Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lesson 17: Solo!

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave/Solo
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 82 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 4 knots

Yup, that's me in there taking off all by myself for the first time

Woo-hoo! And yes, I did yell that out once I was in the air after my first solo takeoff. But let's back up real quick and I'll give you a brief rundown of tonight's lesson. I could not have asked for better weather. It was absolutely gorgeous up there, clear blue skies and light winds. We were using Runway 8 tonight since the wind was out of the East. Got her started and made four takeoffs and landings with Dave sitting behind me. All were good and smooth, as was my maneuvering around the traffic pattern - other than getting a little high on downwind a few times.

After the fourth landing, Dave told me to taxi off to the side and I knew what was coming. He unbuckled his belt, opened up the door, stepped out of the plane, said "give me three," and shook my hand. That was it. All on my own now. The feeling that washed over me was happiness and excitement - having been mentally prepared for soloing for a week or two now, I'd been anticipating this moment for some time. I taxied the Champ back to the end of the runway, checked for traffic in the pattern, and it was time to go.

First Takeoff/Landing:
Got her lined up on the runway and smoothly added power. Stick forward and wow did the tail come off the ground quickly. Slowly brought the stick back and before I knew it I was off the ground and climbing fast. No turning back now! You can hear a billion times how differently the plane is going to fly the first time the instructor steps out, but I was still blown away at the performance. That old Champ really can climb! (If you look at the GPS tracks - links at the bottom - you'll see how much shorter my climb before turning crosswind was when solo.) I had to adjust the trim towards "Nose Up" since I was going close to 70 mph and the standard climb speed is 60. Got to 1,500 feet faster than ever before and made a smooth turn to crosswind. Looking out the left, I was right on the extended runway centerline - excellent!

Turned downwind, throttled back, and maintained 1,800 feet until abeam the numbers. Then I added carb heat and brought the throttle back to about 1,400 RPM. I could not believe the difference in the weight and balance here. Normally, trim's about the same as takeoff (in the middle of the slide range) but I had to bring it nearly all the way back towards "Nose Up" to maintain 60 mph. Smoothly flew into my base leg and then on to final and was about on the glide path, I didn't even use a forward slip. Rounded out and started to flare and touched down, but I bounced two or three times. Not too hard, but the first time I did that all night. Probably was due to it being my first time landing without any extra weight behind me.

Second Takeoff/Landing:
Seeing as how the Champ wanted to climb like a rocket (well, for a Champ) last time I trimmed much more nose up this time around. Pushed in the throttle and again was rolling down the runway and off the ground in no time. Climbed smoothly out to 1,500 and flew around the pattern very well. I really felt sharp and on top of things up there. Took a few moments to look down at the ground and revel in the scenery too, since it's always awesome to remember how lucky I am to be up there above everything. Back to downwind, I throttled back and managed the descent better this time since I knew what to expect. I used a mild forward slip on final to bleed off a little extra altitude and airspeed and made an almost-three-point touchdown (just hit the two mains a split second before the tailwheel) right where I wanted to hit the grass.

Third Takeoff/Landing:
This entire circuit of the pattern was great. Takeoff once again was smooth and I quickly climbed up to 1,500 for the turn to crosswind and was at pattern altitude on downwind soon thereafter. My descent was right on target and again I used a very minor slip to hit the runway threshold at the right spot. The roundout and flare were right on target and I kept bringing the stick back, back, back for a perfect landing - total greaser! To be honest, I didn't want to taxi back and shut her down. With smooth air and clear skies I could have stayed up until sundown. Anyway, I taxied back towards the main hangar and Dave helped marshal me in to where I shut the engine off. First solo complete! :-D

Obviously, I was grinning and happy when I stepped out of N1798E. Dave shook my hand again, said great job, and we walked inside. Another pilot was standing out there with Dave and took some video and additional photos of me soloing and I'll get those online once they're emailed to me. Then it was time for the ageless tradition of cutting off the back of my shirt. I've heard it dates back to early flight training where instructors in open-cockpit biplanes (sitting behind the student) could only get the students' attention by tugging on their shirt tails. Once the students had soloed, the instructor no longer needed to tug on them so they cut them off. Well, add me to those long books as another successful, shirtless, and very happy solo aviator!

More photos from the first solo, courtesy of Dave...

Climbing out from Runway 8

Just before touching down on my first solo landing

Rolling down the runway after the first landing

Back inside with Dave, shortly before losing my shirt

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File - Dual | Solo
Today's Flight:
1.1 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 0.4 hours
Total Time: 20.5 hours


  1. Glad to see all went well on your first solo. It's quite a feat that very few accomplish.

    Photos and videos is the best.

  2. Congratulations, sir. You'll never forget it. :-)


  3. Congrats on the solo! That's awesome! Sounds like you had great weather for it, too.

  4. GREAT job, Steve! I hope to follow your lead in the coming month. Keep going!

  5. SWEET MAN! Congrats! I can't wait for the day I actually start flight training when I can afford it. In the meantime, flying with my father-in-law in his Twin Comanche will have to do. ;-)

  6. Thanks everyone! :)

    As you can tell, it was a blast and I'm still quite excited about it. Also, it looks like I'll have the other photos and video up within the next day or two.

  7. Haha, congrats! I just did mine. I'm still trying to process it.

  8. my post last night was better but i cant remember what it was since the internet died but congrats on your solo!!! i havent seen a picture of you that happy in a long time...too bad they couldnt get one of them cutting of your shirt!! maybe i will frame it for you to put in your office at home. love you lots and keep up the good work :-*

  9. Thanks for the comments on my blog! Isnt solo just the best feeling ever! I still just cant believe it! I have to say I am jealous of your airplane! I cant wait to fly a tailwheel.


    Great write up, as always. I love reading about solo's, they always refresh my solo memories just two years ago July.

    Now on to the cross country fun!

  11. Whoo Hoo! Congrats! I remember talking to the plane and patting the dash saying "It's just us! We can do this!" Funny what goes through your head. Again Congratulations! The virtual round at the bar is on me!

  12. Hey good luck on your flight today, weather permitting. It's a lot less nerve wracking on the second solo flight.