Solo Flight

Digging though a zipped archive this week, I came across all of my notes and documents from back when I was taking flying lessons between September 1999 and April 2000. Turns out, I’d written about some of my flights after I made them, and I came across what I’d written about my first solo flight. I thought I’d share it here. I flew out of Van Nuys airport, north of Los Angeles, California. Keep in mind that when I wrote this, it was just after my solo flight in September 1999. I was 27 years old.


I flew solo today!

At first, it seemed like it wouldn’t happen.  The weather was great this morning, but a topical storm of the Mexican coast sent thunderstorms our way and by noon, those storms were passing through Southern California.  In fact, Pete and another student were stuck at Santa Paula airport until the rain passed, which delayed our lesson by nearly two hours.  (Pete had called me earlier in the day to see if we could reschedule to 2 PM).

But, by 3:30 PM, things had gotten better.  The cell had passed, it hadn’t really rained at Van Nuys, the winds were fairly calm and the ceiling was high.  So we taxied out to runway 16R for a takeoff.  Our first touch and go together was with a tailwind on 16L.  We were told by the tower that they would be switching runway directions after our touch and go.  The tailwind had the effect of making our landing roll long, which is a little nerve-racking on the short runway.  After the takeoff, we headed south, turned left crosswind, and then the tower told us to continue the left turn until we were on base leg for 34R.  I did so, and we did another touch and go, this time to the north.

On the downwind, Pete quizzed me on emergency procedures if there was an engine fire.  He then simulated an engine failure and had me glide the plane in.  My glide would have been too short for 34R, but the tower switched us to 34L and I was able to make the runway, although Pete teased me about it somewhat.  We did a full stop and taxi back, taxied to 34R and did another takeoff.  This time, Pete showed me how to do a soft-field takeoff, which is where you try and get the plane off the ground as quickly as possible and use ground effect to build speed.  We made another approach and Pete simulated an engine failure again.  This time I turned right away.  Pete said he liked that much better.  In fact, I was high and had to slip the plane a bit in order to get it down to the runway.  This was a full stop as well and this time, we taxied off the runway to the “CFI” benches along taxiway echo.  Pete called the tower and told them that this was going to be my first solo.  He then got out and took my logbook and wished me good luck.

This was it.

I called the tower for taxi, and they gave me my choice of runways.  I asked for 34L, but I meant 34R and that is where I taxied to.  I called for takeoff clearance and the controller was friendly enough, “Uh, 573, that’s 34R that your are at.”

“That’s what I meant,” I said, “Sorry.”

“Okay, 573, cleared for takeoff on runway 34 right.”

“34 right, 573.”  I said.  I was going through checklists in my head and started saying them out loud.  I checked that the mixture was rich, flaps up and carb heat was off.  I checked my seat belt, and shoulder harness, took a deep breath, and throttled up to taxi onto the runway.  I lined up with the centerline as best as I could, took another deep breath, and said, “Here we go.”  Then I smoothly applied full power.  I was nervous at this point.  My heart was pounding and I had a little trouble keeping it right on the center line, but I was close enough.  I was still talking out loud, just to make sure I was checking everything.  “Cengine ages green,” I said.  I meant “engine gauges green”.  I was really nervous.  “Airspeed is alive.”  At 50 knots I pulled back on the yoke and added a bit of right rudder–

And I was airborne.  “Whoo-hooo!” I said.  I had a big grin at this point, but I was still concentrating and still a little nervous (although less than a few seconds before).  I didn’t really have much time to think about the event, I just focused on the tasks at hand.  I climbed out at about 65 knots, and turned right crosswind just south of the VA hospital.  It had gotten a little bit bumpier out–or maybe it was just my imagination.  As I crossed over the 405, I turned downwind and leveled off at 1800 feet.  I kept scanning the instruments, as well as keeping the airport and tower well in sight.  As I came abeam the tower I said, “573 downwind abeam, for full stop and taxi-back.”

“573 runway 34 left–that’s the big runway–34 left, clear to land.”

“Okay, clear-to-land, 34 left, 573.”

Abeam the touchdown point, I pulled the carb heat, and powered back to 1700 RPM, I held the nose up and trimmed the airplane and as the speed came below 85 knots, I added 10-degrees of flaps.

I turned base at Victory Blvd. and then turned final.  I added 10 more degrees of flaps and kept repeating over and over as I lined up with the runway, “Keep the nose down, keep the speed at 60 knots.”  I pitched for 60 knots and retrimmed, set full flaps and said, “Okay, seatbelts and shoulder harnesses are on, mixture is rich, carb heat is on and fuel is on.”  (That was the pre-landing checklist.)  When I knew I had the runway made, I idled the throttle.  I kept the nose down and passed over the numbers.  Then, keeping the winds level, I gradually started to bring the nose up, slowly, slowly, making minor pitch adjustment–now back, back–and touchdown!  I held the nose off until it dropped down on the centerline.  I did it!

“573, you can takeoff again, or taxi back around, it’s your option.”

“I need to taxi past the CFI benches.”

“Okay, make a right turn at the next taxiway, and then a left turn and stay on this frequency.”

“573,” I said.  I followed the instructions and I a made my left turn, the tower said, “Did you hear your instructor, 573?”

“Negative,” I said.

“He said you can go around again if you want to.”

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Okay, then 573, cleared for takeoff on runway 34R, that’s the next left taxiway.”

“Cleared for 34 right, 573.”  I pulled the plane onto the runway 34 right, took a deep breath, and throttled up.  I went around again and this time, the details are just about completely obscured.  I know that I was thinking I had to do at least 3 takeoffs and landings to make this an official solo.  I was also watching for traffic.  I got 34L again for the second landing and that was just as good as the first.  This time, I requested a taxi to the CFI benches and actually taxied there.  I had done 2 takeoffs and landings so far, and I wanted to see how Pete felt.  I pulled the plane next to the benches and Pete came up.  He asked how I was feeling, said I was doing a good job and said that I didn’t have to taxi back each time any more.  I asked if I could do touch and go’s and he said okay, as long as it was on the big runway.

I called the tower to taxi back to 34L.  As I pulled up the tower said, “573 you are cleared for takeoff on 34 left if you are ready, if not, don’t worry, there is a cessna on final.”

“I need a second,” I said.  I held short of the runway, and went through my checklists again.  Flaps up, carb heat off, mixture rich, etc.  Then I said, “573 ready for takeoff.”

“573, hold short of 34L for the Cessna on short final.”

“Holding short, 573.”  I tried to look for the Cessna but the angle was no good and my wing was blocking final approach.  After about a minute (at least, it seemed that long, I saw the plane cross the threshold.  He touched down, rolled and then took off again.  Once he was off the ground, the tower said, “573 cleared for takeoff runway 34 left, follow the Cessna head on the upwind.”

“Cleared for takeoff on 34 left, 573.”  Off I went again.  I kept my eye on the Cessna in front of me on the climb out.  When he turned on his downwind, I started the turn on base.  Once I was on downwind and level, I grew a little nervous because it started to drizzle.  We hadn’t talked much about flying in the rain, and I thought I might make this my last approach.  However, I had lost count at this point, and wasn’t sure how many I had done.  The rain had stopped as quickly as it started so I continued.  There was a lot of chatter at this point on the frequency.  There was a jet arriving for 34R and I knew that would complicate things somewhat.  It wasn’t until I was abeam touchdown, that I could finally break in with, “573 downwind abeam for touch and go.”  I had already pulled the carb heat and powered back to 1700 RPM.

“573, uh, continue downwind for now, expect me to call your base around the Ventura freeway.”

“Continue downwind, 573.”  This didn’t make me as nervous as I thought it might.  Immediately I added some power so as not to lose any more altitude.  The Ventura freeway approached more quickly than I expect, but just as it did, tower said, “573, you can turn base now.”


I did a total of 5 solo takeoffs and landings that day. Afterward, as is traditional, we tore up my shirt tail, and decorated it.

Solo Flight