I came back the day after Lesson 45 to give the soloing thing another try. This time I made sure to bring all the required documents and I was fully legal. The weather was still great and although it was a little more busy than the day before I was more in practice because I had just flown so ultimately it was probably for the best that my solo was delayed a day. I took off with Bob and we flew to Lincoln Park. We did one landing and then returned to Caldwell where we did 3 touch and goes. On the last one Bob requested a short approach and told me to pull the power. I got down safely so he told me to pull off of the runway instead of complete the touch and go. We taxiied back to Fischer and I started to realize the time had finally come: I was about to solo for the first time. He signed the last endorsement necessary in my logbook, shook my hand, wished me luck, and stepped out of the cockpit. I have to say, I was a little nervous at first. My first radio call was a little oddly ordered and taxiing down the runway I did feel a little nervousness. I did my run-up, called for clearance and taxied onto the runway. I ran my eyes over the panel one more time to make sure I was 100% ready; the mixture was full rich, carb heat off, flaps up, transponder alt and 1200, primer in and locked, fuel selector both, lights on, and doors and windows closed and locked. I slowly advanced the throttle to full with my feet on the brakes, listened to the engine for any odd noises, checked the engine instruments for any last signs of danger, and watched the rpms peak. I finally knew I was ready and released the brakes. The plane slowly pulled itself forward and I watched the airspeed indicator waiver for a second and start steadily climbing. I waited for 50 knots and then slowly pressured the yoke back and the airplane lifted smoothly off the runway surface. All the nervousness I had felt on the taxiway was quickly washed away by the feeling of flight. After years of dreaming of becoming a pilot I was finally a pilot in command for the first time. The feeling was unforgettable. I waited for the airspeed indicator to reach 74kts and then held that speed as I climbed towards pattern altitude. I felt my confidence increasing with every minute I flew, realizing that this flight was just like every other of the 224 times I had done exactly what I was doing at that moment in the pattern. My landings were pretty good and all of the three landings I did I was able to pull off on taxiway Delta (The first taxiway that you can realistically turn off on). When I was done I taxied back to Fischer and shut down the plane. I had finally completed my first solo.
Before the flight I discussed the solo cross country flight plans that he had told me to make with Bob and we reviewed the weather for the flight. The conditions couldn’t have been better. The traffic pattern was empty, the wind was dead calm, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the air was cool and not dry (good for aircraft performance). You couldn’t have designed a better day to go flying. Bob told me to go preflight the airplane and asked for my logbook to fill out a few things saying we would first fly to Lincoln park and, if everything went well, I would be able to solo for the first time. I went out to preflight and just as I got in the plane I realized I had forgotten my wallet at home (which had my drivers license and student pilot certificate) – the first time I had forgotten it and only time I needed it. I told Bob and the solo idea was ditched. It was OK, though, because I got some quality practice anyways as we went to Somerset again through Morristown. I worked on my radio coms and short field landings which was valuable. We flew back to Calwell without a solo, but I have plenty of time on my hands until I get my license (next summer is when I turn 17) so I wasn’t upset. Besides, I was excited that my first solo was within reach.
On this flight we decided to venture to the southwest to an airport that I’ve never been to and that is usually used on the flight test; Somerset. I made no flight plan for this flight (too short to be a cross country) so I had to wing it but it was fairly easy as the Solberg VOR’s 240 degree radial passes directly between Caldwell and Somerset. We took off from Calwell and transitioned southwest through Morristown’s airspace and tracked Solberg southwest bound until we reached Somerset. At Somerset we did a few landings (a good learning experience as the airport is a short field and has an odd inclination in the middle of the runway). Once done there we flew back to Caldwell via Solberg and a Morristown airspace transition and I learned just how close Caldwell is to the lateral limits of the Class B airspace (where it goes down all the way to 1800′), not just the vertical limits (2500′ base above CDW).
On this lesson the winds were gusty and variable so we decided to stay in the pattern and practice some crosswind landings. My first landing was a little precarious; I experienced wind shear on the entire approach which only worsened as I sank below the treeline because the wind was stirred up by the trees. I expected the winds to calm a bit as I entered ground effect but suddenly I hit a lull in the wind just above the runway and the airplane dropped. I flared just at the last moment and the plane touched down surprisingly smoothly but it was a jarring introduction to the flight to say the least. The rest of my landings were similar; all turbulent but most were decent. Days like this don’t come around very often so I was lucky to be able to practice with such challenging conditions in a controlled environment rather than experiencing them for the first time by myself.
On this lesson we flew to the northeast and continued perfecting slow flight and stalls. We talked about the new ACS testing standards and we did a lot of practice and I think it improved my stalls and slow flight a lot. By the time we finished Bob had vectored me into an unknown area and told me to find my way back to Caldwell. I triangulated using two VORs and then followed I-80 back to Caldwell. Once we returned to the airport we had some time to kill so we did a few touch and goes but I realized on final approach to my second landing that the flaps switch was broken; It didn’t pop back into place when you put down some flaps so it would just run all the way down to 40 degrees unless you manually put it back into place. I was still able to safely make two more landings though before the lesson ended and we reported the malfunction to Tom afterwards.
On this lesson we flew north to practice emergency procedures and flight maneuvers. As we passed Lincoln Park airport Bob pulled the engine on me so I had to make an simulated emergency landing at Lincoln Park. I flew the pattern and my approach was a tad high (not a bad thing if it were an actual engine failure — it’s better to run off the end of the runway than to stall out before you reach it) but I got it down and was able to land safely. We then went north to Greenwood lake where we practiced slow flight and stalls. We then made a landing at Greenwood lake and returned to Caldwell where we did a few touch and goes before taxiing in for the day. On the taxiway Bob got the controllers to demonstrate light gun signals (The first time I had seen them from a plane) which was pretty cool.