Saturday, August 8, 2009
To be honest, it was a day that I thought I might never reach. For me, the flying learning curve was steep and there were times in the beginning where my progress seemed to be a series of "two steps forward, one step back" lessons. My instructor kept reassuring me that I WAS learning, even after those days where I could have sworn I'd forgotten how to fly a plane and left the airport wondering if I'd ever finish my training.
Well, my instructor was right. I was learning. I learned to make my takeoffs smooth. I learned to be ahead of the plane all the way through the pattern. Most importantly, I learned to land.
Then one day, on the sunny Sunday morning of
July 19, 2009, I finally did it all without any help.
My parents were visiting for a long weekend, so I wanted to squeeze in a quick two-hour lesson before I went to lunch with them. Drew (my CFI) met me at the airport on what might have been the most calm, perfect
morning I'd ever seen. I was pretty sure I was going to solo that day, and I climbed into the airplane with excitement. I waved goodbye to my interested and slightly fearful-looking parents and Drew and I set off for Oakland . We flew around for a little bit, did a little maneuvering flight, flew to San Pablo Bay , did a few touch and goes, and then returned home to Napa . We did one or two touch and goes on 27L and then Drew called the tower and told them that we'd be making a full stop on 27R. I turned to him in surprise. "We are?" I said, possibly a little anxiously. "Oh yes!" he said, "I'm going to solo you now!" Oakland
I landed in silence and taxied to
, our usual FBO. We went inside, had a short review of the 27L pattern and off I went. Business Jet Center
When I called ground they had me taxi to the East runup area between 27L and 27R. Now, I usually take off initially on 33 (as it's closer to where we tie down) so I wasn't as familiar with this end of the 27s as I could have been. I did have a rough idea of where was going, so I set off on a cautious taxi. Upon reaching the East runup area I was confronted by a black-and-yellow line on the tarmac that I'd never seen before. It looked a bit like a hold short line, but not exactly. I thought to myself, "I didn't see a runway sign, so it can't be a hold short line." It went through the run up area, and I thought that I probably shouldn't cross the line. In my nervousness, instead of calling the tower to ask what to do I very carefully squeezed the plane into the tiny part of the runup area that was before the line!! I was later to learn that it was the ILS critical line and I could have crossed it with no problem. A good lesson about not being too proud to call the tower with a question.
As I sat in the runup area doing my runup I began to get nervous. I went through my checklists slowly and very carefully, undertaking what was probably the longest runup a 172 pilot's ever done! Eventually though, I couldn't stall any longer and called up ground. "Student pilot first solo, taxi to 27L for left close traffic." Without any hesitation, the familiar voice on the radio cleared cleared me for takeoff! As I taxied onto the runway and applied full throttle my heart was in my throat and I briefly wondered what would happen if I threw up on takeoff. However, the moment my wheels left the ground my nervousness evaporated.
As I climbed out and began my first crosswind turn, I found myself executing actions I'd done probably a hundred times before. As I passed each turn in the pattern I was able to do stay with the plane and do what I knew I should be doing. As I came in on final I found myself repeating out loud one of my "on final" mantras, "don't pull up, don't pull up, don't pull up!" Then, like magic, I was settling into my first ever solo landing!!! Exhilarated, I went around again. Three touch and goes later I was back on 27R for another full stop and another taxi to Business Jet, this time with an exuberant Drew bounding out to the plane to clap me on the shoulder with pride and then to drag me off to find scissors with which to remove the tail of my shirt!
When I saw my parents again later that day I tried to share the feeling of being alone in the plane, but couldn't quite convey the fear, exhilaration and satisfaction of soloing. I felt legitimate, I felt proud of myself, and I felt like a pilot.