Since it's fresh on my mind, I figured I'd describe what my first solo was like, today, January 30th, 1996, around 2pm EST (19Z).
Later, when requesting permission to land (actually, permission for
"the option" which allows a full-stop landing, a touch-and-go, or a
go-around, at the pilot's discretion), the tower told us we were #2,
behind a landing ATR (you know, those commuter planes that got some
press because they had a habit of falling out of the sky when they iced
up). I responded. The tower REPEATED his clearance, slower,
enunciating every syllable,
"CES-NA 6-2-3-0-Quebec, You Are
Number TWO, Landing BEHIND an Inbound ATR on Final, Clear For The
OPTION. Caution Wake Turbulence." I may have responded with a
"clear to land" rather than "clear for the option" the first time. But
the same thing happened on another approach, and I'm not really sure
WHAT I said incorrectly. Neither was David.
At one point, David takes my syllabus and holds it over the instruments. OK. I need to establish the right speed and altitude by visual reference. I do a landing like that. Take off the same way. When I level off at 1000' AGL (Above Ground Level) I'm pretty close, like 50 ft., not bad. Coming in, he checks the airspeed and I'm pretty good with that too, keeping it at 60 kts on the final approach.
So after doing several touch-and-gos, we taxi back and David tells me to go back out and do three touch-and-gos. He also tells me to expect the plane to perform differently with only one person. It's a small plane and 150 lbs. makes a noticeable difference. And also, if I'm requested to make a short approach, just request to extend the downwind approach or do something differently, as he doesn't feel I should have to do that/worry about it/deal with it on my first solo.
So. There I am. On the ramp. Engine running. Everything ready. I
take a breath, press the mike switch on the control stick and say,
"Ithaca Ground, Cessna 6230Quebec, on west ramp, ready to taxi for left
closed traffic." (translation: I'm ready to taxi to the runway and do
maneuvers while remaining in the airport's traffic pattern) I'm cleared
to taxi (in addition to giving me wind and altimeter information).
"Ithaca tower, Cessna 6230Quebec, ready for takeoff at 32."
"Cessna 6230Quebec, you are cleared for takeoff. Left closed traffic approved. Report midfield."(translation: go for it, dude and let me know when you're on your downwind leg (parallel to the runway)). I respond,
"Cleared for takeoff, Cessna 30Quebec."
50kts is the speed to rotate (lift the nose off the ground) and then the plane proceeds to lift off. And RISE. FAST. Damn, we're rising a LOT faster at this attitude than normal. I intentionally keep the nose a little lower than previous to make sure the airspeed is good. So at about 500' AGL, I make a 90 degree left turn and enter the "crosswind leg." And then after a bit (half-mile, give or take), make another 90 degree left turn and enter the downwind leg. As I get to 1000' AGL, I level off, let the speed increase a little and then throttle back a little. Everything is going like I've done it before. No surprises. I hear the tower/ground controller (same guy, different frequency, though he broadcasts on both) give a taxi clearance to a US Air commuter.
OK. I'm about halfway down the runway, parallel with it ("midfield"),
I do the final landing checklist (fuel shutoff valve is on (i.e., fuel
is flowing), mixture is set to full rich, seat belt is secure). I see
the commuter on the alpha taxiway. I call up.
"Ithaca tower, Cessna
30Quebec on left downwind, request the option." The response,
"Cessna 30Quebec, make short approach, clear for the option."
OK, we just have to... (or as Homer's brain said, "Something said. Not good.")
rewind. He said, "short approach."
David said DON'T make a short approach.
"Cessna 30Quebec, request extended downwind."I deliberately did NOT repeat the holy words
"cleared for the option"and the controller is required to get a read-back for those sorts of instructions (especially "hold-short" instructions). There is a pause. This was the same controller that had sounded testy before. He responds, "
Cessna 30Quebec, Ithaca tower, state WHY."I respond,
"Tower, 30Quebec, this is my first solo and I don't feel comfortable with making a short approach."Pause a beat.
"Cessna 30Quebec, make right 360 turn and report left downwind."Brain going faster now. I repeat it back,
"Tower, Cessna 30Quebec will make right 360 turn and report back on downwind."
I've done this maneuver (ONCE). I slow down (put in the carburetor heat and pull the throttle back so that I'll be making a relatively slow turn. The point of this maneuver is to waste time, so no sense doing it on a high power setting) and make a turn. The tower clears the commuter for take off.
I finish my turn and am now once again on the downwind leg (though
pretty far up it). I call up again,
"Ithaca tower, Cessna
30Quebec on left downwind, request the option."
30Quebec, make right 270 turn and report left base."
Hubba? Something said. OK. Think. Right turn. 270 degrees. Two
wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do. So three rights make a
left and that's the point, I'll end up as if I had made a left turn,
just meandering around to get there. The base leg is part of the
rectangle between downwind and final. So, I respond,
making right 270 turn and will report left base." I make the turn and
as I come out of it, I'm pretty much the right distance out for the
base leg. I call up,
"Ithaca tower, Cessna 30Quebec, on left BASE,
request the option." And finally,
"Cessna 30Quebec, clear for the
option." "Clear for the option, 30Quebec."
Cool. That's number one. Pull up flaps. Full throttle. Turn off the carburetor heat (actually I think I forgot to do that this time...). Get it up to 50kts, rotate, take off.
"Ithaca tower, Cessna 30Quebec, on left downwind, request the option."The response,
"Cessna 30Quebec, Ithaca tower, continue."
Um. Think, Frank, think. Continue...as you're going...why? He wants
wants you to proceed with the landing procedures, but he can't give me
clearance. Why? He just cleared someone to cross the runway,
therefore the runway isn't clear now, but SHOULD BE very soon. I
"Cessna 30Quebec" acknowledging his message and
throttle back, put in flaps as the plane slows, and make the turn to the
A few seconds later, the tower calls,
"Cessna 30Quebec, Ithaca
tower, clear for the option." OK, that's what I was hoping.
"Clear for the option, 30Quebec," is my reply. Coming
down a little fast, more like 70kts. Remember the mantra: 60,
centerline, scan. Get things lined up, raise the noise a little.
Increase power a little, as I don't want to reach the ground before the
runway starts (that's considered bad form). Slowly reduce the power to
idle, raise the nose into the flair, and make sure the nose stays up
(keep pulling back on the yoke). And... we touch. Not too bad.
Engine idle. Flaps come up. Carb heat off. Take the first taxiway,
"F." I see there's another plane that's coming along the taxiway
perpendicular to me. No matter. I cross the "hold short" line,
officially clearing the active runway and stop. And then I call the
tower and say,
"Ithaca Tower, Cessna 30Quebec, clearing active at
Foxtrot." I know he won't let me go, but as long as he knows
where I am.
"Cessna 30Quebec, hold short of taxiway alpha for
plane taxiing to 32."
"Holding short of alpha,
30Quebec." The plane passes (a twin prop, private plane), and
"Cessna 30Quebec, taxi to the ramp, remain on this
"30Quebec." I taxi to the ramp.
Stop. Do the mag(neto) check (turning the ignition switch off to make sure that'll stop the engine and as you hear it cutting off, you switch it back on). Notice the alternator needle indicates the battery is still charging, but much less than when we first started, which is good, means the battery wasn't destroyed. Then pull the mixture control to the 'idle cut-off' setting. Within a few seconds the engine stops (30Q is a bit temperamental, you actually have to push the throttle in a little after you cut off the mixture, for it to smoothly quit, otherwise it tends to cough and violently shudder for a while before it quits. Hear the same sound of gyros running that I heard when I started. But I switch the master switch off, and hear the familiar sound of gyros spinning down.
That's it. I did it. David comes out, congratulates me, and then tells me of the club "tradition" of putting your name, date of solo and such on a piece of cloth or shirt or something and display it at the club (I have seen a few of those before, actually). I wasn't particularly prepared for that situation, so all I can offer is literally the shirt off my back, which he gladly accepts. Takes a scissors and cuts a large square out of the front of my shirt (what the hell, there was a pasta stain that never came out anyway). Thus immortalized, my adventure draws to a close.
That was a "supervised" solo. I need to do one more of those and then have some dual work on spins and then I'll be able to solo out of the traffic pattern in the practice area (though if I don't fly duel or solo within 10 days my "currency" lapses and I'll have to go up with an instructor before I can solo again; they have fairly strict rules in the club, the FAA only requires 90 days before your currency lapses. I don't mind the extra precautions).
Want to play "Name that Instrument"?
This link goes to Frank's first solo away from the airport.