Daily Pilot's Journal

Read the complete day-by-day flight log of an actual student pilot, from the first takeoff to the signing of his private pilot's license. Written promptly at the end of every flight, each entry is completely unedited - detailing the successes, failures, and mistakes we all encounter along this long road.
Day 12 - First Solo!!!
Thursday, 6/22/06 7:00am - Exactly one month ago Stan helped me take off from Farmingdale airport for the first time and I nearly shit my pants. Today I took off from Bridgeport airport on my own, with no one sitting next to me, and my underwear stayed dry. I soloed with just 14 hours of instruction, after about 35 landings, and in just 30 days. During the pants-shitting flight I would've never believed it.

At the ramp the air was hazy and thick. As I'm untying the aircraft Stan tells me something that ends up being really important: "I've been thinking a lot about what I said to you yesterday, during that first landing. I told you that you'd waited too long to pull back on the wheel, and every landing after that you tried to compensate by pulling back too early. I want you to forget about what I said - you really did make a correct landing. A flight instructor has to watch what he says, because sometimes he can do more harm than good. I was wrong. You really weren't all that late, and it set you back a few steps. So I want you to forget what I said about that first landing. I want you to land exactly like that. Remember what you did and do that again."

I nodded that I understood and totally agreed with him. No matter how disorganized Stan might seem, there are certain details that he remembers acutely. And it's really kind of cool that he does that. You can tell he goes home and actually thinks about what his students did that day. It would be easy for him not to give too much of a crap about whether I make good landings or bad ones, but in this case Stan actually sat in his house last night and thought about the circumstances surrounding my first landing. I think that rocks.

Took off runway 19 and turned left toward the Northport stacks. They were totally obscured by haze, so I looked at my map and turned to a heading where I approximated they would be. Two minutes later they came into view - right dead smack in front of me. I was pretty proud of my map-interpretation skills but decided not to gloat about it... after all; I could've just gotten lucky.

Once at Bridgeport we entered 29 on a base leg. I bounced the landing slightly but recovered the float very nicely. Shot back into the sky, and that's when traffic picked up. A jet came in, then two twin engines, a couple of Cessnas... switched runways a few times, right crosswind this time, left crosswind next time, extend downwind, 8081G can you do a short field landing? For about 30 minutes it was crazy and the tower hammered me around, but I got 5 good landings out of it. And the landings were good. I remembered what Stan had said and was flaring lower to the runway. I was still floating, but my floats were controlled and I kept the nose up for some very smooth landings. I was even applying power on some of them to smooth them out, completely unconsciously, totally without Stan telling me to.

I started getting mad because I really wanted to solo and the traffic didn't seem like it was going to allow it. But then Stan asked me "You wanna take it around a few times?" Shit yeah I did, so I hastened to drop him off at the gate. He didn't wish me luck or anything like that, he just sort of walked away. Not even a wave. I think it was better that way - it was Stan's way of saying 'just man up and fly the plane'.

I taxied back out to runway 29 following another piper in front of me. Before he'd left Stan had told the tower: "Cherokee 8081G first student solo, do you think runway 29 can remain active for a little while?" and the tower had responded with something like "Yeah cool no problem". That kinda made it easy on me. I'm pretty confident I can handle being vectored around, but why do it on my first solo?

Made my first mistake at the hold short line trying to get clearance from the tower while still on the ground control frequency. Oops. Corrected that and was told to position and hold. Halfway to my hold position I was cleared for takeoff so I throttled up, kept my nose in the center of the runway, and soon I was climbing into the sky.

Flying solo was a lot less scary than I thought it would be. All at once I realized that I had the skills to do everything I needed to do... that in fact, I'd been doing those things for several lessons now. My confidence was high and I relaxed my whole body. Turned into my crosswind, leveled out at 1,000ft, throttle back, flaps up, reported on my downwind that I wanted touch n' go's. Speed was good, altitude was okay, throttled back abeam the numbers and slowly turned into base. I came in high on my first approach, but I recognized it early. I'm getting very comfortable with the throttle - I'm rapidly realizing that the throttle is my friend, it doesn't have to sit unwaveringly on 2100 and 1700. I applied full flaps early and throttled my way back into the glide path (thank you VASI lights) and came in straight over the middle of the runway. Touched down just past the numbers and flared the nose... and I'd done it. My first solo takeoff and landing. At this point all nervousness was gone and adrenaline took over. Flaps raised, throttle up, I got a little overanxious on my takeoff run and skidded semi-violently left for a split second, but I quickly realized my problem and corrected it: I was using too much left rudder to compensate for Stan not being in the plane. Apparently his weight made a big difference on the taxi.

Back in the sky again, this time thoroughly enjoying myself. I had to calm down and tell myself not to celebrate too early - I had two more landings to make and I wanted to make them good ones. On the downwind I noticed the plane handled better without Stan. More fluid motion, I think. Went through my base and came up short on the final - all the VASI lights were red and I recognized that I was too low, probably mentally trying to compensate for my last approach being high. Once again I gripped the throttle and applied enough power to bring me into the glide path, and I introduced flaps late to keep from dropping. Hit the numbers again and landed even more gently this time, remembering to let the nose drop and fully gain control of the aircraft before raising the flaps and slowly throttling up. The runway was long and I had plenty of room.

Climbing again to the west I realized the sky was much darker than it had been on my last takeoff. I'd planned on only doing three landings anyway but the threat of rain really sealed the deal. Halfway through the downwind I called for a full stop and the tower cleared me. That's pretty much when it hit me that I totally fucking rocked my solo flight. In just a few minutes it would all be over - all the nights of restlessness, lost sleep, constant landing patterns rolling over and over through my head... soon it would finally be finished. All that stuff would be behind me and every solo flight from here on out would be a total picnic. I'm not sure how I knew this so completely and totally, but trust me, I did. It's an indescribable feeling.

First Solo Flight
My last approach was totally perfect - altitude, attitude, velocity... right down to the landing which I totally nailed without floating. I smirked and inwardly hoped Stan was watching that landing because it was the best one I'd done all day. I imagined him drinking coffee and looking at his watch, but as it turns out he'd watched the whole thing with his two-way radio in hand... set to the tower frequency in case he needed to 'coach' me on anything. Not on my solo.

Totally elated I radioed the tower requesting Juliet ramp to gate 11 and I think the guy might've congratulated me. Who the hell knows, that guy always talks so fast it's insane. Pulled up next to Stan who offered me congratulations while looking for the fuel guy. "You flew solo in an aircraft for the first time", he said. "You'll never forget this day". I made him take a photo of me standing in front of 8081G for posterity's sake, and then we bolted inside for a quick cup of coffee. Leafing through my logbook Stan wrote down a bunch of stuff in the accreditation portion of the book, then told me how I'd gotten over the "hump" of my flight training and that everything from here on out would be easy. I knew it would be. Once you realize you can fly and land the plane by yourself, the rest of it is just studying and practice. The danger element of flying is always there but once you've soloed you no longer 'wonder' whether or not you can pilot the aircraft, you know that you can. That confidence breeds more ability. It shatters your fears and leaves more room in your head for important future stuff like navigation and cross-country flying. I can't wait to get to that stuff.

Flying hours today: 2.0       Total: 15.0

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