Flying Training

Lesson 23: First solo

Saturday 29 April 2006, 7.00am with Jim Drinnan in Citabria VH-RRW

Weather: cool, overcast and calm (on the ground anyway). Some wind from the NNW at circuit height. Occasional showers.

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Usual start at "o dark o'clock" and arrived at Camden at 6.30am to find ideal flying conditions for a first solo, ie calm and cool. Actually the signs were there that there was some wind from the NNW; because two hot air balloons that I'd seen being launched off the Cobbity Road passed overhead in the direction of Camden.

The first task was to taxi RRW to the refuelling bowser, and Jim gave me a tip here - park on the tarmac, not the grass (as I did). The reason is so you don't leave grass clippings in the aircraft. Also, face the hanger, obviously so the slipstream doesn't blast into the hanger doors (they were closed so this didn't matter too much today, but obviously it's a good habit).

Wind history from Weatherzone Jim was keen to make a quick start so we could pick the runway in use, but we were beaten to the punch by an Airborne Aviation C172. As I was doing the run-up checks he made a call saying he was lining up on 06, but I missed his intentions (slack). Jim suggested that this might be a handy thing to know, and passed on the fact that he was departing for the training area. So for a few minutes anyway we had the air to ourselves.

Click to enlarge I called to say I was entering and rolling on RWY 10, lined up just to the left of the numbers, and took off. We made two or three circuits with Jim correcting my residual imperfections (don't let the aircraft get too nose-up on climb out, radio calls interfering with turns, not correcting for drift, carby heat to cold on final), and then Jim said, "Make three more circuits without me saying anything, and I'll get out and you can fly solo".

I said, "Thanks, I'll do my best," and I really worked at it, keeping the climb to 70 knots, picking a reference point before making each turn, correcting for wind drift, trimming with each power change and concentrating on a smooth round-out, flare and touchdown. It felt good - the grass runway is wide and the grass, in Kerry's words, 'grabs the wheels' making the rollout straightforward. Most of all I felt ahead of the aircraft, that I was really flying it. I should admit that I still forgot to set carby heat to cold on final, but this didn't worry Jim too much as he asked me to taxi off the runway and round to the office to let him out. He secured the rear seat harness, grabbed a hand-held radio, lifted the elevator up to remind me to hold the stick back (!) and I was on my own.

Temp/rain history from Weatherzone One difference between a tandem seater and a side-by-side trainer like a Cessna is that flying solo doesn't actually appear any different, because the instructor is invisible unless you turn your head. So I just concentrated on flying this circuit the same as the previous three. I must admit that the feeling as I accelerated down the runway was better than before, because I was alone. This was it! I expected the climb to be better with less weight on board but it was still a surprise when we went up like a lift. This was about when a shower of rain started to streak the windscreen, but I could tell it wasn't going to last as the clouds were high and broken. (You can see some earlier rain on the temp/rain history graph.)

I made a nice co-ordinated turn onto crosswind, levelled out at 1300', reduced power and trimmed, then made the downwind turn and lined up on my reference point (just to the right of a couple of ponds). As Jim had suggested I made the call after the turn (I presume this is only till it doesn't distract me from making a good turn). Almost immediately I had a call from Paul, piloting Mike Whisky Yankee, who said he was upwind of 06, for circuits, and had me in sight.

This placed him ahead and below me, and climbing across my path, so immediately I had a decision to make. Continue my course and fly over him, or veer off my course and keep him in sight? I quickly chose the latter, and said, Mike Whisky Yankee, Romeo Romeo Whisky, I have you in sight too.". As he carried out his circuit I slowed to remain behind him and he called again to ask me to state my position (Citabrias don't have rear view mirrors). I made my base call and at this point he decided he'd allow for this unknown pilot and called to say he was going around. I didn't expect this and was quite prepared to wait for him to land before entering final, but it was considerate and I thanked him afterwards. [Kerry has indicated since that the correct action would have been to maintain my downwind course.]

So now I was free to turn onto final, line up, make sure I was trimmed for 70 knots and make a smooth landing. The runway looked wide and welcoming, I flared at the right height and brought the stick back gently, the words of several instructors in my ears - "Don't let it land, don't let it land...". The touchdown was smooth...ish, but I'd been a couple of feet too high so there was a very minor bounce but I held the same attitude and it settled back onto the ground and remained there. (And yes, I'd remembered to set carby heat to cold on final.)

Click to enlarge Now it was just an easy taxi back to the office. Jim waved me onto the grass and I did the shutdown checks (ROARS), switched off and was about to get out when I found Jim turning the aircraft round to face the office. It turned out this was for the photo. The official pic is on the Curtis Aviation website, but here's the one we took with our camera. It looks just like I felt - pretty chuffed - and I had a big grin on my face as I walked back to the office, where everyone congratulated me and shook my hand.

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge I paid for the flight, and filled out the logbook according to Jim's instructions. The 0.9 hour flight was divided into two parts - 0.6 hours dual, and 0.3 hours in Command (PIC). The solo part is in red, the only time when a pilot is allowed to use any colour other than blue in their logbook.

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I chatted to other pilots while I waited for Kerry and Anita to return from their Practice Forced Landings exercise, and as they taxiied in Kerry gave me a questioning thumbs up. I responded with a thumbs up and a grin, and had a congratulatory hug from both of them. Thanks, especially to Kerry for your thorough instruction and patience!

Jim's got all next Saturday booked with the Rural Fire Service so I've booked myself in with Rob Marshall. He'll check me out, and then I'll do a few more solo circuits [Didn't happen - car problems.]. The following lesson will be similar, then after 2 hours solo in the circuit it's back to the training area, but alone this time. Obviously there's a lot still ahead of me - the aforementioned Practice Forced Landings for example, but mainly navigation, and of course more exams. But now I don't have any doubts that I can do it. It's just down to time, money, study and practice.

Other pics (click to enlarge):

Romeo Romeo Whisky

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Tiger Moth

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I posted my effort in a couple of forums. Yes, I know, like no other student has ever flown solo, but it's nice to get some feedback. Hope you don't mind me copying the entries, guys! It's a one-off.

From (Private Flying Forum):

Today, 01:03
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 4

First solo today! In a Citabria teehee


Today, 08:04
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Wide Brown Land
Posts: 185

Congrats Iain - you didn't choose an easy way to learn. More fun that way I reckon, should have done the same thing (ab initio on tailwheel) myself.

Tailie conversion coming up eventually.... promise! embarass

and The Aussie Aviator:

Today, 11:06 am
Join Date: 21 Apr 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 8

First solo today! In a Citabria big grin


Today, 11:47 am
Join Date: 21 Jul 2005
Location: Romsey - Victoria
Posts: 422

Congratulations Iain, how was it?


Today, 2:07 pm
Glenn I
Join Date: 05 Feb 2005
Location: Cowra YCWR
Posts: 1637

super clap

P.S. The most common question I've been asked since is, "Were you nervous?" The answer is, no, I wasn't nervous. I've been taught well; I knew what to do and I was kept pretty busy remembering everything. No time to feel nervous!