|Total to date||19.14||0.20||0.70|
My first solo finally happened today!
It absolutely poured rain this weekend, and to cap it all off, I contracted a stomach bug on Sunday which put me out of action. I pulled the pin on my 2 planned lessons yesterday, as I was still feeling crook and the weather yesterday anyway still being pretty dodgy. (The south coast of NSW has got an absolute drenching and floods in the last few days – it’s clearly been a pretty big trough system). So when I woke up this morning I was very mindful of being “behind” by 2 more lessons. OK, you can’t do anything about the weather. But it was still a lost day.
This morning didn’t look great either, early on there was fog down to 500 feet which would definitely have kiboshed any flying. However the TAF (Terminal Air Forecast) for Bankstown for today forecast some clearing, and I figured that you need to be out at the aerodrome to capitalise on breaks in the weather. (And after all, forecasts are only forecasts). So after dropping the kids off I hared out to Schofields noting some clearing cloud along the way.
Getting here about 0915 and meeting the Grade 1 instructor with whom I’d been slated to fly today, we checked the ATIS and called the tower, as conditions were still marginal but appeared to be clearing. Tower said that we should be right to fly in about half an hour. My instructor (Ashley) reckoned we’d be right to get the pre-solo checkride done, so I preflighted the aeroplane, which today is UFY (Uniform Foxtrot Yankee), possibly the club’s oldest Piper Warrior.
Pre-Flight and Fuelling
I called Shell to get some AVGAS in UFY’s tanks. Chris at Shell asked me to taxi the aircraft to the edge of the tarmac and he’d meet me there with the truck. (Apparently due the heavy rain there’s a NOTAM – Notice to Air Men – requiring vehicles to stay clear of the grassy areas of the aerodrome to avoid churning up the ground and making mud). I advised Ashley of this, and to my surprise, he asked me to start up the aircraft and taxi it over to the clubhouse. (Up until today I’ve not been allowed to start or taxi the aircraft unsupervised, so this was a first.)
I ran through the pre-flight checks, primed the engine and attempted to start it, but repeated attempts were to no avail. Not wanting to flood the engine or do something stupid, I advised Ashley, who jumped in the aircraft with me and advised me to pump the throttle twice. Which I did, and then I got a start! So a small trick picked up there that may come in handy. Taxi over to the apron in front of the hangar next to Schoies, shut down the engine, then follow Ashley’s directions on left and right rudder as he turns the aircraft around to a suitable position for fuelling.
With clearance to start up, we taxied out to 29 left and on the way Ashley talked me through the plan. He hadn’t flown with any of my usual instructor’s (John) students before so his preference was to sit back, let me do a couple of circuits and only speak or intervene if I was doing anything that was unsafe or dangerous. He was at pains to emphasise that this wasn’t to make me nervous – which I appreciated.
So, taxi via Kilo, Lima and November to run-up bay for 29L, then into the bay for our run-up checks. Run-up and pre-takeoff checks complete, I ran through my now-learned safety briefing – which Ashley seemed content with. Then clearance to taxi to the holding point S4 short of the runway, switch to tower frequency and make the call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for circuits on two nine left”. After a brief hold, we were given takeoff clearance and off we went.
Running through the circuit routine, everything went pretty smoothly. I was a little more apprehensive than usual, due to new instructor I guess. After two circuits, landings for both of which were quite good, Ashley commented as such and joked, “Wait till you see what I’ve got in store for you!” Nothing, he added, that I shouldn’t already be ready for, but it was a somehow welcome effort to lighten things up. Ashley did add, though, that my approaches had seemed a little low, and asked what I was aiming for. The runway numbers, I replied. Ash’s suggestion was perhaps to aim for a mark or two above the numbers, seeing as I had plenty of runway and to try to make sure my approaches weren’t too shallow. So I tried this on the next few landings, with good results.
Then Ashley put me though my paces! Over the next 3 circuits we did:
- Simulated engine failure after takeoff (handled well)
- Go-around (handled well)
- Simulated engine failure on downwind (handled OK. This was a glide approach to the runway and I should have got full flaps out earlier than I did. Landing was fast and bouncy. Ashley’s assessment was that I would have been able to stop the aircraft by the end of the runway, but that the glide approach was safe enough and that given my proximity to the runway I could have used full flaps much earlier than I did. It was a really good bit of feedback!)
In an emergency situation necessitating a glide approach to the runway (or other suitable landing area), if you’re confident you’ll make the runway, use your flaps early. It will make your approach and landing slower, easier and safer!
After 2 more circuits – one very good, one good except for wobbly landing roll – Ashley judged that I was ready to go. So we came to a full stop on 29L, then taxied back to the run-up bay. Ashley hopped out and asked me to pick him up at that spot after one circuit. He closed the door and walked away.
Wow! I was immediately hit by a feeling of space in UFY’s cabin. No instructor sitting beside me, no-one to have to squeeze my arm and hand past to get my right hand down to the trim wheel between the seats. Funnily enough things also seemed really quiet, too.
“Bankstown Ground, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for first solo in run-up bay for two nine right.”
And acknowledging Ground’s directions, “Taxi to holding point Sierra four for two nine right, Uniform Foxtrot Yankee.”
Reaching the holding point, I switch to tower and make my call. “Bankstown Tower, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, ready for first solo circuit on two nine right”. Takeoff clearance received, I lined up and opened the throttle.
Made my rolling checks as I was under way – engine revs max and stable, T&P’s (temperatures and pressures) good, ASI (Airspeed Indicator) live. Hitting 55 KIAS (knots indicated airspeed), I eased back on the control column and up we go, climbing out much fast than usual with only one passenger on board (me!) at a best-rate-of-climb speed of around 75 or 76 KIAS. 300 feet and I check engine RPM, T&P’s, carby heat cold, fuel pump on, alignment with runway. 400 feet I start clearing my turn (right-centre-left) and picking a reference point 90 degree to my left, then at 500 feet into a 15-degree banked turn to the left, keeping an eye on my airspeed.
Looking out my window down at the airfield I’m picking when I’m 45 degrees to the runway, then at about 800 feet I roll into my downwind turn, radioing tower as I do so, “Uniform Foxtrot Yankee, turning downwind, full stop”. Tower advises me to follow traffic (was it a Cessna?) on late downwind, I can’t see it yet so I acknowledge, “Number 2 in circuit, looking for traffic, Uniform Foxtrot Yankee”. Settling down at 1000 feet (fighting off my tendency to gain height in early downwind), I throttle back to 2350 RPMs and start to run through my pre-landing checks, cruising at about 95 KIAS. Brake pressure – good. Undercarriage – fixed to aircraft. Then I sight the plane in front of me so I radio tower, “Traffic sighted Uniform Foxtrot Yankee”. Then the rest of my checks – Mixture, full rich. Fuel Pump – on. Instruments – T&P’s good. Switches (that’s magneto switches) to Both, Hatches and harnesses secure.
Level with the threshold of 29L I throttle back to 2000 RPM and put out 2 stages of flaps, quickly bringing UFY back to about 70 KIAS. Checking again for 45 degree alignment with the runway, I put my carby heat on, throttle back to 1500 RPM, lower my nose and turn left onto base. The aircraft ahead of me has just landed. I fly my base leg, making sure my IAS stays at 70, also that I’m losing height as I go, using combinations of pitch and throttle. At 550 feet I turn left onto final, trying to wake my feet up and conscious of my airspeed.
300 feet and I flip the carby heat to off, adding just a little throttle as my airspeed was creeping a touch below 70 KIAS. Then lower the nose and pull the throttle back to nearly closed. Using my feet as I’m getting blown off runway centre line just a little bit, then I’m just over the threshold, throttle back to full idle and eyes on the end of the runway to judge my landing flare. Bringing out down, I didn’t achieve quite the “chirp” sound of the tyres I was looking for, landed just a bit too hard for that, then I’m on the ground and on my landing roll-out. I manage to make this one a good one, braking smoothly and only remembering belatedly to pull back on my control column.
Turning left off the runway, I radio ground that I’m taxiing back to the run-up bay to pick up my instructor. As I taxi it hits me that I’ve just flown an aircraft, alone, for the first time in my life! A life-long ambition realised and the excitement hits me. I whoop like an idiot into my microphone, glad that I’ve done it and glad that I had my thumb off my radio switch so no-one else had to put up with hearing me.
I enter the run-up bay and pick up Ashley, who grins at me, shakes hands and says “Congratulations!” I then make my last call for the lesson. “Bankstown Ground, Warrior Uniform Foxtrot Yankee in run-up bay for two nine left for Schofields, request taxi clearance”. Ground clears me to taxi back to parking via Lima, and adds a welcome note of congratulations on my first solo, which I acknowledge warmly. A long taxi back to Schofields, a quick shutdown, and I’m done.
So. Everyone always raves about the day they did their first solo. I can now proudly join their ranks. Awesome. Between my memory, and this written account, I’m sure it will stay with me for many years.