A Solo Flight – Celebrating Milestones

It’s when ordinary people rise above the expectations and seize the opportunity that milestones truly are reached.  Mike Huckabee


I enjoy being a pilot, aircraft and hanger owner, but these joys are accompanied by a fair amount of responsibility.  Even as a private pilot, periodic flight reviews (BFR) and medicals come with the privilege.
This was the month for both of those activities.  Since I inherited my Dad’s 1961 Forney Aircoupe, I have flown my BFRs in that craft, but this year I decided to have it done in a Cessna 150, the airplane in which I learned to fly, solo and certify in as a pilot in 1992.
I was able to rent one at Westport Airport, a wonderful place in the heart of Wichita, KS.  I have a long history with 71K, aka Dead Cow International, where the Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force is based, so I was pleased for this occasion.
Westport should be on your list of places to visit if you come to Wichita.  A quaint oasis of “past meets the present” if there ever was a place.  If you are fortunate you will meet Earl Long and many other aviators that make up the back-drop of the aviation fabric of the Air Capitol.

Milestones By Comparison

The Forney Aircoupe  and Cessna 150 are very close in performance, but after flying, almost exclusively, my Coupe for 20+ years, I felt quite out of place.  There are differences that change how one interacts with the plane:
  • The Coupe is a low wing, the Cessna a high wing, thus visibility is quite different.
  • Although my Coupe has rudder pedals (early models do not) they are less critical than in the Cessna, because….
  • The Coupe’s engine is mounted to compensate for the “P” factor, pulling the aircraft to the left, where as one must use rudder to compensate in the Cessna
  • The Coupe uses a hand brake, the Cessna, toe brakes integrated into the rudder pedals
  • The Coupe is about 300 pounds lighter than the Cessna and has a much lighter touch in the controls
  • The trim on the Coupe has less impact on how the aircraft flies than on the Cessna
  • The Cessna has flaps whereas the Coupe does not.
The best comparison I can give is the difference you feel when getting into a rental car versus your own, it just feels foreign – times ten!
My BFR instructor gave me ample time with the Cessna to get reacquainted, go over checklists, locations of various instruments and gauges, etc.,  on my own.  I  was as ready as I would be, but still felt a fish out of water for most of the flight.
On top of that, The air was rough and I had to fight thermals the entire flight.  It was less than a stellar performance, but my instructor was kind and decided I was not a hazard to myself or others, signing me off for two more years.

Remembering Milestones

All this brought me back to the day I soloed on January 10, 1992 at Jabara Airport (3KM at the time, now AAO) in a Cessna 152. I wrote the following not long after that experience:
A Solo Flight
I want you to taxi to the end, make two touch and go’s, then full stop and come back here to pick me up.  Be sure to call rolling when you depart.”  How may times had my flight instructor said those words; how many other dreams had he given the green light to as he walked away to “supervise” my first solo flight from the ground; how routine it all seemed….”
“Stay centered on the taxi line.  Is your right leg on the yellow line?”  The words echoed in my mind as I taxi’d to the runway departure end.  I am amazingly calm, that’s good.  No excitement stirring inside to distract.  I breathe a prayer and concentrate on the unicom traffic calls….A Cessna on final, one turning downwind.
“You just passed the hold line”, I recalled past mistakes, but not this time.  Holding short, I watch final.  What separation is required at an uncontrolled airport”?  We never discussed it.  Just use standard ATC separation for a controlled airport, I guess.  One Cessna lands, the second calls turning base, I taxi onto the runway and make my departure call:  “Cessna 9211 Uniform departing runway 18″.
“Stay on the runway center line, throttle in smoothly, hold right rudder, lift the nose wheel, the airplane will fly when it is ready”, my thoughts speak to me methodically.  The runway departs from under the main gear.  “Maintain 60 knots until reaching pattern altitude, turn crosswind about 1700 MSL and past the the end of the runway”.
“Nancy smooth out your control actions, not so abrupt, easy on the turns”, echoes from the past that had haunted me through sleepless nights.  “Concentrate”, I tell myself, “no time to get excited now, just fly the airplane”.
As I climbed crosswind, I indulged in the view for a moment.  I want to remember it all.  A perfect January day, no wind, clear Kansas winter skies, more beautiful than my imagination could reconstruct from my childhood.  A warm sun glow lingers as it threaten to end this moment, all too soon.
“Cessna 9211 Uniform turning a right downwind for a touch and go runway 18′.  Perfect.  Downwind at 2200 MSL level off and pull power back to 2500 RPMs.  Trim nose down.  “Don’t use the trim to fly the airplane”.  My instructor’s distinctive Oklahoma voice speaks in my head.
Abeam the numbers, carb heat on, power back to 1700 RPMs, adjust trim, maintain altitude and slow to 60 KIAS.  “Maintain altitude, Nancy, you’re loosing altitude….”.  Not this time, maintaining 2200 MSL.  Speed in the white arc, flaps 10 degrees, 45 degrees from runway end, turning base, flaps 20 degrees.  Evaluate, too high?  Too low?  Reaching 60 KIAS and descending while holding airspeed.  Looks good.
Jabara traffic, Cessna 9211 Uniform turning final, tough and go, runway  18, Jabara“.  “Damn, who turned off the VASI?”
On final, flaps 30 degrees, runway numbers above the nose, adjust power and line up on center line.  “Nancy, I want you to land with one wheel each side of the center line.  I know you can do it”.  “Sure”, I thought back, “I just want to land with some grace”, but now, I want to get it right.  Short final, flaps full in, over the numbers, begin transition and slowly pull the power off.  Raise the nose, raise the nose, raise the nose…touchdown?  I did it!
O.K., stay on center line….that’s one, just one more.  Flaps up, carb heat cold, trim take off, power in smoothly, hold right rudder, on the center line back pressure on the yoke to raise the nose wheel.  How was that one? Did I do it right?  How did it look from the ground?  Concentrate, Nancy, just fly the plane.
The little Cessna is climbing very well, it jumps off the ground with just me on board and cold the temperature.
One more time….on final, “Jabara traffic, Cessna 9211 Unirfom, full stop, runway 18“.  Where is the VASI?  What’s that code to turn it on?  Rats.  A bit high, pull back on the power.  Over the numbers, still high, oops  began the transition a bit soon.  Give back a little.
There, raise the nose, raise the nose, rats, still too soon, not as smooth as I would like, but not bad.  “As long as you land on the mains gear…keep the nose coming up.  You should not be able to see any of the runway as you touch down.  Just feel for the runway”.
Taxi back to the terminal.  “I did it!  I want to fly forever!  Do we have to stop now?”
My instructor walks back to the plane.  Routine for him, just one more student solo.  I want to squeal with excitement, get out and run around the airplane, cry out the the world:  I DID IT!  “aren’t you excited?” he asks.
Not a good idea to get too emotional while piloting an airplane”, is my response.  I don’t want to screw up now, so I hold all the elation, for later.
As we lift of Jarbara to return to Mid-Continent, I can’t stop smiling.  Do we have to stop now?  I want to fly for ever…..

Milestones Empower

I can recall that day like it was yesterday, even without the “journal” as recounted above. Remembering milestones is more than a nice thing to do, it fuels today and gives direction to tomorrow.  As years pass, we have a lot more milestones to remember,even celebrate, but rather than resting on what we have done, we can enjoy and draw energy for what is yet to be.
 A couple of days later, I hopped into my little Coupe and took off.  It felt really good to be in my own airplane, but I plan to do more “other airplane” flying.  It is good to stretch, to get outside one’s the comfort zone.  I still want to fly forever…..
What milestone can you recall today?  How will you let it move you forward this week?  Please comment below.  

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