Saturday 26th Feb 2011

Today is the day I went solo!

As we suspected last night, the schedule for today included our first solo take-off and landing. Jens was due to take the first lesson of the day, but his flight was postponed as the early morning mist and low cloud had not dispersed when he was due to fly. An hour later, when Andreas was due for his lesson, the conditions had improved sufficiently for him to take-off. Mike (our usual Instructor) had taken a long weekend leave to visit his girlfriend in Arizona, and wasn’t due back until Wednesday, so John was to take all our lessons today. I had flown with John on my first day at EASA, as a back-seater on a night flying lesson he was giving to another Student. I had been impressed with his calm and professional approach on that trip, so I had no doubt I would enjoy his lessons. The approach he took with all three of us was the same.

First of all, we all did three T&G’s with John, to satisfy him that we were ready to go solo. We then taxied back to the ramp, dropped John off, then set off on our first ever solo flight. Andreas was first to go, and Jens and I watched as he taxied out, took off, did the circuit, and then came back to land. In fact, Andreas was unhappy with his approach on the first pass, so did the sensible thing, and carried out a go-around, rather than attempt a landing. He was much happier with his second approach, and brought the aircraft home. Next, it was my turn. Maybe it was pre-solo nerves, but I seemed (to me) to make a few elementary mistakes in the preflight checklist, but John put me straight, with no fuss. After my three T&G’s John declared himself satisfied with my landings (which I am pleased to say were better than I had previously done, as the wind was much kinder, and the practice was paying off). He asked me if I was happy to go alone, and when I answered in the affirmative, he gave me a couple of last minute instructions, jumped out, and I was on my own. I taxied to the runway threshold, carried out the pre-take off checks, and called the tower. “Ormond Tower, this is November, Niner Two One Two Charlie, ready for departure”. “November Two One Two Charlie, cleared for Take-off” came the reply. As I slowly taxied forward, another message came over the radio “November Two One Two Charlie, don’t take too long, there is traffic on final coming in to land”. I better get my skates on!

I opened up the throttle and sped down the runway. As the Airspeed Indicator wound up to 65 knots, I gently pulled back on the yoke, and I was airborne. Keeping the top of the dashboard on the horizon, I checked my airspeed had settled at about 80 knots, the rate of climb we had been taught to maintain for the best performance. Soon I had reached 700 feet, and began my turn to crosswind. We were using Runway 26 today, so it was going to be a right hand circuit (due to noise abatement requirements). Keeping a lookout for other traffic, I was soon turning onto the downwind leg. I leveled off at 1000 feet, and reduced the throttle to 2200 RPM. I carried out my pre-landing checklist, (using the pneumonic that Mike had taught me), and saying aloud all the items. Next was my radio call “November Two One Two Charlie, mid field downwind, request full stop landing”. Clearance was given, as I lined up the downwind leg on the couple of hotels on the shoreline that John had suggested I use. When the angle between me and the runway was about 45degrees, I throttled back to 1700 RPM, and selected 25 degrees of flap, and turned onto base leg, now steadily losing height. My turn onto final was  little too early (a habit I must get out of), so rather than a neat right angle turn onto final, I reduced my angle of turn to complete it when I was looking straight down the runway, and selected full flaps. I was now at about 500 feet. I kept a watch on the PAPI lights at the end of the runway, which tell you if you are on the glide-path. Two Whites, mean too high, Two Reds mean too low, One White, One Red is perfect. I had Two Whites, but decided I would rather be a little too high than too low, as the final approach is over a forest of trees around the Golf Course I had been playing yesterday. I felt the usual slight turbulence I knew to expect going over the trees, and pointed the nose at the end of the runway. On previous landings, I have had a tendency to ‘flare’ too early, but remembering what Mike had told me, I concentrated on looking down the runway, not the ground to one side. I started gently pulling back on the yoke, corrected so that I wouldn’t ‘balloon’ up again, and felt the aircraft floating down the runway, before hearing and feeling the wheels touch-down. I called the tower for permission to taxi back to the ramp, and he responded with permission to taxi around for another take-off! Trying to keep my wits about me, I responded that I required a full stop, and he corrected the instructions and told me which taxiway to use. As I started to turn to the taxiway, I realised I was still going too fast (I had not applied enough brakes), so I corrected this, pulled over past the taxiway threshold, and stopped to complete my post landing checks. These done, I applied some power, and taxied back to the ramp in front of the EASA offices, completed the shutdown sequence, and my first powered solo flight was completed.

Jens & Andreas were there to congratulate me, and to help me push the plane back to its parking slot. During the flight, I had not felt at all nervous, as it seemed just like the normal transition part of my training that was expected, and I think that is a testament to the standard of training we are getting. However, the back of my shirt was soaking wet! When I arrived in the office for my post flight briefing, John and the others congratulated me, and John completed the endorsements to my Log Book. “There is just one thing I should tell you”, said John, “you forgot to request permission from Ground to taxi to the runway before you set off. The guys in the Tower and I have been having a chuckle at how keen you were to get going!”  Oh Dear, I had forgotten the very first thing I should have done when John got out of the aircraft. Apart from that, the rest of the flight had gone smoothly. Jens & Andreas had filmed the flight, and I have put a copy of it on YouTube here

Next it was Jens turn, and following his three landings with John, he executed a perfect solo landing. Once back in the office, and not having any more flying scheduled for that day, Jens produced three cans of beer he had secretly brought from home. We sat outside in the sun, toasting the success of our solo flights, and swapping stories about each of them. Just like real pilots!