First Solo Flight

The moment of truth came on a calm Monday night in Watsonville, July 25, 2011. I really wanted to solo at PAO or HAF, two airports that I know and love, but the weather just wouldn't permit it. So we loaded up N7819C and flew down to WVI. Sophie and Max even came along for the special occasion.

On the way down I did some simulated instrument flying with the foggles. It's cross-country flights like these that put me over 20 hours before my first solo, so I better at least make good use of the time! When we got to Watsonville, the air was clear and the wind was calm. There were a few other planes in the vicinity of the airport and the constant warning calls from a nearby skydiving operation on the frequency. "Caution, skydivers 4 miles to the northeast!"

We went into the lovely little restaurant next to the taxiway, and Sophie ordered herself some dinner. Jassen and I were all business. He has a small written exam that he requires his students to complete before solo flight. We went over it together. After that we took to the skies, leaving the camera with Sophie to snap some pictures in the fading sunlight.

After a handful of takeoffs and landings I was feeling pretty comfortable. Jassen wants to see 5 good landings in a row with no help from him before he'll get out of the plane. By the time I had accomplished that, the sun was barely peeking over the horizon. Jassen was a little concerned about the lower visibility at dusk, but I reassured him that I could see just fine. He hopped out of the plane on the taxiway and I took off for my first solo flight!

Jassen had his hand-held radio, so we were in constant communication. My first time around I had everything lined up perfectly. I flew over the trees off the end of runway 20 at about 500 ft. My airspeed was a perfect 80mph on final. Then, at the last moment, I flared a little too early and a little too much. The plane gained altitude and lost airspeed -- a deadly combo when you're 10 feet off the ground! Naturally I had told myself to be ready to perform a go-around in the event of even the slightest misstep. I pushed the throttle to wide open, stabilized my altitude, raised the flaps and took off for another try. Luckily the second time was the charm and, after a similar approach, I landed the plane almost perfectly.

The plan was to do three landings to full stop. However, as I was taxiing back after the first successful landing, Jassen got on the radio and said it would be safer to stop after one and do the other two some other day with more sunlight. I'm not one to argue with my instructor, so I taxied over to the fuel station to fill up for our trip home.

The trip home was smooth and beautiful. Coming over the mountains to see the lights of the bay area at night from 3,000 feet is a breathtaking experience. I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I was too excited. Flying solo felt entirely different from flying with Jassen. I felt much more in control, and much more capable. All those hours I've logged with Jassen I've felt pretty confident, yet not entirely sure I knew how to fly, because he was always there as my safety net. Now I've flown on my own. And it felt great.

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