Continued from FIRST SOLO 10/26/2008
After my first solo, I seem to have taken quantum leaps towards my license. Three days later, I was soloing again at Albert Whitted (ATC), and what a beautiful experience that was! Sunny day, seaside airport, friendly tower controller—I had the best of times, and my take-offs and landings weren’t too shabby either according to Joe.
Next: Halloween 2008, night flight to Venice. I just had to come in a costume! Which I did, to Joe’s surprise, but I was a nice witch. Just missing a broom, so an aircraft had to do. We flew in a 172 this time, and once more, what a delight to be above it all… Lights everywhere, moon and first star of the night shining, the dark ocean. I asked Joe to test my composure when aiming away from the coast towards the watery horizon, and it’s true that one could easily get disoriented without the adequate instrument knowledge. Such pitch blackness, dangerous and intriguing at the same time.
We were soon back to land, and yet again, Joe had instructed me in all things necessary for a safe and enjoyable flight. I’d need those very soon since another three days later, I’d have a choice to make: Fly by myself with some turbulence and shifting winds at the maximum crosswind component limit of the Valor (8kt) or come back the next day at 6:30 a.m. to check the weather and try again. Humm… I don’t usually mind waking up early, but to go fly solo? Nah, I was ready for this flight so I picked the first option and got ready to take off towards Crystal River for my first solo cross-country ride.
I had already started preparing my flight plan the night before, thus after updating it with recent weather reports, I flew straight to Crystal River at 1,500 ft, with an average speed of 90 mph at 4,700 rpm. In time, I passed such visible checkpoints as Lake Tarpon, towers, highway 52, and so on; called in all the required radio transmissions; and entered the pattern dutifully, to land on Runway 9.
What surprised me the most upon landing was that not only had I flown that far by myself, but I was going to park the airplane and hop off it casually to go chat at the FBO! Technically, I was there to get a stamp on my logbook, but it turned out everyone was very welcoming and I was happily psyched up again for the return leg to Clearwater.
George at the Airpark (who kindly took my picture on solo day) had warned me about the flight being possibly “bumpy”, and indeed, I felt a few air pockets here and there. But as he’d added, nothing I couldn’t handle. Nonetheless, I had a grip of near-death and had to reassure myself every now and again that it was just a “light chop” to quote airline pilots.
The flight was really uneventful by their standards since I hadn’t run into any trouble, anything, or anybody. Still, to me it came close to proving what the old adage describes flying as–“long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror”. The GPS is a fantastic invention, but call me spoiled, I like an auto-pilot too. I could have used the latter to relax a bit. Anyway, back towards Clearwater, I once again followed all the training Joe had successfully given me, and even added a last detour over the coastline before landing on Runway 34.
Which brings us to today, 11/03/2008.
Only two days later this time, following an Albatross L-39 flight on Sunday during which I flew over Brooksville (Hernando County) with my fiancé Chip to get familiarized with my upcoming long cross-country ride. A bit of an extreme proposition, especially since he was practicing flame-outs, but I got to land the jet and barely missed a tortoise about to cross the runway. He warned me one has to be prepared for everything!
And I was this morning, when instead of flying to review maneuvers with Joe, we decided I could go ahead and push for the big one: Triangular solo cross-country to Ocala, Brooksville, and back. Winds OK, visibility fine, Joe even helped me polish my flight plan and fueled up the Valor himself so I could leave without delay.
I left all right, but was it ever choppy. No complaints about boredom this time, I was kept busy throughout each leg just adjusting course, speed, and altitude. Landing everywhere was not too bad (as I mentioned before, Joe had me practice landings in crosswinds quite often), but taking off from Ocala with reported winds gusting to 14 knots was not cute. Of course, after the initial embarrassment, I corrected and continued South daintily, like people who slip and catch their fall, pretending nothing ever happened…
Oh well, I’ll probably have a lot more of those “off” episodes here and there, but I embrace the humbling learning curve and do not strive to bypass the need for more practice or worse, safety, for the sake of being certified in record time. Both Joe and I have gotten to know my limits and how far or fast I can move along, and so far so good. We’ve worked together well as a team towards a common goal. Regardless of these good times, after I do obtain my license, I’ll have to continue working on my own for a while longer until I finesse every take-off and landing. And that is a process I am looking forward to, without any boredom or terror.
By Veronique B. Koken