Your connection with the sky

Cool, calm, and collected

For those of you who have been following me on this blog, you might recall one of my first posts, chockfull of different quotes describing how it felt to experience the freedom and beauty of flying. I ended it with Orson Welles’ words of wisdom, “There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.” I went on to say that I anticipate it being a long time before I ever get bored flying an airplane. Well, on my first solo cross country yesterday, I can honestly say that even with all the gorgeous scenery and thoughts of “this is so awesome”/”I am so cool” running through my head, I found myself bored in an airplane for the first time.

My solo cross country has been a long time coming. Before I went to AirVenture, I was getting super close, but weather delays kept me from ever reaching my intended destinations on my practice cross countries. After AirVenture, as some of you know, I was feverishly studying for my FAA knowledge test. Getting back to flying after being out of the loop for almost two months was rough. The plane felt so foreign to me. I was scared that I had lost my touch. However, a few cross countries later, I was feeling secure being back in the saddle.

We scheduled my cross country for a Saturday so I could have the plane reserved for enough time. The destination—Front Royal, VA (KFRR). I had been there once before for one of my first cross countries, so the flight planning was fairly easy. I had great checkpoints, like a river, intersecting highways, a casino/racing facility, etc. By printing out the Airport/Facility Directory entry for KFRR, I was reminded that there are extensive glider operations there. When I laid my plotter down on my sectional, I was shocked to see how close going direct to KFRR would take me to the outer shelf of the Bravo airspace. To be safe, I adjusted my route to take me slightly more west, over Winchester (KOKV). This would not only keep me safely out of the Bravo, but it would provide another great checkpoint along my route.

My instructor sat in the plane with me while I entered my flight plan into the GPS. Then, she hopped out and sent me on my way. I can’t help but sense I had a slight “confident edge” in my voice as I talked to the tower and requested a departure to the southwest. After all, I was moving beyond being babysat while going solo around the pattern. This time, I felt like a real pilot. I had a few “it’s too late to turn back now” thoughts as I climbed out, but after I got myself safely to my 6,500 foot top of climb, it was smooth sailing. I did start to notice a bit more of a solid layer of clouds just above me, so I listened to Winchester’s weather. They were reporting a scattered layer at 7,000 feet. That explained a lot. I knew I needed to stay at least 500 feet below the clouds to be legally flying VFR, so I made sure to maintain my altitude. After completing my cruise checklist, I settled in and did a constant scan of my flight instruments in between looking outside for traffic.

I can honestly say that I felt more calm and in control on that flight than on any flight. I was so perfectly trimmed and set on my heading that I only had to keep one finger on the control wheel. At that point I began to think, “Ok, what am I missing. If my instructor were here, what would she be nagging (just kidding—‘gently reminding’) me about.”

In anticipation of the glider operations at Front Royal, I listened in on their traffic frequency so I could be sure I had them in sight as I flew over the airport. My landing left a little to be desired, but I figured, “hey, no one knows me here.” I had blown past final a little bit, so I was not as properly set up as I should have been. Also, I was a little nervous and didn’t want to risk that I would interfere with the gliders if I went around again.

As I taxied past other pilots at the airport, they all waved to me. I had such a feeling of pride knowing that I had arrived there by myself, and they had no idea that I was just a student pilot on my first solo cross country. As far as they knew, I was just a regular pilot (who might need a little more landing practice!).

My flight back to Frederick was about as eventful as my flight out to Front Royal. I was relieved to be coming back to my home turf, and felt very comfortable entering the traffic pattern. Needless to say, my landing was much improved. My instructor was waiting for me as I pulled up to the hangar with a big smile on her face.

My next feat is my long cross country. I’m planning on recreating my first-ever cross country out to Georgetown, DE to visit with my parents and have lunch at the airport. I’m looking forward to arriving and telling the FBO that I’ll just be stopping for lunch. When I step out of the plane, the boosted ego part of my brain will probably be thinking, “I bet the people watching are really impressed that a young woman pilot just flew down here for lunch.” Although, for that to happen, I’d better make sure I grease my landing.

2 Responses to “Cool, calm, and collected”

  1. Nice article, interesting, and very well written. I passed my PP checkride August 2, and your article brought back memories of my solo cross country flights. I have flown into KFRR once, and it is a beautiful airport. You picked a fun airport to fly to. Good luck in your training.

  2. Great post Kristen. That first solo x-country has got to be one of the best flights any pilot makes as it really does solidify that "pilot" feeling, and yes, I do believe anyone on the ground will be sufficiently impressed when you show up on your next x-country to take your parents to lunch! I've really enjoyed following along with your training and very much enjoy your excellent writing. Looking forward to your next post! (and I'm still totally envious that you went to Air Venture...maybe next year!)

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