 right. It seems I was the last person to use 31L before they switched runways due to the wind! Anyway, I contacted ground and was cleared to taxi back to the ramp, where I met the other pilots who had been at the symposium and had returned a few minutes earlier. We tied down the plane, I finished the paperwork, double checked the after landing checklist (oops, still needed to put in the control lock), logged the flight, then joined the other guys for a beer around the corner and finished filling in my log book with a cold Becks in my hand. :-)

It was a great evening full of firsts: my first unsupervised solo, my first solo out of midway, my first night solo, and my first landing with a tail wind. Another very memorable (and really fun) experience!

What I learned: (1) that tail winds suck, (2) what it feels like when you bounce! ugh! (3) that I need to be more assertive in asking the tower for a different runway, or at least a bigger one, (4) that I need my CFI to show my some tricks on how to manage tail-wind landings better, (5) lots and lots of stuff about the check ride, and (6) there’s good Becks and Guiness to be had only a stone’s throw away from Midway!

=== 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
http://jean.nu/               | here, much less my employer."
Dual:  23.9 hours
 PIC:   1.5 hours