Flying Solo for the First Time

I was terrified to take my first solo flight a few years ago. Sure, I worried about my personal safety, but mostly I was afraid of embarrassing myself. What if I bent the airplane? I thought of all the students before me who had managed to keep it in one piece. Leave it to me to make the Big Mistake. Death would have almost been preferable.

In Danbury, Connecticut last year, a woman took off alone for the first time in her Piper Warrior and made a full circuit. When she landed, the airplane bounced so hard that it knocked her headset off. The second bounce knocked the front wheel off. She put the airplane in the air again and circled the airport. Eventually the tower cleared her to land again. When the plane finally came to a stop, she walked away though her ego must have been severely bruised.

Her instructor had authorized her to solo after 17 hours of flight time. That’s about average for most student pilots. I didn’t take my first solo until after 18.5 hours of flight instruction, and even then I begged my instructor not to make me do it. After several touch-and-goes’s that afternoon, I dropped her off near the tower and taxied back to the runway for my first solo. My mouth was so dry the Air Traffic Controller could barely understand me on the radio.

Take-off was fine. It was while coming in to land that I got into trouble. High and fast, I couldn’t correct in time to line up for the runway. It was like Microsoft Flight Simulator where I always crash except this was the real thing and crashing meant something.

As my instructor watched from the side, I shoved the throttle in at the last second and went around. “Kilo-alpha-alpha is in the overshoot,” I radioed Tower. I know they heard the terror in my voice. What if I couldn’t land? I had visions of circling until out of fuel then falling to the ground. They called my instructor at the flight school to warn her she might have to talk me down but of course she wasn’t there to answer the phone.

On my second attempt, I lined up correctly and the wheels hit the pavement without bouncing too badly. My worst fear hadn’t come to pass, though when I read of the Connecticut woman’s experience, I thought there but for the grace of God fly!