Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My First Solo Flight, Way Back in the Dark Ages

Copyright 2014, CABS for Reflections From the Fence

My first solo flight was many many years ago. This is way I remember the day.  Memories fade, facts become warped a bit, but the memories are still fond, and they are mine.

I was flying out of Pontiac, Michigan, actually Waterford, Michigan, now known as the Oakland County International Airport.  International??  I have to giggle, it was nothing like "international" back in the dark ages.  If you want to read all the techy stuff, this AirNav page provides it.  A short Wikipedia page is here.

It was a windy day, so my flight instructor took me out first in a Cessna, high wing, with lots and lots of wing span. A Cessna is like a kite, it floats with all that wing span.

Normally we flew my lessons in a Tri-pacer. It does not have lots of wing span, it sinks like a rock when the power is cut back.

I believe my instructor wanted to see how I managed with the kite and the wind.

After a go around or two (memory a little blurry on that) with the Cessna, the instructor said, let's go get the Tri-pacer. And, announced, "today, you will solo".

The solo flight would involve, taxiing out to the end of the runway, running through the normal pre-take off checks, requesting takeoff, takeoff, flying around the airport in the standard rectangular path, request landing, and, land.

Not only was it a windy day, it was quite warm. I had the window beside me open, letting in a bit of air as I taxied.

Went to the end of the runway, did my pre-take off checks, all is well, ask for permission to take off, permission granted. I shut the window, one of those with a snap down type lock thingy, I thought I had it sufficiently shut, you know what I am gonna say, right. Nope, it was NOT shut sufficiently. I rolled down the runway, gaining speed, lift off, and just a few feet off the ground that stinking window popped open. It made a lot of scary noise. I looked over at it, of course. Grabbed the mechanism, snapped it down, really snapped it down and proceeded with the flight.  (I tired to find an example of the lock, and failed miserably, this is the closest I could get and it is only vaguely similar.)

The flight path of the day was to do a rectangle around the airport.  After takeoff you fly past the end of the runway, you turn left, fly a short distance and make another left turn, now fly parallel to the runway, and then, one more left turn as you line up with the runway for landing. During this flight you must maintain the correct air speed and altitude and check in with the tower to inform them that you intend to land. This procedure can be turned into what was commonly known then as "touch and go" practice sessions. You actually took off again as soon as you touched down, repeatedly going around the airport in your rectangle -  practicing take offs and landings.

The day of my solo flight, I maintained the rectangle, but, some how I did not maintain the correct altitude. I was high, seems I was about 500 feet too high when I turned that last left turn.  I remember being about 1200 - 1500 feet up, should have been closer to 800 - 1000.

It was windy, I was high, I was flying a little rock named Tri-pacer. I pulled the throttle out and let her sink! I knew I did not have a lot of room to get down to that runway. I needed to get down and fast. So, I played helicopter and down I went. Turned out pretty good, I did not over shoot the runway, in fact, I believe I had to add just a little power at the end to "fly" it in.

Below, in a 1950 issue of "Civil Air Regulations for Pilots", published by the Associated Aeronautical Staff of AERO Publishers, Inc., I found this traffic pattern graphic.  This was a recent find in some books we brought home from Man's mother's house.  Man's father always dreamed of flying.  I was delighted to find a graphic, then, looked closely and discovered the suggested altitudes at each portion of the pattern.  Seems my memory of flight altitudes was old and weak and exaggerated.  LOL

It seems I was supposed to be closer to 500 feet and that if I was 500 feet above that, I was at twice the suggested altitude.   Maybe I was.  I am going to guess when I made that last "final" turn I was at least 500 feet above ground, not the suggested 200 feet.  Note the statement, "Once the final turn is made only a normal glide and landing is to be used."  I guarantee you  that helicopter type drop in altitude was not considered normal, in any book, story, or memory.  NOT normal!

I made a perfect 3 point landing, not hard, just as soft as a whisper. It was something, let me tell you! I impressed myself, I heard I impressed everyone in the tower, which, unknown to me, included my parents, who were filming this life event!  (I would say film at 11, only we do not know if the film has survived.)

I heard there were a lot of people ducking when that window blew open, because I was even with the tower and when I looked at the window, they thought I was looking at the people in the tower! NOT!  I was shutting the loud window and trying to settle my rapidly beating heart!

And, that is how I remember my solo flight day.

You can see the Tri-Pacer and the flight log here.  Memories.




* You can learn more about landing patterns here, thanks to Wikipedia.

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