Lost my shirt today…1st solo
I suppose with the nice weather these days there are more of us making the
big leap. I made mine this morning around 1400Z.
The weather was amazingly calm for this time of year in Santa Fe.
Temperature was around 70 F (plus or minus 5 degrees I suppose – I don’t
remember the ATIS information at this point).
I went up with my instructor earlier in the morning, 8 am local time, and did
3 touch-and-goes, an emergency go-around (“There’s a heard of kangaroos on
the runway” just as the flare was to begin) and then a final full-stop
landing. Then we taxied back to the parking area and I filled out a rental
agreement for the plane. I had a few minutes to make a restroom break
(mostly to collect my thoughts) and then phone home.
I then hopped into the plane and went through the pre-flight startup
procedures – reading everything aloud for some reason. The cockpit was
surely a lot bigger space then. Perhaps reading the procedures out loud
helped to reassure the phantom voice of my instructor.
I listened to the more recent ATIS – no change in wind or pressure. Good. I
requested permission to taxi and let the controller know that I was a
student pilot, the words just sort of floating out with pride. I always
thought I’d be humbled having to tell the controller that. I then taxied to
the runway, went through the run-up – again reading everything aloud – and
pulled up short of the runway. I received clearance and off I went.
The first turn around the pattern was uneventful – as far as those outside
the plane were concerned. I did everything right, at the proper points and
for the right attitude of the plane at that moment. On the inside, however,
it was a complete mind-trip. I made sure to enjoy the flight, as
instructed. I really worked mentally to not get caught up with nervousness
and let the experience overwhelm the reason I got into this: fun. I stayed
calm, alert – even more alert I suppose. I got a kick out of feeling how the
plane reacted in climbing – and especially in turns – when the right seat
was empty. The approach to final and subsequent landing was nearly flawless.
However, I could still hear my instructor letting me know to keep the big
picture outside, to watch my airspeed and so on. I wonder how long it will
before such things are in my own voice, or better yet – when the actions are
instinctive and not spoken at all.
Having completed the first touch and go I was back in the pattern.
Everything was again going well until I called for clearance during the
downwind. The tower asked if I could do a short approach as there was another
plane not too far off. Since I had done a handful of these in recent weeks I
felt comfortable in replying “affirmative”. Only after he cleared me and I
turned to base did I realize that I made one of the worse mistakes you can
make: turning without looking, relying on the tower to be your eyes.
The controller had forgotten about another Cessna that was previously
cleared to land and was already on final – but a bit further out than I.
I was just abeam of the runway for the shorter approach. I spotted the
Cessna only after making my turn and fortunately he had spotted me sooner.
He was pulling away and calling the tower for permission to circle before
landing – giving me time to land and get out of the way. Big lesson learned
on my end.
I was somewhat nervous from that point on – short approach, steeper glide
path and having just made a major mistake. Needless to say the landing
wasn’t great, but it wasn’t hard and I didn’t bounce. I started the flare a
little too high and floated over the runway longer than I’d liked. But I
touched down and re-trimmed and setup for the next take off. (Santa Fe has
an 8,000 foot runway, allowing ample time to transition from landing to take
off without the need to taxi off and on again.)
The third and final pattern flight was as calm as the first. No other
traffic to contend with – believe me, I was looking much more vigorously
this time. The turn to final occured a little further out than it should
have and I think I came in low. As a result the flare seemed to progress
much faster than any other I’ve done in the last few weeks but amazingly,
the two back wheels touched down without so much as a jolt to the rest of
the plane. I held the nose wheel off for a bit and it, too, settled down
nicely. The plane was then slow enough to allow me make the first taxiway
And then it sinks in – you’ve just passed a major milestone and the smile
that everyone else has talked about unfolds across your face no matter how
calm and collected you try and make yourself appear.
The post-flight review with the instructor was more celebratory than
informative, naturally. The shirt off my back is now hung on the bulletin
board of the FBO and I have a few photos of it, as well as of me and the
instructor and the world-class C172 to post at some point. (I’m one of the
old flim-camera luddites that has to wait to get photos back.)