Coming off the high of soloing for the first time takes a while. There was about a week and a half of “local fame” before it all started to die down. The timing of the solo was perfect because I had a cross country trip planned to my parents’ house for Memorial Day weekend with my boyfriend (and back-up instructor). This was my first chance to experience real flight planning. I enthusiastically unfolded my sectional and asked, “Ok, where do we start?” I quickly learned that I was in way over my head. The whole process was a flurry of measurements, printing off airport diagrams, getting the winds, making all of these crazy calculations, and oh, yeah—learning that in order to meet our weight and balance requirements I couldn’t bring as many pairs of shoes as I wanted on our trip!
Somewhat disappointedly, we got off to a slow start. The weather at both the departure and arrival airports (KFDK and KGED) was less than ideal, with low ceilings and fog. We had to wait over an hour past our planned departure time for it to clear up. I knew what the VFR requirements were and when we got close to them, I started getting really anxious for the ceiling to rise just 100 more feet or the visibility to improve by a half mile. My boyfriend told me I was displaying symptoms of “Get-there-itis,” a potentially dangerous illness of those who would sacrifice safety just to get up in the air. Had I not been preparing to fly to the beach that day, I probably would’ve been a little more patient. Nonetheless, the weather cleared up to an acceptable level and we were able to depart.
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. We did end up having to track off our intended course to find an air traffic controller who wasn’t too busy to talk to us, but in the end, that only ended up costing us about 15 minutes. Along the way, I spent most of the time taking in the beautiful scenery. One of my favorite activities became looking for fields that we could land on if we encountered an engine failure. That kept me pretty entertained until one point when I realized there were no fields below us—only water. Having never flown over water before, it was an incredibly thrilling and nerve-wracking experience. Regardless, I knew it wouldn’t last long, but it gave me a small taste of what some of the great aviators in history experienced as they flew across the oceans in small planes.
As we neared the airport, we called the local traffic and asked if anyone was in the pattern. We didn’t see or hear anyone, so we figured the pattern was empty and we were A-OK to land. That is until we reached the ground. An employee at the FBO came by to politely inform us that we had neglected to announce our arrival over the radio. It wasn’t until a few minutes later when we taxied to our parking spot that we realized we had entered the wrong frequency. Lesson learned!
The flight back was a breeze. No weather hazards, very little traffic, and I got to watch all of the beach traffic sitting on the highway below me as I cruised over them. It was so serene that I even got my first taste of simulated instrument flying!
Post-solo, my flights are now more like adventures than standard lessons. There is more to getting from point A to point B than I ever thought possible and I can see how even seasoned pilots say they never stop learning. Flight planning can seem very tedious at times and possibly unnecessary, but the more I practice, the easier it becomes. I just have to keep reminding myself that flying is a unique opportunity most people don’t have. You know how I love my quotes, so as Voltaire (not Spider-Man’s uncle) first said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Regardless of how fun it can be, I know that flying is serious and the regulations cannot be taken lightly; which is why I’m going to make sure that I become the safest, most thorough pilot that I can be, even if it means packing a couple less pairs of shoes.