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Solo Day!

It was 10:00 am, Sunday December 30, 2001. According to the ATIS, it was a chilly 28 degrees at Briscoe field in Lawrenceville. The sky was clear, and the visibility was better than 5 miles. The wind was from 300 at 10 knots.

I, in my sweatshirt (with crummy t-shirt underneath) carefully preflighted N54069, one of my two my favorite Cessna 172s at The Flight School of Gwinnett.

I climbed into the left seat right after my instructor had settled into the right seat. I set up my kneeboard with the checklist and a blank ATIS sheet. Going through the startup checklists, I tuned in and took down the ATIS information, and requested my taxi clearance from ground control.

Several lessons ago, my instructor deemed me as "ready" to solo, but the winds these last few days were not suitable for soloing. As the winds today were comparable to those of the previous several lessons, I asked my instructor what kind of winds we needed in order for me to solo. He said that we needed less than a 10 knot crosswind, and today at LZU was more of the same. He said that we'd fly over to Winder-Barrow airport because they have two runways there, and that one of them had to be more favorable for me to solo.

Taxiing to active runway 25 via taxiiway foxtrot, we were cleared to cross the active runway, and proceeded to the run-up area just short of the runway.

After going through the run-up procedures from the checklist, we taxiied to the hold short line, and I gave the tower a call to let him know I was ready to go. He cleared me for takeoff, and approved my left turn out to the south.

I stopped on the numbers, lined up on the centerline, and reset my heading indicator to the magnetic compass, verifying that everything lined up with the runway heading. I applied full power, corrected for the wind, and we took off, climbed out and turned to the south.

Out of the pattern, I made my turn toward the east to head over to WDR. I quickly spotted the airport, and tuned in the ATIS at Winder. I made the mistake of changing from the LZU Tower frequency before leaving the class D airspace. My instructor pointed that out, and I tuned back to the tower until we were clear of LZU airspace.

According to the ATIS, winds at Winder were from 260 at 4. Yes! Light winds, I might get to go up by myself!

Because WDR is an uncontrolled field, my instructor asked me, based on the wind, which runway would likely be in use. I looked at my airport chart for WDR and noted that it would probably be runway 23, as it more favored the wind. We tuned in the Winder Unicom and heard another plane in the pattern for runway 31. I adjusted my approach to fly the 45 for downwind.

In the pattern, we did three touch and go's and they were less than stellar. It was windy, and I didn't fly very standardized approaches. My instructor reminded me of a few elements of the pattern and approach that I had conveniently forgotten, and I cleaned them up. On the last one, he told me, "make this one perfect."

On that trip around, I flew a better approach, and made a decent landing in the 40 degree crosswind. He told me to taxi off the runway. I exited the runway, and he told me to taxi around to the windsock by the runway. As we taxiied, I knew what was coming, and I was surprised that the nervous feeling that I was expecting was not there - I was sure that it would come, though! He asked me if I had my logbook, and he took the plane while I got it out.

As he endorsed my logbook, I had some time to collect my thoughts, and to reset my heading indicator to the compass. I also rechecked ATIS and found the winds to have shifted to 270 at 5 knots. From ATIS, I verified my altimeter setting as well.

He told me to make two touch and go's and then another landing to come get him. He said, "Don't get slow, don't get low, and don't hit anything!" He got out and I locked the door behind him. I was on my own.

I applied power and taxiied the Skyhawk toward runway 31. At the hold short line, I went through the run-up procedures, and once I was ready to go, I made my first solo radio call, "Winder traffic, Cessna 54069 is moving into position for takeoff on the active runway 31, Winder traffic."

I taxiied onto the runway and lined up on the centerline. I noted the wind direction on my heading indicator, and applied full power. As I rolled down the runway, I noticed what a difference it was without the other guy in the right seat weighing the plane down! She felt like she wanted to jump off of the ground. I held her off for a little longer to make sure that I had enough speed to get airborne. (The airspeed indicator read just over 60 knots so I knew I was fine.)

The Skyhawk and I had left the ground and headed for the sky. I was flying! I just did my first solo takeoff! The first thing I realized was that now that I had taken off, I was going to have to land the thing!

I made another radio call announcing my position on the departure leg of runway 31. I climbed until I was 500 feet above field elevation (about 1500 feet), and turned left to the crosswind, announcing my position to the CTAF. As I was ready to turn downwind, I reached pattern altitude, and leveled off while making my turn. A little short of midfield, I made my call to announce my position on the downwind. I realized at that time that I was not at all nervous about soloing. I felt as if I had everything under control, and I felt confident.

I looked over to my left at the field, and spotted the tiny dot that was my watchful instructor. I noticed that it was getting pretty warm in the cockpit, and I noticed that he had left the cabin heat on. I reached over and pushed it in a little, not all the way, but just almost.

Abeam my touchdown point, I pulled the carb heat, reduced power to 1800 RPM, and dropped in 10 degrees of flaps. I muscled the nose over to compensate for the flaps, and gave it a shot of trim to hold it. I verified my 500 feet per minute descent, and took a glance at my tach to make sure that I didn't go too low with the power.

I glanced back over at the runway, and it was about 45 degrees off of my left shoulder, so I made my call and turned base, dropping in another 10 degrees of flaps and muscling it over to compensate for them. I rolled out of the turn, and verified that I was a good distance out for my turn to final. I made my call and started my turn to final, and dropped the last notch of flaps. I lined up with the runway after fighting the wind. Here it was, my first landing alone in the plane! I had 57 landings in my 16.2 hours so far, but this was obviously my first one alone!

I approached the runway a little low on the glideslope according to the VASI ; red over red. Although I knew I would make the runway, I added a shot of power. Over the runway numbers, I pulled the power and floated down toward the asphalt. The runway at Winder is 5500 feet long, by 100 feet wide. I knew I had plenty of room.

I got down to ground effect and leveled off for the flare. I leveled off too much and as a result, flared too early, and I ballooned. I fought it and began settling the plane back down again. Fighting the wind, I make a relatively bad landing, but I had landed with the rubber side down!!

I immediately threw the switch that raises the flaps, but in my haste to take off again, I applied power too early before the flaps were fully retracted. The plane started to jump into the air, and as the flaps were retracting, the wings lost the lift and the plane settled back onto the runway, squeaking the tires a few times. I knew that my instructor was watching, but I didn't let it get to me. I got the plane cleaned up, and took off again.

Again around the pattern, I was ready for the next landing. I made my radio calls, and my approach, and this time the landing was much better! I cleaned up the plane, and took off again, this time waiting for the flaps before applying the power!

I noticed that the wind was a little stronger on that landing, so on the climbout, I switched the receiver on the comm panel back to the ATIS and noted that the wind was a little stronger than when I took off the first time.

Around the pattern again, I set up for the landing, and this time, made a pretty good landing.

That was it, I had soloed, and I had landed safely again! I did it! I taxiied over to the spot where I had left my instructor. I unlocked the door for him, and he climbed in and said, "you made it!" I sure did.

He congratulated me, and we headed back to the active, and took off for LZU. We talked about the checkride on the way back.

On the way back, we were number two to land after searching for our traffic and being instructed to do a left 360 on our approach to the downwind to enter a left base for landing. I made a fairly good landing. I messed up the readback to the tower as we exited the active runway, but I'll probably always do that from time to time.

We taxiied back to our parking spot, and I was (sorta) going through the "securing the airplane" checklist. I suppose that I was excited about my solo, but I turned the mags to "off" before pulling the mixture to "idle cutoff." Bonehead. How many times have I followed that checklist and done that the right way?

"That's what the checklists are for," my instructor told me. Aviation appears to have a way of not letting you get too proud of yourself.

We tied down the airplane, and he went in to get the Polaroid to take my picture next to 54069. I went to my car to get my camera as well. We took pictures, and he cut the back of my shirt out, we took another picture of me and my shirt tail, and we went inside. On the shirt tail, he wrote my name, the date, and "First Solo" on it. He said that it would go up at the flight school until I get my license! A couple of pilots in the office congratulated me, and I felt like a million bucks!

Yes, on this day, Skyhawk 54069 and I slipped the surly bonds of touch the face of God!

Last Updated 18-MAY-2003