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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My first solo flight

Here's a little story:

Many years ago,  I learned to fly an airplane. I learned in a Cessna 150 (N-11959 was its tail number - guess what? I just looked it up and it is still in service: My training plane).

This little story is about my first solo flight.  By the way, I never got my license, but did use my student pilot license to get into more than one nightclub (although, both me not getting my license and the use of my student license are different stories).

My instructors name was Brad, and we flew out of tiny little Hardwick Field (KHDI). Brad was a pretty big fellow - over two hundred pounds, and I was a scrawny kid of about 145 - yeah, I know, things change. His weight becomes significant a little later. Brad was pretty funny. He would sometimes pretend to be asleep while I was flying, I guess trying to see how I would react? Or maybe he was asleep, I dunno.

Moving along to the day that I was to solo. My parents were there - my sister and brother were there, and I believe that a couple of my buddies were there also. The plan was pretty simple.  I would take off, hang a left, hang another left (these are technical pilot terms, by the way), fly parallel to the runway (at 1,700 feet above sea level, or about 900 feet in the air) until past it, hang a third left, then a fourth, which would line me up on my final approach, and land.

Here is where Brad's weight comes into play:  The Cessna 150 is a very small, light airplane:

Brad and my plane

So, I took off, made my first left, and as I made my second turn - the one that turns me parallel to the runway - I noticed that my altitude was a little bit high. By the time I was about halfway past the runway, I was 400 feet too high. The plane wasn't responding the way I was used to! I made my third turn, but wasn't having much luck getting the plane any lower. It finally dawned on me that the lack of Brad's weight was having a significant effect on the plane's altitude.

I made my fourth turn and was on final approach, still a couple of hundred feet too high, I was systematically cutting the throttle, lowering flaps, 10 degrees, 20, then 30, descending more rapidly, and at a steeper angle than I should have, I guess.  I say that because as I passed over the beginning of the very short runway, struggling to get the plane down before I ran out of room, I noticed my family and friends standing (with horrified looks on their faces) behind Brad who was frantically waving his arms, trying to tell me to abort the landing and go around again.

Well, heck, I didn't.  I did manage to land fairly smoothly, did a couple of touch and go's (where you touch down, then immediately take off again), and then finally parked the plane to the awaiting glory that was my first successful solo flight.  What I got, however, was a stern lecture from Brad.

I imagine the landing probably looked like this:

The tradition after a person has his or her first solo, is to have their shirt tail cut off - at KHDI, the shirt tail would be displayed on the airport's bulletin board for a time. Mine was so completely soaked with sweat, that I think it was a pretty gross job.  I still have the rest of my shirt though.

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