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Monday, July 8, 2013

"One Small Step"




As I mentioned in the last post I had recently switched instructors and things began to build up to a pace that was a lot more to my liking. The lessons clipped away and I was becoming a more confident, proficient and most importantly safe pilot. My first solo flight could happen almost any day now, but there were some requirements I had to take care of first. So when David asked me to come in on a day I wasn't schedule to fly I thought to myself "exam time". First of those aforementioned requirements, and the most time consuming by far, was the pre solo written exam. Normally this is a smooth piece of cake test where you answer some questions that you should already know. When I opened the test and began to take it I quickly sensed this would be no walk in the park.


Piper Archer II



I fly the Piper Archer II or the PA-28-181 airplane which I know just as well as if not better than my truck. Problem is everyone else at the school trains on the Cessna 152 during their private pilot’s course, but since I'm 6'4 with very long legs I was granted permission to fly the Archer. Which is in my opinion a better airplane, but all of the schools test are set up for the C-152. Unlike the other students I didn't own a 152 POH (pilot operating handbook) because I don't fly it and truly have no need for it. For the sake of testing however I quickly learned that I must be able to at least memorize the Cessna's information as well. Frustrations aside I studied the 152 manual with my instructor highlighting the key points and I went on to pass the written portion missing only one question which of course was related to the 152. I only mention this because one I was assured the test would be altered and two nothing ever goes as planned for me.



Our Cessna 152s on the flight line



After the test was complete and my logbook was endorsed I left and went home for the day. The next day was 27 June 2013. I arrived at the airport shortly before 1700 (5:00PM) and proceeded out the door to the flightline and performed my usual preflight inspection on N75193. My first indication of something out of the ordinary was during the preflight briefing. It was explained to me that we would not be going to the practice area for maneuvers today, but instead we would depart closed pattern and practice touch and go's. Being green still my thoughts to myself were "I thought my landings had significantly improved, I guess not". So we taxied out for runway 19, took off, and performed several touch and goes. Nine of them to be exact! As I prepared to lower the flaps and add full power I was instructed to make it a full stop and exit at the runway at taxiway Delta. I complied, finished the after landing checklist and headed towards the hangar thinking the lesson was over for the day. I'll admit I felt a little bummed by the thought because in my mind I knew that I was ready. "Silly me" I thought moments later because during the taxi I was asked for a Photo I.D., medical certificate, and my logbook.  It was then, at that moment, I realized what was about to happen. I watched David endorse my student pilot certificate and logbook compelting my requirments, and then heard him tell me to perform two touch and goes and one full stop landing.  He hopped out and closed the door.



 
Standard Traffic Pattern



Here I was alone in the airplane for the first time heading to runway 19 for my very first solo flight in an airplane. During my scan for traffic I saw an aircraft on entering the downwind leg, but base and final were clear. I keyed the mic and said "Skylark traffic Archer 75193 back taxiing runway 19 closed pattern departure". The airplane hauled off down the runway and I quickly became airborne. Passing 1300' I turned left for crosswind and continued my climb to TPA of 1650' which is 800' AGL at our airport, and after another left turn I was on downwind. Pre landing checklist complete, I had a brief moment to take in the fact that I was piloting an aircraft alone. My thought of achievement was quickly interrupted when I saw that same aircraft was still on downwind as I was abeam the threshold of the runway. With a sense of confusion and irritation I considered some options in my head which included; cutting them off, making a 360 degree circle, or just following. Since they were at a lower altitude and would technically have the right of way, I decided to just follow them. Eventually I turned base, bordering on the edge of Fort Hood's restricted airspace I might add, and then to what had to be at least a two mile final. Nothing ever seems to go according to plan when it comes to me and luck. Even though we were separated by a safe enough distance in the beginning the aircraft, which turns out was a C-162, was much slower than the archer so after the first landing I elected to pull off and taxi back to the runway and start again. Why on Earth a little Cessna was flying a pattern that could've easily landed a Boeing 737 is beyond me. Our neighbors at the airport have been known to do some fairly odd things but for the life of me I couldn't understand. The remainder of the flight progressed normally, over way too soon though, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some fellow students who I've become good friends with had gathered at the hangar to watch my solo flight.


Landing recorded by a fellow student



Those other students and myself share the same flight instructor so I guess I was the only one not in on the fact that 27 June 2013 was going to be my day.  It may not sound like much but it meant a lot to me that they cared enough to come hang around and watch me fly!  Pretty cool guys.  We parked the airplane outside of the hangar for some pictures since it was my very first time flying solo. There was no cutting of the shirt tail but that did not stop them from dumping a bucket of cold water on me as if I had just won the Super Bowl as a head coach. Honestly what I had done hadn't set in yet and wouldn't fully until after I left the airport. I just smiled and kept saying wow and how cool it was. Nothing in the world could've dampened the joy I felt at that moment. Not even the mention of Mr. Rick Whitesell, our chief flight instructor, who would be the next person that I have to fly on a check ride of sorts that we call stage checks.  (More on what I refer to as the "Rick Effect" later).  Once the fanfare was done, we put the plane in the hangar and went over to a friend’s house to really "celebrate" our achievements.   A good friend of mine by the name of Brian Glover passed his FAA CFI check ride earlier on that same day.  Needless to say June 27th was a great day for a few reasons.  You would've thought I hit the lottery, but this was a moment I'd never forget.  It was “One small step for man”, but one “Giant leap for my career”.  Somehow I gathered a sense of truly belonging.  Many people dream of flying, and here I am fortunate enough to get out and live it!



Water on the way
 
 Aftermath
 
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