First Solo Flight

05:45 – My superphone starts emitting a strumming sound – the same strumming sound that wakes me up every time I set an alarm.  As I look at the superphone, the brightness of the screen makes me want to close my eyes and slip back into a slumber.  Somehow I forced myself out of bed, grabbed a towel and headed down the corridor to the showers.

06:30 – I make it to the briefing room to meet with my instructor and flying buddies to get all the paperwork up to date.  Logbooks needed signing, endorsements and medicals/student pilot certificates along with some company paperwork too.  We had originally planned one hour for all this but instead it took two.

08:00 – This was the original takeoff time for my pre-solo flight.  The paperwork was still under way at this point so I headed down to the plane to do the pre flight checks.  It’s always a good idea to check if you have fuel first so you can let someone know that you need it and get it pretty quick.  If you wait until the end of your checks and then discover you don’t have any fuel, you end up using more time.  I peeped into the tanks and there was way less than I needed.  I waved over to the fuel trucks but no-one saw me.  I felt pretty strange just waving over there and not being seen so I carried on with my checks.  Checks complete minus fuel and still no instructor, I decide to walk over to the fuelers and ask for some of that fuel stuff.  In no time at all, I’m fueled up and ready to go.  Simple.

My instructor arrives from the briefing and we jump in the wee Warrior and away we go.  There was a light wind and the sky was the most overcast I’ve seen since leaving England.  These conditions made it so smooth up there, it was amazing.  You’re usually having to fight with updraughts and downdraughts created by the usually hot surfaces but the clouds blocked the sun which stopped them warming up.  There was the ever so slight crosswind to contend with on landing but nothing strong enough to create a problem.  It made it a challenge enough to learn from it but it wasn’t so strong that I couldn’t go solo.

The first two landings went very well.  One was a little off the centreline and the other was a little flat but both perfectly safe with stable approaches.  While we were climbing out after the second landing, tower changed us from flying the left hand pattern to the right hand pattern.  This caught me by surprise a little but all was well.  A Cessna turned early and cut in front of us but was never a safety factor.  Our downwind leg was extended aswell and then tower called up and asked us to do a full stop landing and taxi back to the runway.  They do this when the traffic pattern gets really busy, it helps lower the work load.  Once we landed and were clear of the runway I was about to line up on the taxiway to head towards the end of the runway and my instructor said ‘Hold on a minute…’

I thought, ‘oh no!  What have I missed!?’ but I wasn’t missing anything.  It turns out that he was happy enough with the last three landings to let me go solo.  He gave me the option of either going back to the beginning of the runway and doing a couple more landings or going back to parking and having him jump out and me go solo.  I thought about it for a moment and agreed that the landings I’d done today were perfectly safe.  I decided I was as ready as I would be even if I did two more landings so off we went down the Alpha taxiway (after getting clearance of course!) back to parking.  My instructor gave me some final words and reminded me to say ‘student pilot first solo’ on my initial radio calls to ground and tower and then off he went.  For the first time ever I was sitting in a plane with the engine running by myself.

There I was, minutes away from something I’ve been waiting for for years.  Something I’ve been nervous about for a long time.  Among the excitement there was always a pang of nerves.  Taking an aircraft into the sky by yourself really is no small thing and I could never imagine doing it by myself.  I’d heard how a couple of people in the past (how far back I don’t know) were so afraid of going solo that they just couldn’t do it.  I thought ‘what if I’m on of those!?’  I snapped out of it though.  My instructor was past the tip of the wing and so I returned the engine to 1200rpm.  I was committed to going solo, no time for fear or worries.  I really wanted to enjoy this unique experience while still getting it right.

After making sure my radios were set correctly I released the parking brake and upped the throttle to start the taxi.  Once I got to the run up area I did my before takeoff checklist.  Next I called up ground and requested taxi to the active runway and was told to taxi via A1, A and hold short of A3.  Once I got to A3 I didn’t have long to wait before I was given clearance to continue along A down to A8.

09:40 – The radio in the control tower bursts into life as I hit my transmit button in my wee Warrior.  ‘Goodyear Tower, Warrior 833TB is holding short of runway three at Alpha 8, request closed traffic with a full stop landing.  Student pilot, initial solo.’  Tower gets back to me a moment later and instructs me to hold short of the runway.  You can listen to the rest of my comms with the tower below, be ready to laugh!  I still have some work to do on the radios!


Thanks to liveatc.net for the audio!

Once I’m cleared onto the runway I do my cleared onto the runway checks and await clearance to take off.  The tower has to wait until the plane that just landed in front of me is clear of the runway beyond the hold short line before he can give clearance.  Once I’m cleared to takeoff I push the throttle all the way forwards, apply some right rudder and watch the speed build to 65kts.  At 65kts I pull back ever so slightly and the plane jumps off the runway into the air.  It accelerates and climbs so much faster with only one person on board.  I get to the traffic pattern altitude in no time, almost before I get to the end of the runway.  I had to glance round the plane just to make sure I was the only one on board to make sure I was really solo!

The air was still glossy smooth making the flight very enjoyable.  On the downwind leg tower called me up to inform me which number I was in the traffic pattern.  I called him back and said ‘number three cleared to land’.  Oops!  I cleared myself to land!  You can’t do that – and tower confirmed that by reminding me that I wasn’t actually cleared to land.  Then I got all flustered on my next radio call and made some really nondescript noise instead of words but after that everything was just fine.  When I lined up for the approach I couldn’t believe that my first solo experience was almost over.  I know a circuit is short but it seemed like seconds.  The approach was stable and so I continued towards the runway.  The touchdown was excellent, I was more than happy with it.  Very comfortable.

All the way back to parking I had a huge grin on my face – despite attempting to clear myself to land.  I was almost in disbelief at what I had just done.  I am very much looking forward to going solo again.

There’s one more thing though…after solo there is something that every Oxford Aviation Academy student has to go through (and it’s not paperwork).  I don’t know how other flight schools do it…but this is what happens here:

Circuits – AP12 & 13

Staying in the pattern (flying circuits) is the best way to practice landings because you get a landing in every five minutes or so.  The video above shows one of those circuits.  It’s not me flying but it shows what I was doing moments earlier.

 

The basic left-hand traffic pattern.

The basic left-hand traffic pattern.

The traffic pattern is pretty simple.  It can either be left-hand or right-hand.  Sometimes both circuits run at the same time depending on how ATC are running things.  A normal circuit only takes about five minutes so you can get plenty of landing practice in a single lesson.  The pattern here at Goodyear is flown at 2000 feet above mean sea level.  On the ground you are already 968 feet above mean sea level so the pattern is 1000 feet above ground level.  You fly the upwind to 500ft and then turn crosswind, still climbing.  Upon reaching 2000ft level off and if you haven’t already, turn for the downwind leg.  The downwind leg is flown about one mile away from the runway.

When the touchdown point on the runway is about 45 degrees behind your wing, that is a good time to turn onto your base leg.  When turning base reduce power and set flaps to 25 degrees to assist with altitude loss and slowing down.  Turn onto final and set flaps to 40 degrees – maintain 70kts until over the runway.  When over the runway, reduce power to idle as appropriate and raise the nose (flare) for touchdown.  As you probably heard on the radio there was a quick chirp from the stall warner just before touchdown.  That’s pretty much how you want it to be.  You don’t want to stall any higher than just above touch down!

This is the view of the runway on the base leg.

This is the view of the runway on the base leg.

Turning onto final.

Turning onto final.

If you look at the full size version of the ‘final’ picture (by clicking on it) you will see the PAPIs (Precision Approach Path Indicators) on the left hand side of the runway.  These help in setting up the correct descent rate when approaching the runway.  What you want to see is white on the outside and red on the inside.  That shows you’re on the correct glide path.  Two whites tell you that you’re too high and two reds tell you that you’re too low.

Climb, Descent and Medium Turns – With Radio Calls! (AP4)

My flight on Thursday was history in the making – it was the first time I was let loose on the radios to air traffic control.  It was a good flight and when my instructor said ‘right, time to go back’ I couldn’t believe it.  The lessons always go so quick.  We covered climbs, power-off descents and medium turns (up to 30 degrees of bank).  I was looking forward to having a go at landing but we were short of time and the sun was getting low in the sky – and directly lined up with the runway we would be approaching which would make it difficult for anyone to land, never mind a first timer!

I downloaded and  compiled my radio calls to the tower from liveatc.net so everyone can have a good laugh.  You can tell from the calls that I am an absolute beginner.  That’s okay though, the tower controllers were patient and helpful.  Have a listen!  One of my friends was on the tower frequency at the time and had a good laugh at my ‘arrival’ call.

Everything up to that point was okay, a little hesitation here and there but nothing too bad.  Listen out for Warrior 271SG, that’s me!  I’m pretty inconsistent with my call sign, I sometimes miss bits off or give more than the tower was looking for.  Once they have addressed me as Warrior 1SG I can use that but I forgot!  Once I have my hold short instructions from the tower you can hear Airship Snoopy Two call up.  I had to leave that in there because if I had to pick any voice for an airship pilot – that one would be it!

Straight after that you can hear me call up the tower to state my position and tell them I want to land.  It wasn’t really that quick, I just cut out the bits inbetween.  Instead of saying ‘…two miles south of the gap with information sierra inbound for full stop’ which means I want to land I said: ‘…two miles south of the gap fooooooooor…arrival?’  Ha!  It sounds as if I was asking the tower what I wanted.  After that things start getting a little busy so my instructor takes over.  There are two aircraft in front off us to land so we have to listen and look out for where they are.

My radio calls on friday were a lot better from what I could tell, I’ll post them when I get them put together.  I’ve just discovered a problem with my keyboard – sometimes it prints the letter I have pressed twice and sometimes not at all.  That needs fixing quick and I have no idea where to start.

Thanks to liveatc.net for the recording.

Effects of Controls & Straight and Level

Me with the wee Warrior.

Me with the wee Warrior.

My next two lessons (AP2&AP3) covered effects of controls and straight and level as the title of this post suggests.  I was a little nervous about the second flight because of the nausea thing but it wasn’t an issue.  Both lessons were very smooth because they were the first of the day.  A favourite part of both of these lessons was taking off.  Even though the wee warrior doesn’t have the same acceleration as a passenger jet it is still really satisfying to push the throttle forwards and accelerate towards rotation speed (the speed where you lift the nose off the ground) which is 65kts in the Warrior.

B-E-A-utiful view! Kind of looks like Sim City from up here.

B-E-A-utiful view! Kind of looks like Sim City from up here.

My lessons are usually back to back with my two flying buddies so our instructor will do one flight after the other.  If the first two pilots go together on the first flight, we can land away at another airport, switch, and have the second pilot fly back to Goodyear and then the third pilot gets his flight.  I hope you followed that!  On AP3, we landed at Mobile which is about 20nm south/south-east of Goodyear.  It is insanely quiet out there, the airport is un-manned and the only other thing nearby is a landfill and I couldn’t even hear that.  I haven’t landed yet but I look forward to it.  It looks like quite the challenge!  Taking off isn’t terribly difficult, keep the nose on the centre line with the rudder (requires right rudder due to various forces acting on the plane) and rotate at 65kts.  Hold a slight nose up attitude to climb away but not too steeply.  Keep your hand on the throttle until 1000ft above the ground – that isn’t strictly essential in a single engine aeroplane, it’s more preparation for flying a twin.  If you have an engine failure on takeoff in a twin, you want to throttle back the live engine straight away.  You can’t do that unless your hand is on the throttle.  It’s fun and I’m looking forward to the challenge of landing.  Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as taking off – but then it wouldn’t be a challenge.  AP4 will be tomorrow morning – climb, descend and medium turns.

Straight and level was a good lesson for getting to know the area better.  There’s not much else you can do going straight and level for over an hour!  We did turn, just not very often.  The aim of the lesson was to be able to hold altitudes (using trim) and hold headings using references on the ground.

Who said there was a 'right' way up anyway?

Who said there was a ‘right’ way up anyway?

I was out at an RC flying club this morning – my first time ever to such a place.  It was a lot of fun too even though I didn’t get to fly.  If I was even allowed to fly the pictured aircraft above I would have said no right away.  The risk of messing up is way too high!  The pilot of the blue plane has been flying RC aircraft for about thirteen years and that is clearly visible when watching him do that flying thing.  He had it upside down, spinning, looping, ‘hovering’ and flying sideways.  The performance was a complete show stealer, everyone stopped to watch and for good reason too, it was very impressive!  He was just as good with RC helicopters too, I had no idea they were so maneuverable – or strong enough to withstand such insane flying.

Helicopter or lawn mower? Both!

Helicopter or lawn mower? Both!

Right, that’s it.  I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Goodyear Arizona & First Flight (AP1)

Amazing sunsets are common here, almost every night.

As is usually the case, I haven’t updated in months.  I now find myself in Arizona at the beginning of my foundation flight training.  My first flight was this afternoon and I have one scheduled for tomorrow, Friday and will probably fly Saturday too.

Before I get into the flight, let me talk a little about the end of ground school.  The thing that I really really didn’t want to happen happened.  I landed myself with another re-sit.  I thought I had had my fair share of re-sits but that was not the case.  This time round I failed Aircraft Performance.  It is a very similar exam to Principles of Flight incidentally – it even has the same number of questions.  I did what I did the first time round and focussed on the bigger, ‘more important’ subjects and forgot about the not so big one.  I was very pleased with my results for those, I thought General Navigation or Flight Planning would be one I would mess up but not so.  No subject is more important than another really, you need to pass them all before you can get your licence (or start your training in AZ should you be studying with OAA).

I took the re-sit in December and passed this time.  It would have been a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient to pass the first time round but having to re-take the paper has also had some benefits.  The greatest of said benefits being that I was able to spend Christmas and New Year with my girlfriend and her family.  I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  Another of the benefits I had was being able to slow down for a few weeks, I actually had some time off.  The rest of my group didn’t have much time before they were put to work once more.

Another sunset picture taken from the same place I took the previous one while I was eating the delicious fish I had cooked on the BBQ moments earlier.

Enough of the re-sit.  It’s in the past now.  I arrived in Phoenix ahead of the group I was to be flying with and so met my good friends from AP313 who then drove me over to Goodyear.  To say it was good to see everyone was an understatement.  The next few days were ground school and tours/familiarisation of the centre and local procedures etc.  We covered a lot of things such as safety, course vehicles, a briefing from the local police on traffic, airspace, charts, flight pro (scheduling software), pre-flight checks, air law, mass and balance, performance and flight controls.  I was glad when it was over though, I’ve had enough ground school to last me a lifetime but I know for sure this won’t be the last time I have to be there.

This is what I flew today; the Piper Warrior.  Sorry about the poor picture, I had already left the parking area and didn’t want to go back to my room to get my high visibility jacket so this’ll have to do for now. I’ll get some proper pictures later.

My first flight in the Warrior was so much fun.  It was fairly short (50 mins including taxi) but it was still enough to get a first look at the training area and have a quick go with the controls.  My instructor is excellent, he explains things very clearly and is also a lot of fun.  He knows the aircraft very well, he showed us some steep climbs and turns and his landing was superb.  The air was pretty smooth for the most part but was a little bumpy towards the end when we passed by the mountains.  I was even feeling a little nauseous at the very end and I thought I had a strong stomach.  fortunately it didn’t develop into anything too crazy but my instructor has some tricks up his sleeve if any of us feel ill so I’m not worried.  If worst comes to the worst he has some barf bags too but I’m not about to let my 14+yr record fall into a paper bag three thousand feet in the air.  On that note, that’ll do for now!  Flying is fun!