So what’s it like to take your first solo flight?

Published on February 18, 2022

 

“GOLF GOLF DELTA, cleared for take-off!”

There was a time I only ever dreamed of being given that clearance, and indeed only imagined reading it back in sole command of my aircraft for the first time. My first solo, a milestone both coveted and feared in equal measure. An experience every student pilot longs for and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life! But I’ll come back to that…

Transition to flight training

Ground school, two of the most feared and dreaded words in aviation training! And save for a few lucky geniuses to whom it comes naturally, for most of us, it’s gruelling hard work to absorb so much in 6 months. I was fortunate to have been in the capable hands of Matt Woods and his team, the envy of ground schools everywhere! You’re immersed in an environment rich in positivity, support and guidance, as well as a solid weekly structure that sees you all the way through until your last exam.

The relief you feel once it’s all over is incredible, as is the excitement you feel as you rock up for your flight training induction day, with your first stripe freshly adorning your new epaulette! Your first bit of jewellery for your Pilot Crown! You know with every fibre of your being, it all changes now, exciting times lie ahead!

This day is the first of your transition into flight training, and you quickly realise how different it’s going to be. Gone is the comfort of your Monday to Friday routine, replaced with the melting pot of variables that is the weather, the flight schedule, instructor/aircraft availability and of course the more individual learning you’ll now undertake. Your new operating hours… sun rise to sundown, 7 days a week! No longer can you watch from the comfort and warmth of the classroom window, now it’s time to feel the wind in your hair, quite literally!

Build up to my first solo

I remember well my first lesson, my first take off, that was a thrilling experience itself! But I was essentially a passenger, my instructor Sally at the controls, talking me through the process. You of course start with the basics, effects of controls, applying in the real world the theory you learnt in ground school. This is the way it goes for your first few lessons, each one introducing a new skill, turns, climbs, descents, stalls and so on, as well as being guided through your first take-off and landing, all whilst honing your radio calls.

To bring these skills together you’re introduced to the circuit. I loved this! Flying your way over terrain you’re now familiar with, repeatedly demonstrating your ability to safely handle the aircraft from take-off to touch down, whilst resisting the urge to wave at your friends in the Arc (our student accommodation, local to the airport) as you buzz overhead!

Once you’ve successfully completed these lessons, you’re ready for the big day…

Popping my cherry

I woke up that morning knowing it’s far from a normal day. I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m anxious, and I may end up over caffeinated too! But I start with my preparation and briefing. Whatever success you hope to achieve in the air, is underpinned by work you first do on the ground. I’ve been doing these briefs for a little while now, but of course, this one is different… my mass and balance is less one instructor!

I’m released to fly, so I head out to the aircraft. All the details of the flight, the checklists, the ATIS, the radio calls, they’re all things you’ve done many times before, but somehow, it’s just so different alone. You’re acutely aware the ‘safety net’ isn’t there anymore. It’s all on you. No pressure then!

I taxi out to Charlie 1, complete my final checks, and am cleared to line up and wait on runway 19. As has become tradition, I have some friends, AKA Runway Groupies, waiting to capture it all in frightening clarity for me. Better hit that centre line nice and smooth when I land then!

Here it is, I’m cleared to take-off. I read it back and apply full power. I remember to apply some right rudder and a little right alerion, as there is some cross wind today. 59 knots comes up quicker than I remember, another poignant reminder you’re solo, the aircraft is lighter.  

I lift off and immediately I’m filled with excitement, euphoria, and a little bit of relief, I’ve done it! This moment I’ve dreamed so many times is here. But it’s a double-edged sword, because I’m also now acutely aware the second the wheels left the runway, it’s on me. I have to bring it back down safely, there’s no one else. The right-hand seat is occupied only by my checklists, and they’re not saying anything, believe me, I tried! The sense of responsibility is incredible, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. My concentration is literally at 100%, I’m giving it everything, I must get it right.

I level off at 1500 feet, earlier than before, another reminder you’re in this one alone! Downwind comes and goes so quickly, and you’re configuring your descent, turning onto base and then to final. Then it’s back, that nervousness and anxiety, my palms are sweaty, I’ve gotta land this thing! Oxford ATC give me my final airborne instruction, GOLF GOLF DELTA, cleared to land. That crosswind hasn’t gone away, so I’m working hard to keep my profile tidy. My Runway Groupies diligently capturing what was a pretty smooth landing! As for the centre line, well as many of my instructors would say, it was close enough for government work! Now I’m slowing down along runway 19 and I can enjoy some relief and that euphoria and excitement, it’s done, I did that!

There is nothing like your first solo, it’s one of the true great milestones for any pilot. You never forget it, I certainly won’t! I’ve done several solo flights since this one and I’m about to take on my first solo navigation. I’ll never tire of it, never lose the excitement of flying solo, such is the passion for aviation! But like most things in life, there’s nothing quite like your first time.

If you would like more information on training at Leading Edge Aviation and the next suitable steps on your Flight Training journey contact one of our Training advisors today!

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