Last Saturday, 16th December 2017, I flew an aircraft solo for the first time — that is to say with no-one else in the plane! It was simultaneously the most terrifying and exciting thing I’ve ever done.
After having flown about 50 minutes worth of circuits at Cambridge with instructor Nick Camu we set ourselves down and I ran through the after landing checklist. Nick then asked if my medical was valid, which it was, and if I had completed the necessary examinations, which I had. He then told me I was going back out again on my own!
We taxied to an area where it would be safe for my instructor to jump out and he shook my hand and wished me good luck — I was on my own.
The first thing I had to do was check the ATIS in order to set my altimeter correctly and be aware of any change in the weather.
Despite having said the aircrafts call sign — Golf Bravo Foxtrot Whiskey Bravo — dozens of times in radio calls to air traffic control over the previous 50 minutes I managed to totally forget my phonetic alphabet when speaking to Cambridge Tower to let them know I had the updated weather information and provide them with my intentions. Unfortunately, unlike the US, the Very High Frequency aviation radio channels are considered private and are not published online — so you cant enjoy listening to me tongue twistering myself.
Once I’d composed myself and had the required conversation with tower I taxied to the engine run up area and ran though all the pre-flight checklists. The aircraft performed as expected and having positioned myself at the alpha hold shot line I informed ATC I was ready for departure — at this point I could feel my heart beating like it intended to leap forth out of my chest. The adrenalin hit very hard. Cambridge Tower told me to line up on the runway and wait.
Having lined the Piper Warrior up on the white centreline of runway 23 ATC told me I was cleared for take-off. I replied “Cleared for take-off, wish me luck. Golf-Bravo Foxtrot Whiskey Bravo”. The lady who often controls at Cambridge Tower simply replied “You don’t need it”. This settled me down a little.
Normally rotation, the act of pulling back on the column and taking the aircraft into the air, occurs at 65 knots. At around 60 knots I did question why I was doing this mad thing. However, come 65 knots I went back into flying mode and did as I had been taught over the previous few months by the excellent instructors at the Mid Anglia School of Flying.
The single circuit I did was actually fairly standard. The aircraft felt a little lighter and more eager to get off the ground, it also had a higher rate of climb at 80 knots than it normally would with a second body in the plane.
I had the classic “oh my god I’m on my own” moment on the climb out portion of the circuit, as I looked right over Cambridge City Centre and there was no one in the seat next to me.
On final I was mainly concerned with staying on the 3° glide slope indicated by the precision approach path indicator and just staying safe. I wasn’t as worried about “greasing” the landing as I normally would be. This obviously worked because the landing was really smooth, and I was complimented on it by pilots in the school clubhouse when I got back.
As I backtracked to vacate the runway ATC told me “well done” which was nice — when you do something as far outside your normal day-to-day life as flying an aircraft its nice to have that kind of confidence boost.
Once I’d got back to the General Aviation Parking and shut the aircraft down Nick came back over and shook my hand. I’d finally done it! After many hours work with Nick and the other instructors at MASF I’d flown a plane on my own — I extend my thanks to all of them for such a great experience.
The next phase of my flight training will be to conduct 3 hours of solo circuits including not only full-stop landings but touch-and-gos and go-arounds — as I have been doing so far with instructors. After that I’ll move on to the navigation portion of the training, in which I’ll learn to get from one airport to another using strategies like dead reckoning.
I’ll keep the blog up to date with my progress.