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"Solo concludes reporter's aviation adventure"



Monday, January 27, 2003

Solo concludes reporter's aviation adventure
Editor's note: This is the last in our series on what it takes to learn to
fly. We hope you enjoyed the ride.
BY PHIL DIEHL
The North County (CA) Times


It's been a few days since my first solo flight, and the experience is still
sinking in.

I enjoyed it immensely. People had been telling me for weeks that I would,
and they were right.

My instructor Chris Smith and I flew from Carlsbad to the quiet airport at
Ramona for the solo, which is a milestone in anybody's aviation experience.
On the way we reviewed emergency procedures and I practiced a few more
touch-and-goes ---- the land-and-takeoff-without-stopping maneuver ----
before we taxied off the runway for a full stop.

Then Chris got out of the plane and gave me what he called "the spiel."

"There are a few things to remember," he said. "The plane is going to be
lighter. It's going to handle a little differently, but nothing major. Be
aware of other traffic. Watch your airspeed and never go below 60 (knots).
Watch your procedures.

"The best thing is to have fun. This is something you'll remember all your
life."

The sky was clear, the winds were calm. No other planes were flying. Six or
eight airport regulars chatted on the far side of the small airport's fuel
pumps, but they paid no attention to me.

I hopped back into the seat before I could get more nervous, started the
engine and taxied to the edge of the runway. Then I clicked on the
microphone in my headset and announced over the radio to any pilots nearby
that I was "taking the active runway." And I added that I was a student
about to begin my first solo.

Immediately out of the ether and somewhat to my surprise someone responded,
"Congratulations to the student pilot!"

"Thanks," I replied meekly as the plane started to roll down the runway.

With one less person aboard, the plane practically jumped into the air. And
to my further surprise, I heard inbound pilots announce their positions from
miles away and out of sight. That meant other aircraft soon would enter in
the traffic pattern.

Simply flying the plane and landing it alone qualifies as a solo, but we had
agreed I could do a little more. I would circle ---- though it's more like a
rectangle ---- in the pattern around the airport for three touch-and-goes,
and then make a full stop back near the gas pumps.

All seemed well as I left the runway behind. I turned the plane into the
cross wind and then the downwind leg of the traffic pattern. Then someone on
the radio announced a Cessna Citation, a private, twin-engine jet, was on
the final approach to land ahead of me.

No problem, I thought. We had plenty of room between us. But the jet slowed
more than I expected and soon it seemed too close. Then someone on the radio
warned me to watch for wake turbulence, something already on my mind, so I
quickly chose to stop descending and to go around for another shot at the
runway.

A wise decision, I knew immediately. I had lots of fuel, plenty of time and
I was enjoying every second of it. No need to get tossed around in a
$170,000 Cessna by the wake of a million-dollar business jet.

The jet did its own touch-and-go and gained a comfortable distance in the
traffic pattern. My second approach went well. The wheels hit the runway
just a tad hard, and the plane skipped like a stone across a pond for a
second or two. Then it smoothed out on the asphalt, so I gave it full power
and took to the air again. Not bad, I thought.

Twice more I went around for touch-and-goes. I can honestly say each one was
better than the last. My final landing was best of all. I "painted it" on
the runway, as Chris likes to say. It was a wonderful feeling.

Back at the gas pumps, Chris congratulated me and climbed back into the
cockpit .

To celebrate, he took the airplane's controls and demonstrated his "Blue
Angels" take-off. After leaving the ground, he flew the plane just above the
runway to the end of the asphalt, gathering speed all the way, and then
pulled back the yoke for a quick climb to altitude that pressed us deep into
our seats.

I flew the rest of the way back to Carlsbad, landed smoothly at McClellan
Palomar Airport, and taxied back to the hangar at Grey Eagle Flight Academy.

Flight school owner Mel Holmes surprised me with a bucket of water splashed
on the back of my neck as I locked up the plane. Then, as expected, Chris
cut a big square from the back of my shirt.

Both aviation traditions have uncertain origins. The shirt tail goes up on
the flight school wall with the date of my solo and a photo, along with the
fabric and photos from all the other solos at the flight school.

Thus ends my aviation adventure. I soloed after almost 20 hours of flight
time, about halfway to completing the requirements for a private pilot's
license. To continue would require more lessons, home study, night flights,
and a series of solo excursions to airports some distance away.

Much as I'd like to continue my training, the newspaper and I have neither
the time or the money. At least for now. But I learned a lot, and I have a
new respect for those who pursue aviation as either a vocation or an
avocation.

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