Stage One – Complete

At this Aero Club when your instructor says that you are ready to solo they apparently cannot be trusted. So I had to fly an additional sortie (and pay an additional $150) with the Chief Pilot so he could say that I was indeed ready to solo. For some reason the 5,000 hours of flying that the Chief Pilot has is better than the 5,000 hours of flying that any of the other instructors have.

At least He recognized the idiocy of it all.

Chief Pilot: This is a formality. I have to do this because the Air Force organization that runs Aero Clubs says I have to do this.
Me: What does the FAA say?
Chief Pilot: The FAA doesn’t care. This is an Air Force thing.
Me: Ok.
Chief Pilot: We’ll go out there, you’ll show me a couple stalls, some steep turns, and a simulated engine failure, then we’ll come back here and do some landings. Can you do that?
Me: Sure.
Chief Pilot: When do you want to do this?
Me: How about right now?

So after another hour of flight time that cost me another $150 I got another person to agree with the other people who said that I was indeed ready to fly an airplane by myself.

Instructor: Did you pass your stage check?
Me: Yep. Done and Done.
Instructor: Okay, next up is the solo.
Me: Okay.
Instructor: When do you want to do that?
Me: How about right now?

Why wait, let’s do this. The winds were okay, the airplane was okay, and since I’m blowing cash all over this organization I’d really like something to show for it. So my instructor endorsed my log book and we went out to the airplane. We get airborne and entered the pattern and I did 3 touch and goes under instructor supervision and then I dropped my CFI off at the fuel pit and went back to runway for 3 of my own, on my own.

The first one was an argument with myself about whether or not I should talk to myself. You see, in the airplane, I’m a talker. I verbalize everything that I’m doing so there is no question between me and the instructor as to what is going on. But now that I’m by myself, should I still talk? So I had an argument with myself about talking to myself. By the time I told myself to shut my mouth I was ready to make a base turn for my first landing. I turned way to mildly, overshot final and for reasons I cannot fathom I was too low. I have NEVER been low in the pattern before. I am continuously too high, too fast and make my approaches too damn steep. I know there are red lights on the PAPIs because I’ve seen Vicky and Max use them and explain their use to me. Two red, two white is on the glidepath. Too much red and you’re too low, too much white and you’re too high. When I’m at the controls, it’s all white. I rarely see red. This time I had three reds. Figures. Power back in, hold the flaps until I’m back on the glide path, and where the hell did the wind come from? It was calm not ten seconds ago. Flared too high and couldn’t get the damn thing to land, that was when I realized that the extra power I put in was still there. Throttle to idle, wheels on the ground. One down, two to go.

On the go I bisected a dozen sparrows who were feasting on the autumn locusts on the runway. The birds somehow knew that I was all by my lonesome in the cockpit and decided to give me some company. Well GET THE HELL AWAY FROM MY AIRPLANE. What I do not want right now is to demonstrate my piloting skills by landing the aircraft with a birdstrike. When I turned from downwind to base, I was determined to be on the glidepath and roll out on centerline. And I did. 10 knots too slow. I fought the airspeed all the way down final and just could not seem to fix it. I damn near had a stroke when I saw that I was about 50 feet and 15 knots slow. I’d like to say that the second landing was the worst one, but it was more like a stall over the runway. I fell to the concrete. And bounced. Does that count as one or two? I decided that I just could not end on that note so the power came back in, and I went in the air for the last one.

On the downwind, the wind shear layer that was 3000 AGL decided it was time to come down so it could mess with me. Having flown all over the place through clouds and storms I can honestly say that my ass bounced through the downwind at continuous moderate turbulence. I did not enjoy it. Airspeed control was now out of the question. The gauge was all over the place, fluctuating between 80 and 120 knots. I put the throttle at a safe setting and said, screw it. I made an aggressive turn to base and the wind took my ass to about 70 degrees of bank. If there was ever a time to fill my shorts with poop, this was it. I fought for centerline the entire time, never really knowing what my airspeed was since it was bouncing all over the place. The wind was shifting and shearing and I just made the outside picture look like it was supposed to look and hoped for the best. When I crossed the threshold, it was as if Jesus had turned the wind switch off. Perfectly calm. I rounded out too high, again, but this time I had the presence of mind to hold that attitude and milk out the throttle. I landed on the centerline, no bounces, no herky jerky. How the hell did I do that? The approach was the worst I’d ever flown. The landing was the best I’d ever done. How is that possible?

Who cares. Three down. Solo complete. Like I said earlier. No big deal.

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