For my 16th birthday, my father thought it would be a great idea to gift me a discovery flight at the local flight center. When the day of the discovery flight came, I was all but nervous. Blue skies, not much wind, and a chilly day. From the moment the wheels left the ground in that Cessna 172 Skyhawk, I knew that one day I wanted to be able to do this. However, I was left with the heavy burden of reality: where do I even start to obtain this dream and more importantly, how will I be able to finance this?
Fast forward a year and two months, and I had just completed my first solo after only 11.8 hours in my logbook, and a week and a half since my first flight lesson. The day of my solo will stick with me forever. My flight instructor had told me two days prior that any lesson now I could solo; we were just waiting for a perfect day.
At last, the perfect day had come. Blue skies, no clouds, five-knot wind blowing right down the runway. A picture perfect flying day for any pilot. My instructor wanted to go up with me in the pattern and perform a few touch and goes to make sure I hadn’t forgotten everything I had ever learned up to this point. After two touch and goes, he told me to let the controller know that we would be making a full stop on this one.
“Bloomington tower, Warrior 2937R is midfield left downwind for runway 29, full stop.”
The controller quickly said back, “Warrior 2937R, runway 29, cleared to land.” I executed my final landing with my instructor before it was time to head out on my own. While taxiing back to the hangar where I’d drop my instructor off, not much was said other than he was ready to let me solo. Upon arrival at the hangar, I idled the plane, and my instructor said a few words over the intercom that will always stick with me. “Be safe, but most importantly, have fun.”
With that, he took off his Bose A20s and hopped out the door, only to leave me alone in the plane. Reality hit the second I turned the plane around to go back to the run-up area to receive my taxi clearance. I looked over to my right and saw no one sitting in the right seat. Instantly, muscle memory kicked in. I knew everything I had do to safely execute this short flight in the pattern. I called up ground, and let them know that this was a student pilot, with hopes that they would help me out a little bit had my readbacks not been correct or I left out a piece of information they needed.
After taxiing the 1979 Piper Warrior II down three different taxiways, I arrived at the hold short markings for runway 29. I took a step back to take a breath, and calm myself. I called up the tower, and was cleared for takeoff. I turned onto that runway and was announcing everything that I was doing. I applied full throttle: “airspeed is alive, gauges are in the green, and rotate at 55.”
Before I knew it, that little plane was climbing into the air, and I was the only one piloting it. All the thoughts of my being solo were behind me; I knew that I had to land this plane no matter what, and it was up to me and only me to do so.
After turning onto the crosswind leg, and eventually turning downwind, I reported to the controllers that I was midfield left downwind for runway 29. I was told to extend my downwind and that they would tell me when to turn for that left base. This was something that I had yet to encounter in my short aviation career, however, I did as told and just continued flying my downwind.
After I was about two miles away from the airport, I was cleared to turn on that left base and was told that they extended my downwind due to airliner traffic. Tower asked me to report when I had the traffic in sight. My eyes immediately looked out to my left, looking for a large jet on final for runway 29. After about 10 seconds of scanning, I had the traffic in sight and let the controllers know.
I then heard the dreaded call (at least for a student pilot on his first solo): “Warrior 2937R, runway 29, cleared to land, caution wake turbulence.” I knew that because of this wake turbulence, I was required to land past where the jet had just landed. I reconfigured for my now higher glide path and established myself on a long final.
It was at this point where I just focused all of my attention on two things: the sight picture I had established of the runway ahead, and my airspeed indicator. I was pitching for exactly 63 knots, and I wanted to land at that exact speed. When the runway was slowly getting closer and closer, I realized just how real this was; there was no room for error, as this is reality, not a simulator. I continued on my higher-than-normal glidepath, established with full flaps, holding the centerline, and a perfect 63 knots. I felt no wake turbulence, which was an indication to me that I had landed over where the jet had.
As the runway got closer and closer, I pulled the throttle back to idle and flared. I held it off and continued to do so, all while trying to hold centerline with the use of the rudder. Finally, the plane came down from the air, and I touched down just to the right of the centerline. Instantly, I raised the flaps and applied full throttle to take off again. I repeated these same steps for my next two landings and eventually made my way back to the hangar, where my instructor was waiting with a big smile on his face.
I parked the plane, pulled the throttle back to idle, turned off the avionics, and cut off the mixture and the engine stopped. My instructor instantly came running up to the plane, opened the door and congratulated me. I had completed my very first, and last solo, and was now one step closer to becoming a private pilot.
A short three weeks later, and a month into flying lessons, I am sitting with 38.2 hours, with my checkride coming up quickly. Aviation has brought more to me than I could ever imagine, and I am beyond grateful to be able to be one of the people known as a pilot. In my short aviation career, I have experienced so many cool experiences I would have never dreamed of. For the next three weeks, studying is going to be my main priority in preparation for my checkride!
Overall the check ride went well. I was with my DPE from 8:30 to 3:30, and the whole thing was a positive experience. I had a very windy day to do my check ride, winds gusting to 22 knots! However, I knew I could do it, and really wanted to get it over with, so I made the decision to fly. Everything went as expected, and the whole flight was 1.8 hours. Upon landing, I parked the plane and my DPE said he was going to go inside while I wrap everything up, however, he hadn’t said a word about me passing or failing. I put the plane away and went inside. I caught a glance of what he was doing, and saw the words “temporary certificate” at the top, and became ecstatic on the inside. We debriefed the flight and he gave me my temporary certificate.