I soloed today. Well it was bound to happen but I didn’t think this day would ever come. Let’s reflect on how I got here.
My stage I check was last week and it was ugly. To prep for the flight, I had carefully read the syllabus and made a flight outline with everything I was supposed to accomplish. I chair flew all the procedures. I was as ready as I could be, time to face the music. The morning of the check, I went to the aero club with a pit in my stomach. As I walked in the door, the Chief Pilot (CP) says “Your instructor didn’t talk to you? I have a meeting and can’t fly this morning.” This irked me for two reasons: 1) I had arranged to take the morning off of work because the CP only flies on weekdays and 2) The CP had the appointment with me and not my instructor. So now what? I didn’t want to prolong this any more, today was going to be the day. The CP said he could fly this afternoon. I looked at the airplane schedule. My preferred tail number was not available so I reserved the least offensive airplane available. I changed my clothes and went to work.
Later that afternoon, back at the aero club, everything went from bad to worse. The CP was in a bad mood and everything I did was wrong. I pre-flighted wrong. I towed the airplane wrong. I hadn’t even taken off yet. The flight outline I had prepared was thrown out the window when the CP said he was going to audible what I was to do. A saner person would have rescheduled but I didn’t know when I was going to get another chance. Today was going to be the day.
I had forgotten that this particular airplane’s seat does not lock all the way forward so to bottom out the rudder I have to have used the largest seat cushion the club has against the back rest. While not ideal, it works. But because I was so flustered I had forgotten about the seat cushion. I also dropped my pencil outside the airplane and realized my fly was down in the matter of a few minutes.
I took off and headed to the East Practice Area with the CP fussing at me the whole way. After slow flight, power-off and power-on stalls, steep turns and an emergency decent we headed back to KCOS. I would have been resolved to tears at this point if I hadn’t been through USAF Weapons School. I had this same type of instructor at that school and learned to just say okay and not show any emotion. This is not easy for me, because as anyone who knows me can tell you, I wear my heart on my sleeve.
It was time for the touch and goes. I made some decent landings and by decent I mean I didn’t break the airplane. I like to start slowing down in the turn to base and even more in the turn to final, not my CP. He wanted me to hold 85 mph until the turn to final. I realize that students die in the pattern by bleeding off too much airspeed in the turns. Maybe he thought he could prevent my death by telling me to hold that much airspeed but that is too much airspeed, especially if every landing is supposed to be full flaps. The first landing I made was with half flaps and I though the CP was going to come unglued. The rest of the landings were with full flaps but because I tricycled (landed on all 3 wheels at once) a landing, I made 4 in total before I was told I could go back to club after refueling.
After all this, I thought I had not passed. I reluctantly wanted in to the CP’s office for debrief. Strangely, he endorsed my log book and gave me a pass for the flight. I quickly took my things and left before he could change his mind. Now I needed to solo.
I tried to solo twice before it actually happened. Once because the weather was so bad I couldn’t fly and another taking off but only practicing cross-wind landings with 14 kts of wind with my instructor. Today I showed up at the club and checked the weather. Wind was predicted at 010 at 8 kts. If the wind picked up I wasn’t going to be able to solo, but those cross-wind landings were so crazy last flight I should get in some more practice. I remembered the giant seat cushion because today’s flight was in the same tail number as the fateful stage I check. We took off and I completed two touch and goes when on the third takeoff, the fuel door popped open. I landed, taxied to the fuel pit, cut the engine, the instructor closed the fuel door and said it was time to solo.
I started the engine, did my checks, got clearance and taxied to runway 31. Today was the day. I made sure to add student pilot to my radio transmission to tower. I got permission to take off and taxied on the runway. Before I could get nervous, I pushed in the throttle, rotated and was in the air. This was going to happen. I was just about to turn crosswind when, you guessed it, the fuel door popped open again. Just then the controller came on the radio and told me I was cleared for a touch and go, I told him the fuel door popped open again and I was going to be making a full stop. Time to turn base. I pulled power, dropped the flaps, trimmed and turned. Then I turned to final and immediately started thinking “airspeed, aimpoint, airspeed, aimpoint…” Before I knew it I was on the ground with a beautiful greaser.
Finally, soloing feels a bit anti-climatic. I did a lot of work to get to this point and now its over. This was only the first goal with flying but it won’t be my last.