I have a lot of respect for both my flight instructor and his judgement, but for one reason or another today we taxied back to the parking area, he stepped out of the plane, wished me luck and told me to go fly some circuits. Leaving me to fly the plane by myself, without adult supervision.

This has been widely regarded by experts as a “huge mistake.”

Standing with the Ugly Duckling post-solo

The way a first solo generally works is that you warm up with your instructor, and then at some point he gets out, hopes for the best and sends you back out to perform some take-offs and landings.

Prior to our first take-off, my instructor noticed that the high voltage warning light was on; the alternator wasn’t charging the battery properly. Like most problems, the initial trouble-shooting procedure is to turn it off and then back on again, which was quite effective. “Keep an eye on that.” he says. “Great.” I think, after rehearsing emergency and lost comms procedures over and over in my head, I’m going to have something go to hell on my first solo. As long as the engine kept turning the prop, I figured I could handle it though.

On our first approach and landing, I came in too high, too fast, and certainly didn’t do as well as I could have. My nerves/adrenaline were futzing with my technique. I ended up too far down the runway such that I couldn’t safely make my turn onto the taxiway, so my instructor asked tower if we could make a 180 turn. Apparently you’re allowed to do stuff like that on an active runway if you ask nicely, so we turned around and putted off onto our taxiway, traveling back to the start of the runway for another go.

Some time while we were up in the pattern, my radio transmissions weren’t getting through to tower. Lucky for me, my mild paranoia about “shit going wrong” today, caused me to set up all my frequencies on both Comm 1 and Comm 2. I switch over to Comm 2, “Hayward Tower, 737 Golf Mike, how do you read?” “Loud and clear, cleared for the option on 28L”

Ugly Duckling is screwing with me to see how I handle it.

Landing two was better than landing one, and landing three was better than number two. I suppose the third landing I performed was of sufficient quality to allow my instructor to hop out, wish me luck, and send me on my way back to the start of the runway for my first solo.

On my initial call-up to ground control, I forgot to identify as a student pilot on my first solo, fortunately the taxi was quite long and I had plenty of time to rehearse the proper radio phraseology when I needed to call tower.

With clearance, I accelerated onto 28L, mixture to full rich, transponder to alt, max power, and off I was into the air, alone.

The first circuit was of adequate quality, unlike previous patterns with my instructor, tower didn’t give me too much grief on an extra 50-100ft deviation from established pattern altitude. Then again, I told them I was a student pilot on my first solo, so they were gentle. That first solo landing felt harder than I would have liked it, but not bone-shattering.

Tower chimes in over the radio “737 Golf Mike, nice landing, turn left at Delta, taxi via Zulu.”

I’m a little uncertain what pleasantries are allowed over the radio, so I readback the instructions and go through my post-landing flow, and start taxiing back to the start of the runway for circuit number two, alone. In hindsight, I should have been much more gracious over the radio, but I was very much in serious-mode for the duration of the solo flight.

When I arrive back at the hold short line for 28L, I notice that I didn’t lean my mixture in my post-landing flow. Fortunately I needed to wait for another plane to land, so I had plenty of time to run through everything to make sure everything was in proper configuration prior to my next take-off.

Circuit number two was much smoother as was landing number two. Afterwards my instructor informs me that landing number two I had “greased it” which is pilot lingo for a gentle landing that won’t terrify your mom.

As I turn off the runway to taxi back, I make sure I get my post-landing flow correct and start back to the start of 28L. Another well executed take-off later and I’m back up in the air somewhere between 600 and 700ft.

As I come start my final approach, some light and variable winds give me a little bit of jostling that I wasn’t expecting, pushing me a little more left than I wanted. In previous lessons with my instructor, I’ve had a habit of not recognizing a good time for a go-around. Without him there my palms got sweaty as I noticed the nose yawwing from centerline and my airspeed wasn’t where it should have been. “Hoping” the ground would eventually meet me wasn’t the situation I wanted to be in by myself.

“No way” I think and cram the throttle in initiating a go-around.

In the following circuit I become hyper-focused on making sure this landing is perfect. I need to get to work and my instructor has another lesson, also I’m not ego-less and I didn’t want to go-around twice in a row (that was really the biggest factor in my mind).

The final landing was a little bit harder than landing number two, but still acceptable. I think my roundout is too high, causing my flares to be executed too high, but I can keep working on that in the future.

Filling in my first log book entry as PiC

I was done for today, taxied back to parking, shut down the plane, and finally started to come out of serious-mode. The elation that I had heard about started to hit me after I relaxed from the flying.

I made it in one piece, the Ugly Duckling made it in one piece, and my instructor seemed pleased with the flight.

A few photos later, we head back to the office to fill in my log book on my own for the first time, and cut up my t-shirt (tradition).

There wasn’t much time to revel in my emotions, I had to hustle off to work.

This crosses another milestone off my major milestones list:

  • Ground School
  • Airman Medical Exam
  • FAA Knowledge Test
  • Solo Flight
  • Solo Cross-Country Flight
  • FAA Checkride for License

There’s still a lot more work to do, both with my instructor in the plane and without, but this is arguably the biggest turning point in my journey towards a pilot’s license.

For the first time I was acting as pilot in command. A role I’m looking forward to playing more in the future.