First Solo Stories
Last week in AVweb's Brainteaser we invited readers to submit short stories about their first solo flights. The response was so overwhelming we can't publish them all, but here are a few for your enjoyment. Congratulations to all who have ever soloed!
1966: Cessna 150. Instructor got out of plane, said, "You're on your own; do three take offs and landings." First take off OK. First landing, full flaps, nice landing; added power and took off with full flaps! Plane pitched up hard; I pushed hard on the yoke and rolled in full forward (down) trim and stabilized the climb. Then looked out to the left and saw the flaps all the way down. Immediately retracted the flaps and then had to pull hard on the yoke to stay level. Then frantically rolled trim back to normal (up). Next two landings and takeoffs were normal, but that first one scared the hell out of me.
Wind, snow, rain, and darkness had conspired to keep my instructor, Jason, in my right-hand seat for two weeks past when we agreed I was ready to solo. It had taken two years and a dozen instructors to get to this point. Finally, the glyphs on the Weather Channel indicated today would be the one windless, snowless, rain-free day in an otherwise wintry spring.
The wind whipped the cover from the plane as I loosed its straps. Off to Stewart for touch-and-gos. If only the winds would drop. Straight-in from the bridge to 27 and not my best landing. Nevertheless, we survived. Bring up the flaps, push in the carb heat (oh, well, next time around I'll remember to pull it out first), push in the throttle and as usual my airplane decides to imitate a skyrocket on takeoff. I'm pushing on yoke, rudder, and trim wheel when the sun erupts through the windshield. Squinting at my instruments, I push even harder on everything and climb out at a still-frantic 1000 fpm.
The second time in I did actually remember to pull out the carb heat and everything was going well until the takeoff when the sun was 10 minutes closer to the horizon and certainly no dimmer. On the downwind leg I grabbed a baseball cap from the back and shoved it onto my head where it perched awkwardly atop the headset for a moment doing no good. So I dumped it into my lap and it immediately fell to the floor along with everything that had been in the pocket of my kneeboard. Another time around and I'm getting used to the idea of the sun blazing in my eyes. I can actually push and trim and still have time to hold one hand in front of my face to shield the sun. I know the rules. About three times around to show that you are doing OK, then he tells you to let him out.
While I held the main wheels a few inches above the runway to let speed bleed off before settling, Jason asked whether I wanted to put on a baseball cap. One wing was down just a little to compensate for the light wind and the rudder was keeping the plane on the centerline. Wheels touched the concrete as I told Jason that it didn't work because the cap needs to go under my headset. I cleaned up the flaps and carb heat, then pushed in the throttle for our fourth takeoff when Jason offered to take the controls to let me take off my headset. I trimmed up for a climbout, kept the plane on course above the runway with aileron and rudder and glanced at Jason to see that his hands and feet were on the controls. "OK, your plane." I announced and took my hands and feet away and pulled off my headset. After putting on my ball cap I took control of the trimmed plane and made the downwind call and then the next landing.
On my fifth landing I decided that horrible first landing and dumping everything on the floor and probably a dozen other things I hadn't even noticed were preventing my hoped-for solo flight when Jason asked, "Where's your logbook?" He departed the plane, leaving me with words of wisdom that I could not even hear. I called Ground after calming my nerves. My voice quavering, I noticed I was crying.
I sat at the hold-short line for 27 and waited to stop crying. "Ready for takeoff," I lied. As I accelerated to take off speed, Tower asked me to expedite my left crosswind turn. "Not cutting the new kid much slack, are you?" I think as I shove in an extra push on the trim wheel to compensate for the lack of Jason's weight. "Left downwind 27," I squeak tearily. On my first landing, I told myself to just remember everything I've learned in the 500 that went before it.
The next time, Tower instructs, "Extend your downwind." "Why are you messing up my pattern?" I think. "You know this is a first solo." Then I decide he knows I wouldn't be flying solo if I couldn't handle these little challenges. And so I can. Second landing is better than before. I've stopped crying.
"Left downwind 27, full stop, final landing of first solo!" I announce to Tower and to the world. "Extend your downwind," Tower instructs the jet following me in. I am exultant. I am thrilled. The sunset is even more beautiful than before, flooding the entire horizon in crimson glory. I am high. Too high. I pull all the power. Drop all the flaps. Pull the nose up and wait for the mile-long runway to come up gently to the plane. And there it is. And this landing is fine, too. "Good landing," I hear from the jet behind me. "Congratulations, good job," from the Tower.
May 1, 1978 N714GF
I can remember singing to myself the words from Carl Boenish's 1977 film "Wings" (a skydiving film):
"Give me wings so I can fly
Touch the clouds and touch the sky
Give me wings so I can fly away from the world and all its troubles
I am free, now that I've found my wings."
My initial reaction was, "All riiiight! Finally!" That reaction changed upon reaching about 100 ft. AGL when I realized there was no help. I did a go-around on my second approach, and otherwise finished things uneventfully, hearing my instructor in my mind's ear the entire time.
Weather looking good, I reach the airport and spy at least two aircraft in the pattern, so I guess it is going to be busy up there. I drive in to the club following the very plane I was going to fly.
The first part of this flight when you go up with your instructor and do four landings to a full stop. Up we go without too much fuss. Going around, there is a slight crosswind but nothing too much to worry about. The landings are not that bad; at least they would have been OK with Brian because he let me solo. On the fourth circuit, I was fully expecting an engine-out and a short approach, but that did not happen, it was just another normal landing (actually no landings are normal). We then taxied back to the hangars where Brian signed the required paperwork and off I went. Quite apprehensive on the taxi, I forgot all about it when I opened the throttle for takeoff. But before that, there was this Bonanza behind me who called for takeoff before me. Pray how was he going to get to the runway before me? So I caused a heterodyne on the frequency and said "I am before on the Bonanza holding short on runway two four."
First circuit, was told to extend downwind for a Bonanza coming from north somewhere; I just played it safe and asked the sweet controller to call my base. A minute or so later, I see this plane do a nice turn off my left wing. For a few seconds I just watch the beautiful sight on the nice sunny day and then it hits me: This is the traffic I have to follow! So I call the traffic and behind it I go. Coming in to land, it's right in the sun and I have a little difficulty seeing the airspeed. The hard part is seeing the glideslope VASI, I cannot make out the red from the white in the glare. So I just keep it high glancing now and then at the trees below me. Making sure that they are down there and not next to my wingtips. Landing into the sun I level and flare a little high, get hung up there and come down with a bang. A little shaken, I go wow! My first all me landing! Not pretty at all. Taxi out and do the checklist, thinking whether to go again or back when the controller says to taxi runway two four. In a way, she made the decision for me.
Being sunny I had kept my sunglasses with me and I swapped them on while taxing. That did help with the sun a lot and the next two landings were much better. I was very high on the second approach so pulled power back, put in all flaps and dove for the numbers. The flare and touchdown were non-life-threatening this time. On the third approach, the sun was much lower and right in front. But this time the approach was good, a little high, but good. There was another Cessna that had landed right in front of me. I heard the controller call them to clear the runway, no delay. On short final, they were still on the runway and I was all prepared for a go-around call. They turned off when I was maybe 40-50 feet and air and I landed.
It all happened very quickly. Before I knew it, I had managed to do three landings. Interestingly, all apprehension left as I hit the throttle. From that point it was all concentration. Time flew by! I felt working all the time, but surprisingly did not feel rushed or overworked. Previously there have been times when things happen to quickly, but not today. Hurray!
I taxi back to refuel and I actually did not feel anything. It took quite a while to hit me that I had flown alone. Well, the fun started when I was refueling. Filled in the left tank without incident and on the right tank, my finger gets stuck on the nozzle handle. I pulled the nozzle out and it was still spewing avgas all over. Wasted a gallon of avgas I guess! I am just glad the incident was on the ground and not the air.
My first solo experience? Probably pretty much the same as every other birdman who has gone on to earn his ratings.
July 17, 1987, 7 p.m. CFII Dave Narwocki. 15 hrs. C152, N4717B. Shot a whole bunch o' landings: short, soft, normal, no power, no flap, no aileron (use the trim, dummy...) CFI Turns to me, grabs my logbook and student cert., signs them off, and says, "I'm going for a cup of coffee ... you think you can give me three around the patch?" Uh ... what the heck is he doing?
I was too taken aback to say anything but squeak out a lame "Uh ... sure?" With the admonition that the plane will fly better without him in the right seat, off I go. Don't really remember much of the next 20 minutes, except two things:
1. When I turned downwind solo for the first time, I remember thinking to myself, "What the hell are you doing up here?" and "Lord, don't let me foul up!"
2. Though Dave was not in the plane ... I heard his voice telling me what to do all the way around the patch. All three times. Correlation had not set in yet.
Nineteen years later, I'm a part time CFII and know the emptiness in the pit of your stomach when you turn a student loose for their first one. And the elation of their first/second/third successful landing. And the fiendish pleasure of ruining one of their best shirts to hang on the wall.
Mine is still hanging up there. As are those of my students I've soloed since earning my CFI back in '00.
Funny you should have this on your site now, since I just soloed yesterday!
I had been feeling bad about my progress, not thinking I was ever going to get my instructor out of the airplane. We went out to the west, and did some steep turns and a little bit of slow flight. We then returned to home field, where I flew around the pattern twice, forgot wind correction on both my landings, and felt like a moron. My instructor said, "Take me in, I'm done." I felt even more like a moron. As I was taxing to the ramp, he said, "I'm done, but you're not. Give me your logbook." He endorsed it, gave me some quick words of encouragement along the lines of "Make sure to put it on the pavement," and let me go. I did one full pattern, greased on my best landing yet, and taxied back, thinking I was done. My instructor walked out and asked me if I was done. "You need to do three if it's gonna count!" D'oh!
Needless to say, my next two landings were not as greasy, but I did keep it on the pavement! I had worn a black shirt that day, so my shirttail is written on with three colors of nail polish and some white-out!! I couldn't care less!!
I did my first solo at Fort Sill, Okla. My instructor told me to do three to five touch and goes then he went up into the control tower. I had the song "Alive and Kicking" by Simple Minds going through my head and adrenaline pumping through my veins. On my fifth circuit the tower asked me if I could accept a short approach for an incoming CH-47D Chinook. I replied, "Sure!" Then I powered all the way back, full flaps, and made a beautiful short approach. On the go I looked around and there wasn't any CH-47 anywhere. I'd been had!
I soloed the day after my 16th birthday, November 2, 2005. My family and a couple of friends were there, and weren't too pleased to see me taxi back in before I even took off with my instructor. We'd picked up a screw in the nosewheel (C-152) and had to come back to swap planes. After that, I did the normal three touch-n-goes, then dropped off my instructor and headed out alone. The first landing was OK, but after that I bounced. The third landing took a while: A chopper instructor heard over the radio that it was my first solo (at 80 hrs) and decided to solo his student (with about 10 hrs). Well, this guy didn't really know how to fly a pattern, so I ended up extending my final about five miles to stay clear of him. The tower was not pleased, and I bounced the landing something fierce. (But that's OK -- where I landed was over a mile away on the field. No one saw it except the Tower, and I think I could hear them laughing even without the radio.)
My first solo ended up being a two-day affair. I'd been studying and cramming and doing everything I could to solo by The Day. However, weather -- or more accurately, winds -- had other ideas. I begged and pleaded, but my CFI said, "If I let you solo in this, they'll pull my ticket." I begged and pleaded and generally made a fool of myself, and he finally relented, saying "If you can impress me at Byron, you can solo." I should have smelled a rat, as Byron, at the time, had two runways (if you wish to call them that): 10-28 and 1-19, about 1500 feet long and about 30 feet wide. As it sat on the eastern side of the pass east of Livermore, Calif. (home of one of the largest windmill farms in the state), one could expect winds. Too much headwind on 28? Let's move to 10. After beating me senseless for the better part of three hours with crosswinds that came very close to the maximum of the little 152 we were in, I relented and said "Uncle," and we returned to home base for the day. This turned out to be a wise tactic on his part, due to an unfortunate wind-related event involving a Taylorcraft. Fortunately the only injuries were to pride (and a minor injury to the wind sock and a ding in a paintjob).
So the next day dawns bright, providing weather that Californians take for granted and Civilization can only dream of. I head out there, do all the prep work under the watchful eye of my CFI (and just about everyone else in the neighborhood -- we took these things seriously as a club), and headed out to the tie-down. It was a busy day in the pattern, but this is to be expected during that time. ATIS is taken, taxi clearance from the tower received, and all is good with the world. I taxi out to the run-up area, do everything that the checklists dictate, and get the obligatory "Position and Hold" from the tower. Two touch and goes and a takeoff later, my CFI says, "Let's make this one a full stop." On downwind I see a crowd building up at the solo bench, and I know what that means. Right about this time, the rest of the local general aviation community decides that it's time to come home, too. After I smartly taxi up to the bench and my CFI hops out, all chaos starts to break out.
I had a hard time getting a word in edgewise. (I've been listening to ATC on the Web for years now. I've listened to ORD get slammed. I've listened to the MACEY into Atlanta during a thunderstorm. But to this day, I've never heard anyone handle traffic the way Kevin at PAO did on that day. He's a credit to his profession. A magician at work. Last I heard he was trying to get into NORCAL approach. I hope to god he made it). I taxi up to the hold short line. There are 10(!) aircraft in the run-up area, five in the pattern (two on final, two on downwind -- one of whom was on her first solo, too -- and one rolling). I get the position and hold. Then the magic words: Cleared for takeoff. I hit the throttle and ZOOM! I'm airborne by the halfway point. I didn't think the 152 could jump like that. There were those who claimed they could hear my insane cackling over the drone of the engine. I take the fifth. By the time I'm airborne, there are six in the pattern, several inbound (I was too busy flying to count) from all directions, and a whole bunch (there were more coming in to the run-up area as I was rolling) waiting to go. We extended upwind. We extended downwind into Moffett Field's airspace (with their blessing, natch). We were doing 360s on downwind and s-turns on final. First full stop, I almost grease it. Just a bit of a dribble on rollout. I almost gunned it to do a touch and go, but at the last minute remembered that it had to be a full stop. I can tell by the grin on my CFI (and the several other club members at the bench) that things were going swell so far. I'm third in line at the hold-short line. The pattern hasn't slowed down at all.
Second verse, same as the first, with a little more grease and a little less dribble. I even managed to put the nosewheel on the centerline. As I passed the bench, the other club member that'd made her solo had pulled over and was getting hugs from folks. She'd made it. I had one more and I'd join her. They say that the third time was a charm. Well, the wind had picked up, and there was a bit of a right-to-left crosswind. Nothing too serious, I'd hoped, but definitely noticeable. I get positioned-and-holded by Kevin, and just as the funky looking oversized single engine monstrosity cleared the runway (later discovered to be a "Cessna Caravan"), I was given the third and final "cleared for takeoff." This one was a bit different, as now I had to not only deal with everyone else in the pattern, but the risk of being blown over The Lady's house (rumored to have a shotgun trained on Cessna pilots that drifted too far over her house -- pure evil gossip, I'm sure!) I do the crabbing that I'd practiced so much the day before (so long ago, at this point). Still doing 360s. Still doing s-turns. The 30 numbers approach, and I've got crab in. I kick it over. Main one. Main two. Nose. Right on the centerline.
As I pulled off on the taxiway, Kevin said, "Nice job, Cessna XXX" "You too, sir. Good job with all the aircraft. And thanks."
After I'd parked, the other lady gave me a hug and said, "He congratulated you, too!" Somehow I'd missed his congratulations to her. I didn't let it on, just nodding with the goofy grin of a newly fledged pilot. Aircraft were tied down, pictures taken, hands shook, hugs exchanged, and shirt-tails cut and decorated in the time-honored tradition. I still have that picture around somewhere. I don't think a picture of me exists where I have a bigger grin. I don't think it's possible. And as we were on our way out the door, I glanced over to the garbage can, where I saw two empty ice bags from the local 7-11 ... just as I felt the drip of ice cold water on my right shoulder.
p.s. You didn't honestly expect to see less than 100 words about a first solo, did you?
More articles, stories and fiction about the joy of aviation are found in AVweb's Skywritings section.