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Posted By Subodh on Thursday, June 11, 2009
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Photo Credit: Scott Rohlfing. “There is life before solo, and there is life after solo” – Scott Rohlfing.

When you have an instructor confident enough that you are ready to be kicked out of the nest, things can change from unnerving to confident very dramatically.

Last Thursday, we did a few takeoffs and landings and were taxiing back on Yankee when Scott asked if I wanted to do this all by myself. I did gleefully gave my affirmative and was suddenly so uneasy that I was sweating even in a 19 degree cold weather. Scott must be doing this everyday coz in his plain business as usual fashion, he rolled near the (I learnt ) so-called “the instructor’s bench,” asked for my logbook, endorsed something in it, opened his door, packed his belongings, secured the belts, shook my hand and walked behind the plane towards the bench. Well, at least I knew he had a radio so if I need help, he could be around. I think I did some landings, bad ones but they were forgotten soon for the elation of having done these all by myself took over. Next Tuesday, we did the same thing, Scott did a few with me, told me I need to stop yanking the stick up and down, the tail wasn’t too happy wagging so wildly while I tried to figure out if I could land or just stick it out in mid-air and then, got out. This time he warned me, he had no radio. “Gulp.” It was still okay, I knew he was still going to be watching me.

The rest of what follows is an assignment; I do not really think this is going to interest anybody. The reader may now switch to watching TV instead.


Today was different; Scott said he may or may not be there. I reached Squadron2 late by about 10 minutes, after all, no Scott means no money for his time right?  Meh … I checked out the plane, and there was a squawk, waiting to screw up my day. No fuel sampler? There was a junk looking temp in there, even though it wasn’t as cool as the original one. I hate throwing the fuel on the tarmac, with this one, I have to do that.

The pre-flight was okay, I pulled out the plane, hopped in, went through the checklist, primed, master on,yelled Clear, mags on etc…  until I had to test the radio. The frickin thing was set to some weird combination of lower radio, upper numbers and had XMTR flipped wrong. I must say I was quite annoyed to be fidgeting with the little radio with the prop running for about 10 minutes. When I finally heard the Ground control, it sank in; Scott isn’t even around! I’m gonna have to do this all by myself? To make matters Photo by Scott Rohlfing worse, some dude in a weird accent was asking for a VFR flight plan to somewhere and was going on and on with the controller, yapping endlessly. As soon as he was done, a plane announced something in another heavy, surreal accent and then I think he forgot his tail number, said “disregard,” “Trade Winds Aviation” and without so much of an apology hung up. Then this VFR guy started again. I must ask Scott for a polite way to get in-between these zero-gap conversations without sounding like a d***. Heck, this is Ground control, and I am patient but what if I were in the air and couldn’t get a word in? After what seemed like eons, I got my chance, keyed in the mike, asked for my clearance, making sure I mention “Student Pilot.” This dude from Trade Winds keyed right after me and even though he still stumbled upon his tail number, made his call. Bad manners is on thing, this was getting ridiculous. Ground control comes back, gives him the clearance to taxi and then …. silence. What seemed like forever, during which I made sure I am on the right frequency, volume is sufficient et cet ra, I almost made my call again when Ground came back and gave me the clearance to taxi.

Rock on, here I go rolling. As soon as I turned on Foxtrot, that first guy keys in his mic and asks “Reid Hill View Ground, do you prefer we err… file flight plans in advance or do you …?” Dumb-ass, I don’t know nothing about them flight plans but I can tell you yeah you should file ‘em in advance. I would have hoped the Ground Control would have just said yes/no, instead he went on to a long lecture about how they don’t care its good for “you” dummies, its “you burning your hobbes, not us”. I just wished these mic happy people would somehow shut up so I can be a little less nervous. Or, not straining my ear drums to watch out for the guy who’s sole aim in life is to knock me over. I have been running my engine for about 20 minutes now, just trying to get rolling. Rolling I was and watching a plane trying to pull up to the run-up area. I just hoped he would park far enough so I won’t be scared of hitting him. I crossed a plane on my left at Hotel and the ground cleared him to taxi behind me.  Yikes, now I hope I’m not too slow in front of him. 

As I neared the run-up area I see the plane I was gawking at was parked just at the entrance. Huh… and I was hoping (earlier) he would have parked far enough. Dang, not only did he park wherever he wanted, his prop was actuallyPhoto by Scott Rohlfing still on the entrance. Didn’t his instructor teach him to keep the tail over the grass? I swerved wide around, still ruminating why don’t they have parking slot lines just like in a regular parking lot, that way at least the Feds could issue tickets to them snobs and get ‘eir money. I went to the extreme end of the run-up area, powered up way too much in trying to turn left and the plane did an about turn in less than a few seconds. I was facing the tower already by the time I braked. I guess the nose gear wasn’t straight but hell, the tail was over the grass, if Scott didn’t know about the nose gear part, he’d be so proud! Ha! The plane behind me came up and parked just alongside, literally metal to metal probably cursing the TWA plane too. The ground came back and told him he needed to wait for his over- the-top VFR plan since NORCAL is busy. I did my run-up tests, making sure I didn’t miss anything and almost hurried over to flip to Tower frequency so I get in line first and be the guy the other planes follow in the pattern. I hate having to extend downwind, searching for other traffic when I can see none.

“Reid Hill View Tower, Cessna 5093 Kilo is ready on the right.” And then I heard that almost always excited guy, he always talks as if he’s having fun; him and Scott are friends I think –“Cessna 5093 Kilo, runway 31 right cleared for takeoff, make right closed traffic.” I was expecting that call, but in a different order, confused, I just muttered me call sign, lined up and powered to full. I noticed another plane was cleared for takeoff behind me as soon as I took off. Hmm, I must not be paying attention, I didn’t hear him call! Because Scott wasn’t around, I took the risk of sitting a little closer to the stick, with the sole purpose of being close to the trim. I was intent on getting the Vy all the way and remembered adjusting it twice. I saw Scott do a no hands climb and wanted to do this myself. Spot on, coz I wasn’t even done with my downwind turn when I had to pitch over coz I had reached 1100 ft. I looked at the runway and saw this plane take-off. I think his call-sign was 737 something. Now, I know I had to work upon not dropping the nose when getting out of a turn but if I keep my climb as good as I did just now, I won’t get a chance to correct that nose dropping thing either. The tower cleared me for 31 right as soon as I was abeam and I think I wouldn’t have scared a soul leave alone Photo by Scott RohlfingScott. No roller coaster this time Scott, I held the picture just as you said! “Hehe,” I thought to myself – “Staying close to the trim is better.” I hadn’t yet reached 45 degrees to the runway so looked at the airspeed. It was spot on- 65! I started my turn to base when I heard the other plane was cleared, no 2 for the option, behind me. This time, I heard the guy, “no.2 cleared for the option, we have the traffic 31R, 737 something.” Okay, so I was really not paying attention. I hadn’t heard this guy so far at all. He was clear, crisp and no-nonsense. I looked at the airspeed indicator and it was showing me about 60. I looked back at the cowling and the beautiful houses below, the sun was just coming out on them. I thought I was pitching correct. Still, a chill was running by my back and I was all alert. What if the indicator is right and I am about to stall? It was time for me to come out of the turn and just when I  leveled the wings, stole a look at the airspeed indicator. I swear I saw that needle racing towards 65. Damnit, so either the airspeed indicator cannot be relied upon for instant checks or I am doing some nose dropping nonsense. Scapegoat? Scott.

While I turned final, I saw them VASI lights almost white over white, okay maybe a little pink over white; you get the picture. So far, it was all a power off approach. I didn’t add any power at all. I thought I’d add the landing flap while in the turn itself. Scott wouldn’t mind would he? Is it a bad thing to do? I don’t know why but I seemed to be perfectly aligned to the centerline, without doing anything, and the lights were still not red over white. the numbers were definitely not  moving so I resisted the temptation to add power. Checked my airspeed, I was still doing  65. Now come-on, I expect something to go wrong  just about … now? Well, at least now? I don’t remember rounding out, I must have coz next thing I realize I was level, nose level and eyes at the end of the  runway and then the wheels were on the ground, just like that! There wasn’t even a hint of screech, bounce, float, nothing, nothing et all. I got out at Delta and after cleanup, while taxiing back, was watching the other plane, the 737 something coming down for a landing. He never seemed to round out, came straight, nose still down, bounced once and settled. It was then that I noticed, it was a tail-dragger. Dang, their main gear is in front. And then I saw that Trade Winds aviation plane. It was 2357J. That was the first plane I took me first ride in, I had fallen in instant love for flying in that G1000 glass cockpit. I dismissed the thought for, I was sitting in the niner three kilo, it would be ill-advised to piss her off. Who knows, these planes can get iffy too, right? The second take off was uneventful, so was the landing, it was almost like I had nailed it. I had made perfect Vy climbs, had turned base at exactly the right place and even though I was adding flaps in the turn to final, I landed twice without the float or the bounce and exited at Delta, every time.Photo by Scott Rohlfing

The third landing was different. I did everything the same way but I was too low, had to add power and by the time I took out power, I was too high. I still landed somewhere midfield but I guess I floated. Oh, and just as I was taxiing back on Yankee and wondering about the TWA plane, the 2357J (something was pro’lly wrong with it, it sure was taking too long for a run-up), this plane pulls up in front of me. I was like “drat- me & 737 something were doing perfectly timed patterns and now this guy jumps in.” I swear he purposely pulled in front of me to jump the line! I was way too close to the 31R, and he just came in front of me! I almost chuckled when in response to his antics, the tower calmly announced, “2357J, cross 31Right hold short 31 left.” Now this makes me pretty darn sure, Scott and this happy guy at the tower are friends.

So, I took off just like the other three take-offs before and just like every time, as soon as I was off the ground, the 737 something got a clearance to take off too except, he was asked to make a left pattern. I just thought to myself, this would be my last one for the day, I’m not pushing my luck too far but then no point saying “will terminate after this” to the tower. What if I had to go around? Let’s keep it a secret for now shall we? The last final was too high, I had to add the third flap but for the fear of losing altitude too quickly I kept the power in till I was over the fence. The poor VFR guy finally got his clearance to takeoff. The moment I crossed the fence, the plane started turning Photo by Scott Rohlfing. right. I corrected and then realized “I’m too close, yanked the stick up; oops too much, push the stick down, oh no! not so much. Alright, lets just find one place to stick the stick. There, much better!” The plane sank quite late, it almost didn’t want to land, floated for a while and landed straight with no side loading. I saw Delta pass by this time. This definitely was not a good landing, it still was far better than any of the solo day landings though. I called “terminate,” just in time to listen in the VFR chap handed over NORCAL departure … or something like that. The taxiing back, securing and checking in was absolutely uneventful except that it was eerily quiet and I did a perfect parking job.


There, I’m done with me assignment. Oh, I can write much longer than these too :-)

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 Comments & Discussions

  • Gravatar
    Anthony Friday, June 12, 2009 at 3:09 AM
    Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
    This guy SCOTT - is he from another planet?

    • Gravatar
      Chico Friday, June 12, 2009 at 4:30 AM
      Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
      I bet he's from Mars. All smart, handsome men are. 100 bucks?

      • Gravatar
        Anthony Friday, June 12, 2009 at 4:34 AM
        Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
        what rubbish. He sounds like a star to me. You lose. Where's my 100 dollah?

  • Gravatar
    Sumit Mishra (via Facebook) Friday, June 12, 2009 at 5:56 AM
    Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
    ok that is seriously awesome

  • Gravatar
    Ritzy Friday, June 12, 2009 at 3:30 PM
    Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
    And I can read much longer than this toohappy...So when was your last assignment as exciting as this?

    • Gravatar
      Subodh Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:11 AM
      Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
      *Grin* Everything is exciting about flying I guess.

  • Gravatar
    Bipin Suresh (via Facebook) Friday, June 12, 2009 at 4:11 PM
    Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
    holy smokes!

  • Gravatar
    Yngwie Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:16 AM
    Re: From First Solo to unsupervised Solo
    I can tell you in good hands bro. Good luck with your cetificate. If you ever come to GB, I'll watch the skies for you.
    -Yngwie M

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