Nicos and the author after solo
11 min read

I’d been having trouble with landings. Nicos, the CFI, decided that this was largely psychological, and he said that it was high time I was rid of this “monkey on my back.” He told me to come early, and we’d solve this problem once and for all. I arrived early as requested, and he told me to go out and pre-flight the aircraft and as soon as I’d started the engine he’d come and join me. I did all the external and cabin checks, started the engine, and sure enough a few moments later he climbed in and told me to get clearance and get this show on the road.

Clearance obtained, I taxied out to the holding point, and we got takeoff clearance. I waited for the runway stop-bar lights to go off, but nothing happened. Nicos said, “Come on, let’s go. We’ve got the clearance.” I shook my head, and pressed the PTT switch, “Larnaca Tower, the stop-bar lights are still at red, Aviator Zero One.”

Cyprus aerial view

The island of Cyprus is a great place to fly a general aviation airplane.

“Say again, Aviator Zero One?”

I repeated, and then a voice said, “Not again! OK, are they off now?”

“Affirm, runway stop- bar lights are now off.” Nicos grinned and gave me a thumbs up and admitted he’d not noticed and off we went.

He wanted me to show him how I could fly, and so I trimmed it as I’d been taught, and then the tower told me to orbit right over the sea. OK, 20 degrees of bank, 85mph, 1000′, trimmed in a nice steady turn, I took my hands off the yoke, and just held the turn with the odd touch of rudder. Nicos grinned at me and said, “What, you’ve engaged the autopilot now?” I laughed, and this settled my nerves. The Mediterranean was glistening a gorgeous turquoise, the waves were gently breaking on the beach 200m from the runway; there was a yacht slowly making its way across to bay to Limassol, and I was really enjoying this.

Eventually I was cleared to rejoin the right-hand downwind, and then cleared for a touch-and-go, runway zero four. Nicos didn’t touch the controls at all and I turned onto base, throttled back, carb heat on, two stages of flaps, and trimmed it for 70 mph and about 500’/minute descent. A nice gentle turn onto finals, there I was, two reds, two whites, and over the threshold, and then he said, “OK, you know and I know you can fly this thing. Now fly it all the way along the runway in ground effect at five feet, let me see you do that.”

I looked at him somewhat startled, and he replied, “Don’t worry about ATC, they’re here for our benefit, and anyway, it’s your decision whether you actually touch down or not, you’re cleared for a touch-and-go, so what if you don’t touch?” I looked out and gently let the plane descend, and I found that just about five feet off the runway with 1600rpm the descent rate slowed and stopped. “See,” he said, “ground effect;  it’s what’s holding you up.”

About half way along this 3km runway he then said, “OK, now slowly reduce the power, and at the same time ever so gently ease back the yoke to compensate, and watch what happens.” I eased the throttle slowly back, gently eased the yoke back slightly, and when the throttle was fully closed, the nose was now just at the horizon, and with the barest of bumps, it kissed the runway. “Perfect!” he said, “See, you CAN land it perfectly, you just thought you couldn’t, and, the reason you did it now was I got you to do something else and not think about the flare, so now you know you can do this. OK, let’s go!”

I grinned to myself, and pushed the throttle open, 60 mph came up, and I eased the yoke back only to find that the nose reared high into the air! I instinctively pushed it hard forward and looked around and yelled, “Flaps!” I grabbed the flaps switch and retracted one stage; the force on the yoke lessened, I let the aircraft climb and get to 80mph, and then retracted the last stage of flaps. Nicos turned and grinned at me, saying, “I deliberately let you forget about the flaps to see if you’d react, and you did, exactly what I expected from you!”

I apologised and felt really bad, but he thumped my shoulder saying, “Don’t apologise. In a real landing, rather than a touch-and-go, the flaps would still have been down. I deliberately distracted you in order to get you to overlook the flaps and to judge your ability to deal with unexpected situations. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have let you stall, I was ready to grab the yoke if you’d frozen like some of my other students, but you didn’t. You did what I’ve hammered into you: First Fly The Damn Plane and then analyse the situation, and correct it. Excellent!”

On the next circuit, just as I turned onto base, Nicos closed the throttle all the way, and said, “Engine failure!” I gently banked the aircraft into a wide turn onto finals, and found myself a little high. He said, “What d’you think?”

“I’m a little high.” I was about 800′ at this point and rapidly approaching the threshold.

“What are you going to do?” I paused for a moment, then said, “Well, I’ve got lots of runway, so I really don’t need to do anything, and anyway, I can always lower more flaps and really dump some height if I want to.”

He nodded, and said, “OK, it’s your decision.” The aircraft descended, lower, lower, and finally I eased the yoke back, felt a little tired reduction in sink rate, and with a gentle bump, landed. “Excellent!” he said, “OK, let’s go!”

Larnaca airport

Larnaca Airport, where the solo took place.

I retracted the flaps with a grin, opened the throttle, and off we went. Stone me, but at 100′ he cut the throttle again. I pushed the yoke forward, snapped on two stages of flaps. We were now very low; I flared, and with a firm bump, we landed again.

“OK, I have control,” he said, and he quickly climbed to 500′, retracted the flaps. We did a quick turn onto the downwind at 500′, he placed me on finals, and then said, “One more time, and make this a full-stop landing, and make me smile.” And one more time, I eased it onto the runway with hardly a bump.

Nicos was very pleased. Later that evening he phoned me and said that next I should do my second phase check. I arrived early again this morning, and he told me to file a flight plan, check the aircraft, and when I’d started it, he’d join me. Once again after engine start he climbed in, and said, “OK, today I want you to repeat what you did yesterday, only I’m just going to sit here and take notes. You talk me through what you’re doing.” This I did. We did three circuits, with two simulated engine failures, a glide approach, stall recovery, stall in a turn recovery, spin recovery, and then he said, “OK, this will be a full-stop landing.” The wind was a bit gusty, so it was a slightly firm touch-down, and I taxied back to the apron.

I was about to turn the aircraft, and Nicos shook his head, saying, “No, stay here, you’re going solo!” I looked startled, and he said, “You’re fine, the phase check was excellent. I’ve already filed the second flight plan as I fully expected this today. When I get out, call Larnaca Ground, tell them ‘Student pilot, first solo’, you’re call-sign is 5B-CLC, and I’ll drive over to the tower. Make me proud!” and off he went. He ran over to his car, and raced off.

I called Larnaca Ground. “Larnaca Ground, this is Five Bravo Charlie Lima Charlie, student pilot, first solo, requesting clearance, and QNH in inches, Five Bravo Charlie Lima Charlie.”

“Five Lima Charlie, standby, expect clearance in about five minutes.”

I waited, and waited; there was lots of traffic, it was really busy. Even during my phase check, I’d had to orbit several times. There was a helicopter at 100′ practicing recovery operations, several other aircraft on finals or joining. It was really busy. Finally, “Five Lima Charlie, cleared to taxiway Charlie, hold at Bravo, QNH two niner decimal seven one.” I read it back, took a deep breath, released the brakes, and eased the throttle open slightly, and I was off.

At the hold point, I started the pre-takeoff checks, and then suddenly noticed the artificial horizon topple and rest at 45 degrees and nose high. Thinking that this might be because of low vacuum, as the engine was at idle, I cautiously opened the throttle to 1700 rpm. Nothing happened. I was about to request advice, when suddenly it erected itself. Hmmm. The tower cleared me to line up and wait.

Out on the runway I checked the compass and aligned the DI, looked suspiciously at the A/H, but it seemed fine, set the transponder to ALT, and then I was cleared for takeoff, runway two two, maintain 1000′, VFR, left turn out, wind one eight zero degrees at less than five knots. I read it back, and with another deep breath, opened the throttle wide. Takeoff run checks, then 60mph came, rotate, and climb out. With only one person on board she climbed quite enthusiastically even with 40C and 50% RH.

Level off at 1,000′, turn downwind, and abeam the tower, “Five Lima Charlie, orbit right.”

“Orbiting right, Five Lima Charlie.” I trimmed it for 85mph, 20 degrees of bank, and at exactly 1,000′ started a nicely trimmed orbit. I took another deep breath, and grinned, I sat back took my hands off the yoke and realised I had sweaty palm syndrome, chuckled to myself, and started to relax. I’d done three orbits and was just starting a fourth when the tower said, “Five Lima Charlie, rejoin left-hand downwind.”

“Wilco, Five Lima Charlie!”

Nicos and the author after solo

The author with his flight instructor after his first solo.

As I came around, I eased the wings level, and then saw we had an Airbus on finals. I heard that the wind was now 180 degrees and 10kts.

“Five Lima Charlie, I have visual on the aircraft on finals.”

“Roger, continue downwind.”

“Continuing downwind, Five Lima Charlie.”

The downwind leg continued. After a few minutes, I was ready to turn onto base, but still had not heard from ATC.

“Request turn onto base? Five Lima Charlie.”

“Oh, sorry, report finals, Five Lima Charlie.

“A nice gentle turn onto base, throttle back to 1500 rpm, carb heat to hot, two stages of flaps, and trim for 70mph.

I’d already done some calculations and discovered that for a 3 degree glide-slope at 70 mph, the descent rate needed to be around 350’/min – 400’/min. I checked and was pleased that the VSI was indicating 400’/minute. Nice gentle turn onto finals, but a little to the right of the centre line. I soon found out why.

“Five Lima Charlie on finals.”

“Five Lima Charlie, cleared for landing, runway two two, wind one eight zero degrees twelve knots.”

“Cleared for landing, runway two two, Five Lima Charlie.”

I jiggled throttle and pitch, and established myself on the centre line, and crabbed. Two reds, two whites. Coming over the threshold, let the aircraft descend, and then, just as I was starting to round out, a gust of wind picked me up. I gulped, but resisted the temptation to alter pitch, and then just let the aircraft settle once more, at the last moment, right rudder to straighten up, and with a gentle bump, we were down.

I had plenty of runway left, so I requested permission to use Delta, and was cleared. I contacted Larnaca Ground.

“Five Bravo Charlie Lima Charlie at hold point Delta, requesting taxi clearance to light aviation apron.”

“Five Lima Charlie, cleared via Charlie to light aviation apron.”

“Cleared via Charlie, thank you very much, Five Lima Charlie.”

“Five Lima Charlie, you’re welcome, and congratulations!”

“Roger that!” With a huge grin on my face I taxied back to the apron.

I’d just got out of the aircraft, when the Airbus 320 that I heard was being held for my final and landing taxied up Charlie. As it passed me, I grinned, and gave a big two-handed overhead wave. The captain opened the side window, and stuck his arm out and gave me a huge thumbs up with a big grin on his face!

I’d soloed!

Nicos drove up, and he too was grinning. “Excellent!” he said. I told him about the Airbus, and he explained that whilst I was talking to the tower, the Airbus was being held pending my landing and taxi and was told it was a student pilot on his first solo, and that the Captain was more than happy to wait a few minutes.

It was going to be my 69th birthday in a few days time. What a birthday present!


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Adrian Ryan
Latest posts by Adrian Ryan (see all)
9 replies
  1. F R
    F R says:

    Reading through this brought back sweety memories….. And all for the good. Nothing can replace this and everytime I fly it reminds me of the day I was on my own in the air for the first time. You still hear the instructor yelling , commands:, attitude, altitude, engine RPM, flaps, direction, cab heat on, off, look out, radio, ……. What did I forget, sweet landing….a real greaser!,, a jump inthe smimming pool with clothes and all and beers afterwards where your tie gets cut off at the formal party. :-)

  2. Art Pauly
    Art Pauly says:

    My first solo was in early 1970 at Whittman Air Park in Pacoima, CA. I was doing touch and goes with my instructor Greg VonBrunt, when he asked me to pull off the taxi way and stop. He said “I’m tired of flying with you. Do three on your own”. I taxied back to the runway and took off. Me and the C-150 were now one in the air. I remember thinking “you big idiot. You got this thing off the ground, now you have to land it” All went well. It was a day I will never forget.

  3. Juan Manuel Rodriguez
    Juan Manuel Rodriguez says:

    Adrian. Great story. I found my self smiling while reading, and remembering my own first solo at Ibagué, Colombia.
    Keep flying.

  4. Michael Prichard
    Michael Prichard says:

    Congratulations on your solo…. It is a great feeling, isnt it? :)

    Even more amazing you did it flying over the Mediterranean. Good luck with the rest of your training!


  5. Max
    Max says:

    I had my first solo flight Oct. 10, 1995 at age 65. I still felt I was
    not ready for a solo, just as I had felt back in 1968 when I was taking
    glider lesson. We, the instructor and I, had flown around the patch we on landing, he told me to pull up. Then he got out and told to go by myself. Just after I took off and cleared the end of the runway, a 45 degree turn to the left was required to prevent overflying the town. Just after I made the turn and still climbing out, I keyed the mike and said, “Dean, this plane sure flies great, now that you’ve gotten your fat ass out.”

  6. Michael Gates
    Michael Gates says:

    It was Oct.7, 1980, Olean, N.Y. My instructor,Bob Anderson and I had been doing touch and goes late in the afternoon. On my last landing he had me take him to the terminal and he told me to take it up by myself.
    I was thrilled. His words were “You’ll lift of faster with out me”. I made three touch and go landings and on my fourth and final one I noticed three white tail deer starting across the edge of the runway. I gave my Tomahawk power, buzzed the deer, circled around and landed. I went to the instructors office, told him my story. My knees were shaking. He said he hadn’t been watching me. I couldn’t stop smiling, it was the greatest day of my life. I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

  7. Gary Kendall
    Gary Kendall says:

    Great story. October 1965, N6785W, 6.5 Hrs total time in the book. About half in a C120. Doing touch and gos. After three or four, Neal said “I’ve had enough. Go do it by yourself”. Totally unexpected. Those were probably the three best landings I have ever done.
    And, yes, the plane did climb much better with only one on board. Especially at our 5000 ft elevation.

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