It seems only natural to start this post with something cheesy like: “It was a day like any other day…” or “I had no idea when I woke up that morning I would…” and then drag the story out for a few more paragraphs before reaching my point. But, let’s cut to the chase because I know why you’re here. So here you go, folks--I SOLOED!!! It was awesome, unforgettable, and monumental. In a nutshell, it was everything I dreamed it to be.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go back to the beginning. It actually was a day like any other day. It was a Tuesday. On the previous Friday, I had gone flying with one of AOPA’s staff pilots so he could give the “OK” that I was fit to fly solo, and that it was now up to my instructor when that would be. She was really excited when he told her that it went well. She said, “We just need a few days of good weather.” I scheduled three flights for the following week, expecting that on the third day of good weather, I would be signed off to solo. Monday came bringing major IFR conditions with it. I felt my chance of soloing that week come and gone.
When Tuesday rolled around, the weather had cleared up, though there were some towering cumulus clouds off in the distance. We did a few takeoffs and landings until my instructor said that we’d taxi back to the ramp. I figured she must have had a meeting she needed to get to because our lesson wasn’t supposed to be over for another 30 minutes. On our way back, she asked me if I had my logbook with me. Of course I didn’t; I was still under the impression that we needed “a few days of good weather.” She just laughed and admitted to getting me focused on the weather to throw me off so I wouldn’t get nervous anticipating my solo day.
We went inside, where she signed my logbook and grabbed a handheld radio to talk to me if I really needed her advice while up in the air. She waited by a hangar while I taxied out and completed my run-up. Then I called the Frederick tower (commissioned May 1st) and called out “Frederick Tower, Skyhawk 163 Mike Echo, ready at Two-Three, Requesting closed traffic, Full stop, FIRST SOLO.”
There are a few things I specifically remember about the actual soloing part, but a lot of it was an exhilarating blur. I remember flying way too far out on my first crosswind, so I had to fly at a pretty sharp angle to get back toward the runway to parallel it for my downwind. No big deal. I remember talking to myself as if my instructor were in the plane. It not only calmed me down, but helped me maintain my routine I had grown so accustomed to. The first landing was the best one. The controller congratulated me on a job well done. That gave me a nice confidence boost to keep going. The second run around the pattern felt like I was smack dab in the middle of a marathon and needed to get over that hurdle so that I could get to the finish line. Finally, I remember crossing the runway threshold on the third landing thinking, “Okay, I’ve come this far. I’m pretty sure I can make it this last couple hundred feet.”
As soon as I landed, I couldn’t wait to get back to my instructor and tell her all about it. She didn’t have binoculars, so she didn’t really see any of the (minor) bounces on my landings that I had felt. I put on my solo t-shirt that had been sent to me through AOPA’s MyFlightTraining website [Disclaimer: I was not paid to plug this website, but it is an awesome site!] and she cut the shirt tail.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment that I still feel, even two weeks later. I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face nonstop for the first few days that followed. Learning my landing was the hardest part of my training thus far. I can only attribute it to drill after drill of landings, no matter how tiring that became. The final product was a combination of different advice from a few different people. What has stuck with me the most was when my instructor told me to start my level-off when the runway starts to look wide. Then, she did a great example of how my flare pitch should appear and feel by speeding down the runway with the nose in the air. I’ve learned how getting properly set up in the pattern, especially during my base to final transition, will yield a smooth and consistent landing. Even being too fast or not perfectly parallel to the runway on my downwind can have a major impact on how well I’m set up on final.
Though I feel very proud to have reached this milestone, I am fully aware of how much training I still have ahead of me. I’ve been told that soloing marks the halfway point of the road to getting your certificate. While the thought of that sounds exhausting, I am extremely excited and anxious to take on new challenges now. If I thought landing at my home airport was hard, now I’ll need to learn to do it in the dark and at totally new airports with different runway configurations. I’ll need to spend hours planning cross countries and flying “under the hood” just looking at my instruments. I’ll also need to do more flying in less than ideal conditions, like taking off and landing with a strong crosswind. I guess flying on “a day like any other day” will be fewer and farther between for a while, but I can honestly say that the variety sounds like a breath of fresh air.