2019-07-26 First Solo

This has been a long time coming. According to my logbook, I have 73 logged pre-solo hours. That’s almost absurdly high. But, I did it. So... whatever.

Flight track here.

ATC Logs here, which starts at 0122:28Z on 2019-07-27.

Pre-Takeoff

Before I soloed, my instructor and I did a couple laps in the pattern. Then we came back to the FBO, he got out, and I was going to go do at least 3 laps in the pattern.

I started off by instilling great confidence in him by starting the start engine checklist from the wrong point. Essentially, I skipped turning on the electrical system and went straight towards turning on the engine. I realized my error when the engine didn’t start after I turned the key to engage the starter. I did get it started after I had followed the checklist from the right starting point1. Once I got it started, copied the weather, etc. I advised ground that I was a student solo pilot and was ready to taxi. At the runup area, I snapped a photo of the empty right seat, before proceeding to do the runup. Something I noticed is that I needed to have the canopy partially open to visually verify that the rudder pedals controlled the rudder as expected - normally we have the canopy partially open anyway for cooling reasons. I left it closed because with only one human in there, it didn’t heat up nearly as quickly. There was no issues with the rest of the runup, informed ground that I was done and was allowed to taxi to the runway.

First Lap

This was fairly uneventful, despite being a monumental achievement for me. As everyone notes, the first thing I noticed was how much better the plane performs - even when you know the plane should perform differently without the extra weight, it’s still surprisingly to experience the difference having ~150 pounds less weight makes. I nailed the landing, and taxied back to the start of the runway for the next lap. As I was taxiing, I noticed my instructor in the observation area, who was waving to me and celebrating my success. Which made me feel super proud and happy for my achievement.

Second Lap

When my instructor gave me the plan for my first solo, he said that we’d first do 3 laps in the pattern, with 1 go around, then he’d get out and have me do 3 laps in the pattern. I either misinterpreted what he said, or I misremembered. I recalled 3 laps and a go around as what I should do with my solo. Because of that, before I even took off, I had decided to do a go around for this lap. The upwind and crosswind portions of the flight went well, but I probably was too high when I turned base, and I definitely wasn’t properly set up to land when I was on final - to the point where if I wanted to hit the numbers, I would have had to dump flaps and slipped in to maybe make the landing. In retrospect, I’m unsure if I had actually screwed up the approach, or if I had subconsciously screwed it up, because I knew I’d be going around anyway.

Third Lap

As I was entering the upwind portion of this lap, I was advised by ATC to extend the upwind, make right traffic, and turn at the shoreline. For spacing reasons. Weird flex, but ok. Just after I entered the crosswind portion I was asked to extend my downwind and that they’ll call my base. I repeated this instruction, but I was also confused - I had just entered crosswind, did they misspeak and instead want me to extend crosswind? I called up tower and asked for clarification. I think this is when they remembered that I’m a student. They assured me that yes, they meant downwind, and after I turn downwind to extend until they call my base. This ended up being the longest downwind phase of my life. I recall thinking that this would be an excellent time to take a photo of the empty right seat - which I didn’t do because I was busy flying2. I did play with trim and had it flying straight and level for a bit while I monitored traffic. Eventually I passed abeam of traffic on final, and shortly thereafter I got clearance for the option. I turned base and landed without much incident. The landing wasn’t particularly great - I started to level off earlier than I needed to, caught that but didn’t correct enough and ended up floating down the runway. I pulled off and contacted ground, then went back to for the fourth and last pattern.

When I landed and was taxiing back to start my fourth lap, I was able to watch my instructor dance because he was so proud and happy of how I handled that.

Fourth Lap

The fourth lap was also uneventful (just how I like them). The only thing of note is that this was easily the worst landing I had done that evening. I wanted to do another lap just to “redeem” myself and show that I can actually land by myself. I basically did the same mistake - I leveled off too early and ended up floating down the runway.

Summary

I went into this being very apprehensive about this. I came out thinking both “that was a monumental achievement” and “that wasn’t so bad, let’s do that again”. I’m very proud of myself, as I should be. When I was going into this apprehensive - not “oh crap, I’m going to kill myself”, but the idea of having no one to catch any mistake I might make was daunting - even with as many hours as I have, where I know I’m going to do fine.

1

I skipped the correct starting point because I was apparently thinking that the start engine checklist should be under it’s own header. Might create my own solo checklist that excludes some of the things you do when you have passengers in it. I should create my own checklist in general to clarify/simplify things.

2

That would be hilarious, first time taking the plane for a spin without supervision and I decide to text and fly. Which, funnily enough, is not illegal in VFR flight.