Sunday, February 20, 2011

2nd Solo .. on my own

I flew my second solo today... completely solo.. I have been waiting since Saturday for a chance to fly, but we've had one very rainy week. Today was the first day with no heavy rain and the clouds and winds where I could fly. Today was a complete solo instead of a supervised solo because I sorta kicked my CFI out of the cockpit earlier this week.

Typically a student does two (or more) supervised solos where the CFI flies with you for 3 trips around the pattern and then he/she gets out and the student pilot flies solo for however many times around the pattern he/she wants to do. Well, last Saturday was supposed to be my 2nd supervised solo, but I didn't let my CFI out. I kept going round and round trying to get better at what I was doing. And I didn't let him out when he offered. I was really upset after that. (See FISH! Fly On! for details.)

So earlier this week I asked if he absolutely HAD to fly with me next time... he said no, but he typically does to make sure "all is well" and "all wasn't well" Saturday. Well... thanks to talking to Chris, I knew what wasn't well! What wasn't well was me holding myself to impossible standards. So I told my CFI that and that unless he thought it wouldn't be safe, I wanted to just fly solo, without him. So, he said "go for it" :)

Then I had to wait and wait and wait for good weather. Finally the weather turned and today I woke up to a blue sky. YaY! I checked the weather, NOTAMS and TFRs, all clear. Then I drove down to the airport and got my plane ready to go. Its pretty cool, I've been flying from there long enough now that people there know me. So one of the other CFIs was getting a plane ready with his student and they said hi.. and the fuel truck guy (who refuels the plan) came over and topped off the tanks on my plane with a big smile. He asked if I had ground school today and I told him nope ... this time I'm totally solo. I said it was sorta weird. He gave me a high five and said, "hey, this is the way its supposed to be!"

I finished preflight, put the stool I have to use to reach the stall warning horn back by the building and went back into the club to use the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom I heard voices in the simulator room... no one should be in the simulator room. There are very few people who have keys to that room and one of them is my CFI, who never works Sundays. I look out the door as I went back to the plane and saw my CFI's car was out in the parking lot. He's here! It sounded like he was doing a ground school with a student.

It was so funny... my heart started racing and I quickly went outside. Oh shit, he's here. He wasn't supposed to be here. What if he sees me screw up? (Like he hadn't spent the last 6 months watching me screw up *laugh*). I told myself to chill but it was very very hard. Well, I figured if I screwed up he's hear about it anyway (one time Jeff screwed up after he got his PPL and our CFI heard about it through the control tower.. word gets around the airport that way). So, be calm, just do what I'm trained to do.

Check and make sure no one is coming in or out of the row my plane is in. Pull the plane out of its parking spot (a lot harder to pull a 1600 plus pound plane without help). Get in, go through the checklists. Still all kinds of nervous because my CFI was in the building behind me. Prestart, start... Prime, Master, "Clear!", Mags, the engine turns over but doesn't catch. Hmmm.. Mags again, engine turns over, almost catches but not quite. Mags and master off. I had left the plane's "bag" (which holds the POH, Pilot's Operating Handbook) on the right seat, figuring I would want that within easy reach if I needed it. Sure enough, I needed it. Take out the POH, flip to Normal Operations section, Engine Start. Says here no prime is required if the engine is warm. Someone flew the same plane just two hours ago. So I figured all I had to do was wait a bit and try again. Gave it another 30 seconds, Master On, Mags On... engine started up! Then I realized I didn't close my door all the way *sigh*. Fix that and continue on the checklist. Then I realized my nervousness about having my CFI there had completely gone away. I had a small challenge and handled it. And there's something very soothing and focusing that comes from going through those checklists.

Made it out to the run up without incident :) Heard on the ground channel we had another student pilot going out for his first solo today. That made me smile... that was me 10 days ago.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the flying itself. My plan was to work on the timing of my base turns and "squaring off" my turns from base to final. I did improve on both of those. In the end I did 0.8 hours on the Hobbs and did four circuits of the pattern. The first time around was a go-around. Then I did three take offs and landings. On my second circuit I caught myself not watching my airspeed carefully and let the plane get too slow on final. Much slower and it would have been dangerous. I immediately corrected and landed just fine, but that woke me up to remember the most important lesson my CFI has been trying to get into my thick skull. Airspeed is absolutely the most important thing when flying the pattern. A timely reminder and I was very very careful about airspeed after that. I should ALWAYS be very careful about airspeed.

By my fourth landing I was getting tired, I am learning how to trim the plane for the weight of just me in it... it is different from what I've become accustomed to after so many flights with my CFI in the right seat. Because I didn't trim right my left arm especially was tired. As I came in on final I was lined up OK, airspeed good, then as I did the round out and the plane was settling a "quartering tailwind" gust came up. The plane floated up again... I did what I was taught.. stared at the end of the runway and never stopped flying the plane, I landed. The tower cleared me to return to the runway on Yankee. I told them I was terminating - done for the day.

I taxied back to parking, shut down and put the plane away, checked in the plane and put away the keys and the bag. I stuck my head in the door as I went by where my CFI was holding court (I couldn't tell if he was teaching or chatting *grin*). What are you doing here? I asked... One of those rare Sundays he said. He asked me if all of the parts are still on the plane. I said, of course. Call me he says. (That's the debrief... after every solo flight I'm supposed to call and leave a voice mail with what I learned and did.)

So there you go... my 2nd solo, my first totally on my own. I'm pleased that the little (and potentially big) problems I had didn't throw me off too much. I feel like I really have soloed now. I've earned the right to have that shirt in the place of honor on the wall at the flight club. Now I feel like a Pilot In Command (said with capital letters in my CFI's voice).

I'm hoping to fly tomorrow, solo again. Tomorrow's focus, cultivating a fanatical obsession with airspeed. :) And if I can't fly tomorrow... that's OK. I'll schedule another day. Sometimes flying is just as much about not flying as it is about flying.

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