The First Solo
Although the physics of flight have not changed since the very early days of the Wright brothers, modern pilots are faced with an entirely different set of challenges when compared to our forefathers. The most challenging of these is the ability to switch seamlessly between the skill sets required for the basic aviator to those of the advanced systems manager. Fortunately, during the initial phase of your flight training, the complicated electronic Flight Management Systems aren’t really a priority, and the focus is mainly on the basic handling of the aircraft.
As training progresses you approach your initial solo flight and come to realise that even the most basic of training aircraft have some systems that need to be understood and managed. At first, it might feel as if you will never get to grips with everything required to be sent on that most rewarding and unforgettable experience called the Initial Solo.
Finally, the big day arrives and you pitch up at the airport an hour before your scheduled flight time, ready and eager. You diligently start completing the paperwork for the flight, from the authorisation sheet to the weight and balance for the dual and solo portions of the flight, a quick glimpse through the latest NOTAM’s just in case something changed overnight. With each stroke of the pen, as the minutes draw closer to the departure time, you find yourself making more and more frequent trips to the toilet as the nervous tension builds. After what seems like a lifetime, the moment has arrived and there is no more turning back.
The check instructor diligently and calmly briefs you on the process to be followed and the requirements to be successful with the check. Pre-flight checks complete, After start checks done, you make the radio call to request taxi instructions, like many a time before except this time it feels as if the Sahara desert has wound up in your mouth. The rest of the dual flight goes off without a hitch and with each circuit your confidence grows in leaps and bounds until your instructor says right makes the next one a full stop, at which time you think to yourself have I messed up at any point during the past 5 circuits.
Another uneventful landing goes by and you find yourself taxiing back to the hangar in a somewhat quiet and uncomfortable environment, until the intercom springs to life, and you get asked a list of seemingly obvious sounding questions, such as what happens to the stall speed with a lighter aircraft? At what speed should you approach with a lighter aircraft? Just as you ready yourself to commence with the shut-down checks, you hear the words, “Right why not go try one on your own…….”
You are now feeling fairly invincible like Tom Cruise from Top Gun, and call up the tower again for taxi instructions for an initial solo. As the aircraft taxis towards the holding point for the active, you now start wondering “what if I screw this up” and that uncomfortable feeling grows in the pit of your stomach. As take-off power is applied, the nerves start to disappear as your training kicks in. Somewhere around the mid-down-wind leg of your circuit, as you start feeling very comfortable on your own, radio call made, checklists completed, you break out in song. On the final approach, you receive your landing clearance and complete one of the best landings of your life. As you clear the runway and call for taxi clearance, you are greeted with a congratulations from the tower, along with the words “That is one of the best renditions of I believe I can fly” that they have heard in a long time. With a bashful read back you realise that in all your excitement on the down-wind leg you forgot to release the push to talk and everybody on the frequency at the time heard your song.
Article by Brendon Lubbe – Chief Flight Instructor