Wow! Solo flight… We woke to a beautiful sunny calm morning at KCQM. We drove out to the hanger in the early morning light. The plane sat quietly on the smooth concrete floor of the hanger waiting for its next trip into the skies. After the hanger door was opened and the fresh air circulated the inside of the hanger I began my preflight. This routine task before every flight is one of safety, but I aslo enjoy it because it allows me to get my hands on the plane. It really is amazing how these things are put together and that all the science and engineering enables them not only to fly, but to do it so well. After my walk around was complete and I had ensured the fuel was clean, and that there was plenty of oil we pushed the plane out of the hanger. We had only flown a couple of hours the day before on a full tank of gas, and a dip check showed we had plenty of fuel for some pattern work so we skipped fueling up. We were planning on going for a cross country after doing some pattern work so we decided to wait to top off the plane until we had finished our local flying. So we hopped in the plane and I did my “Flow” which is a procedure that takes me through the pre start check list. By doing the same flow every time the goal is to get my muscle memory to take me through the steps helping me to not forget something on the list. After this was complete and a couple of shots of prime and a shout out the window to “clear prop” I fired the engine up. After an immediate check for oil pressure and a little time to warm up we slowly taxied out to the runway. What little wind there was that morning was favoring runway 31. So we took off and started our pattern work for the morning.
Everything went well. My climb outs were smooth, my turns were coordinated, and I was doing a nice job of hitting my designated airspeeds on decent. We did a couple of landings and practiced a go-around. As we were coming in to land on our final landing before heading back to the pumps to fill up for our cross country we were just touching down when a deer scampered out onto the runway. It was a tense moment where the decision to attempt a go-around or just stay off the power and try to miss the dear was quickly weighing itself out in my mind. My gut was to try the go-around, but my dad (CFI) quickly told me to stay off of the power. Since we had already touched down he wasn’t sure we would be able to clear the deer if we did try to fly over it. It turned out that the deer had plenty of time to get out of our way, and we were able to slow down and taxi back to the pumps.
I shut down the plane and was about ready to hop out and start going through the process of filling up the plane when my dad said “Do you want to take it around on your own?”. I replied “sure”. He asked for my medical and my log book to do the required paperwork for such an adventure, then got out the handheld radio from the plane and tuned it to a different radio frequency that we set on the other comm on the plane. This would allow me to hear him as well as other traffic incase he needed to give me some guidance. He pulled his headset out of the dash, and made sure it was stowed safely where it wouldn’t bounce around during the flight, told me to watch my airspeeds, keep my turns coordinated, and watch out for deer.
As you can imagine my heart was thumping a little louder than usual. My mind was racing trying to assess all of the things I would need to have actively processing in my brain over the next several minutes. He closed the door and stepped away from the plane and headed over to the side of the runway. This is where things really start to stand out. In a Cessna 172 there isn’t a ton of excess space. I immediately notice a void to my right where I always used to be able to feel if not sense my dad sitting there. For the first time I had to reach over and lock his door from the inside. Something I now needed to do as the sole person in the plane. Even though we had just been in the air, I went back through my flow. I reached down and touched the fire extinguisher, up to the trim tab checking that it was set for takeoff, on to the mixture pushing it all the way in. I went through the rest of the flow and it was time to start the plane and head out for my first solo flight.
The plane fired right up and after a check for oil pressure I slowly started to taxi from the pump. I did a radio call that I was to taxi via alpha to runway 31. On my way to the runway I passed my dad standing with his radio on the side of the field. I got to the edge of the runway and looked each direction as I did my radio call announcing that I was entering runway 31 preparing for takeoff. A few moments later with the throttle all the way into the firewall I was reaching 55 knots and just beginning to lift off the ground. WOW!!! The plane just seemed to rocket into the sky climbing out much quicker than it had ever before. It was a couple hundred pounds lighter without my dad in there and it was noticeable. It wasn’t long until I had reached 1800 feet and was starting my cross wind turn. As I was making my turn I kept an eye on my DG (Directional Gyro) to see when 31 was out the side of the airplane indicating I was perpendicular to the runway, at which point I lifted the wing and looked for traffic and to confirm my location in relation the runway. I then started my turn to down-wind still climbing out at 700 fpm. Once at 2300 ft I leveled off the plane and since I was half way down the field on my down-wind leg I pulled the carb heat in preparation for landing as part of my CGUMPS flow. When I was even with my touch down point I pulled the power back and kept the plane level which bled off some of my airspeed and I applied the first notch of flaps. I was maintaining my airspeed and watching for traffic while keeping an eye on the runway as I started my base turn and dropping another notch of flaps. Once again watching my DG in the turn to see when 31 would be out the side of the aircraft. I looked, and continued my turn to final as the runway was coming into view in the windshield. Coming in on final I was maintaining my airspeed with the stick and lining my self up to the runway with my feet and adjusting the power to ensure I’d make the runway. Once I knew I could clear the trees at the end of the runway the last bit of flaps were dropped. As I came into the runway I rounded out my decent, and flared the plane as it smoothly touched down with a squeak of the tires. My first solo landing. I survived, the plane survived, and not only that, the landing was great. I back taxied down the runway and did it all over again two more times. The next two landings were not as graceful as the first one, but the first one was really smooth and hard to beat.
After my three take offs and landings I taxied back to the pump where I met up with not only my dad, but Erin happened to stop by and was there to witness my first solo flight. It was a great feeling and look forward to continuing to learn to become a private pilot.
That evening a first solo tradition was acted out at home. In days long ago flight instructors were giving lessons in smaller airplanes that had only two seats, one in front of the other. It was typical for the student to sit in the front and the instructor to sit behind. In the days prior to aviation headsets the instructor would tug on the shirt tail of the student to get their attention during flight. Once the instructor felt the student was good enough to fly on their own they would cut off their shirt tail symbolizing the student didn’t need the instructors tugs any longer.