The title says it all, doesn't it? This Sat. I went on the most amazing ride of my life.. I soloed :)
As one of the instructor at the flight school said, its just another milestone, but a milestone nonetheless....
I had been trying to solo for the last couple of flights but sometimes the weather was bad, at other times I was :( Anywho, this sat. I had my mind set on giving my best shot. So after a week of rains, this saturday it cleared up. The winds were light. I was out partying fri. night and so stayed in NJ overnight.
While waiting at the bus stop I ran through my previous flights and what I had done wrong and what I could have done differently. When I got to the flight school, the weather had got pretty nice, so I had my hopes up.
Preflight done, me and my instructor got out to the runway. Apparently there was a lot of traffic (saturdays sometimes get quite busy at the airport). And to top it all the winds were 110 @8 which meant that caldwell was using Runway 9. In my 5 months of training there, I have never seen runway 9 being used. So this was all different. Anyway, after waiting for 5-7 minutes at the holdshort line, we got cleared for takeoff left closed traffic.
I lined up, transponder, lights and off we go. The takeoff was good and I flew up at Vy. It was crazy up there. Everyone trying to get in the pattern or contact the tower. When we were downwind tower had to ask everyone to standby. This meant we had to extend our downwind. We almost went out over lake boonton, when tower called queued us in. I started planning for descent, but never having gone so far on downwind I didn't have a good idea of descent. So I put in my flaps a bit early and then had to add power to arrest the descent. Runway 9 has a tree right before the runway and the threshold doesn't seem displaced enough (or maybe I was just too high), but that does add to a level of uneasiness. Anywayz, I managed to do a decent landing. Off the runway, we taxi back to the hold short line. Again after some wait, we do a second and third pattern. Each time as I got more familiar with this setting I got more comfortable and had a better approach. It was almost 4 pm, the end of my slot. After getting off the runway, my instructor took over the flight controls.
I had a sunken feeling that I wasn't going to solo today. As we taxied back, my instructor started talking about what I should be doing when I get back out here. At first I was like "Yay!!" then "uh.. oh !!". Sheepishly I asked, "so does this mean I solo??". His reply, "Yea, sure :)"
So we came back to the ramp, he got out, endorsed my logbook and then with a few words of wisdom and the time by when I should be back, he left. I was nervous as hell, but then as I started going through the checklist, everything fell into place and I had the thought "Hey, I've done this before so many times, what's the worry". So I did the engine startup and started taxiing. I called up ground telling them it was my first solo flight. The ground controller told me that I had quite some work cut out for me as it was pretty busy up there and asked me to be careful. Remembering the crowded skies some time back, I responded with a slight laugh "roger". Turning onto the taxiway I saw another plane further down on the taxiway coming up. For a moment I wasn't sure what to do (another first and one of my mistakes for not seeing far enough down). Then I saw the space on the right between two hangars and taxiied to the right into the space. The other cessna, passed my left and I taxiied back onto the centerline.
After taxiing back to the hold short line and doing the engine run-up, I called up tower. This time around, traffic didn't seem that heavy and I was cleared right after two cessna's made their landings for the day.
Lined up with the runway centerline, I spoke those eternal words that probably every solo flight student utters: "This is it !! There is no turning back". transponder and landing lights on, full power, track the centerline, and off I go. A little right rudder and I am climbing at Vy. I have another guy turning crosswind. So I wait for him to turn downwind and clear my wing, after which I turn crosswind. I see myself coming up at 1000AGL. Which means time to pitch the nose down to maintain altitude and as speed comes up at 90-95 knots. Scanning for traffic, I turn downwind and trim the aircraft to maintain level flight. I call up the tower as soon as I get a chance, and he tells me there is a guy on downwind. I spot the traffic and say "traffic in sight", so he clears me "no 3 to land". I fly to my point, start configuring for landing. Looking over my left wing I see that I've passed the numbers... hmm.. next time I need to configure as I pass over the numbers. Anywayz, no problem, I'll just extend my downwind a bit. I turn base, once the aircraft I am following clears my left wing. ok.. onto base, approaching the turn to final, next set of flaps in, final approach clear and I turn final, rolling out almost on the centerline. ok, final flaps in. Now to start correcting for the wind. Keeping the runway ahed of me I crab so that I can maintain the ground track to the centerline. The descent rate looks good, the speed is also good. need to get it to 70 knots for the slight chops on short final. I pass over the tree and then slowly walk the power out as I pass over the numbers for runway 9. I fly the plane down to the runway, roundout and flare. This is the part where I need some work. I try to maintain the ceterline but am a little off. The touchdown is pretty nice. I didn't grease it but then I also didn't just thud and bump :)
Getting off the runway, I taxi back to the hold short line. As I am taxiing I can't stop grinning. I have finally done it. I have soloed :)
I looked at the right seat and for a moment it felt strange to find it empty. I knew that if my instructor had been with me, he would have been proud. Well, I couldn't wait to get up in the air again. Again the departure was quick and nice. As I turned downwind, tower asked me to do a right 360 for spacing. Ok, no problem. I've done that before. I did a nice 360 to the right and notice a mooney joining the downwind. The tower then called me up and said "As you might have seen, there's a mooney who passed under your left and would be at your 1 o clock as you roll out, follow him, number 2 to land". I acknowledged, rolled out back on the down-wind and spotted the mooney, well not exactly at my 1 o clock , but around 11-12 o clock. Anywayz, I configured the plane a little after passing the numbers and started setting up the descent. The descent was nice and I crossed the tree at a much better altitude. I walked the power out and tried to maintain the centerline. I levelled off above the runway and then started flaring. I guess I didn't apply enough correction to maintain the centerline and off the side of my eye I could see the runway edge approaching closer.
This doesn't look good !!! I immediately appllied right rudder and a little bit of right aileron. The plane still seemed to be floating left. I resisted the urge to tip the nose down and applied more right rudder. Then the plane settled down on the runway and I saw that I had landed way off the centerline almost at the edge of the runway. Not good at all. I cursed myself all I could, but then was glad, I had seen and corrected it in time, not to land on the grass.
By then it was getting dark and my instructor had called up the tower to let me know that it was time to get back, although it was before the time he had mentioned. The following were the tower's words, verbatim... "3CL, your base has said this is the last one which sounded like to me you knew, cross rwy 22, turn right at papa and contact ground point niner, and dont know what's its worth, you did a really nice job today sir, it looked good from up here.."
That felt good and I wondered if they had seen my horrible second landing. Anywayz, it was getting hazy and dark and it definitely was a wise choice to head back. I taxiied back to the ramp and did the engine shutdown checklist. The fueller helped me tow back the plane and then he got busy fuelling the plane. With the plane secured I walked back to the school. I was felling happy and sad at the same time, but I couldn't stop grinning... :D
The first big milestone had been achieved. 5 months of training had paid off and I was back a more confident pilot. As I had read on some other student pilots blog, I did the checklist... 2 feet, check, 2 arms check, 1 secured airplane, check and 1 insanely crazy head.. checked.. :)
Now its time for stage checks and cross country and as my instructor says, its all downhill from here. Let's hope its that way ....... can't wait to get to the fun stuff.. now :)