Solo Flight

On  a hot day on July 13, 2005 with wind out of the west my instructor asked, “Do you feel ready to do it?”  I was sitting in a Cessna 152, tail number N4659B at Skypark.

‘It’ being my first solo flight.  “Yes, I believe so.”

“You have to be sure, because I won’t be there to help you if anything goes wrong.”

Great, I thought, just the kind of confidence building comment I needed. 

I’d changed instructors after my first instructor had the unique distinction of sliding a twin-engined aircraft off the end of the runway at Skypark, over the ditch, across Greenwich road to end up one hundred yards into a farmer’s bean field, totally wrecking the plane.  That had not done anything to increase my confidence, either.

By then, I’d made almost two hundred landings, and the process had become routine – almost.  No landing is routine because no two landings are exactly the same.  I mentally crossed my fingers. “Yeah, I’m ready.” 

The first flight, made with sweaty palms and pounding heart, went according to the book.  I reduced power exactly on schedule, turned left base, increased flaps and cut power.  On final, with full flaps, I lined up with the runway centerline and held the plane’s nose up.  The main wheels kissed the pavement with a light chirp, and moments later, the nose wheel touched down.  Yippee!  It was a perfect landing, or close to it.

The second landing wasn’t as smooth, for I found the plane ‘crabbing’ slightly on final.  I had to point the plane off to one side to maintain the glide path along the runway centerline.  Nevertheless, I landed the plane smoothly.

I began to feel confident, for all I had to do was the third and final landing and I could fly solo!  On final approach, I had difficulty holding  the runway’s centerline and keeping the wings level.  The crosswind had picked up. It was scary!  Less than a hundred yards from the start of the runway, I knew it would be a very ugly landing if I continued.  I applied full power, retracted the flaps partially and did a ‘go-around.’

My first solo landing...                                       Uh-huh, this is getting ugly... I’d better go-around!

At that point I was sure I had flunked my solo.  But I still had to get the plane on the ground.  So, I flew around the pattern, reducing power exactly at the right points and entered final.  I braced myself for I was sure I was facing the same cross wind problem.  However, I set up a ‘crab’ early and found I could maintain alignment with the runway centerline.  At the instant the plane’s wheels approached the surface of the runway, I straightened out the plane and gave it some left aileron.  The wheels chirped and the nose wheel came down - harder than before.

Taxiing back to the ramp area, I was sure that my instructor would tell me that I needed more instruction.  As soon as I shut the engine down, he came over to the plane. I braced myself.

“Malcolm, your decision to ‘go around’ was really smart.  I was on the verge of radioing you and telling you to do exactly that, for the wind was really gusting at that point.  Congratulations!  You did a great job of soloing!"

Wow!                                  Finally, on the ground after my first solo!