Really REALLY Solo!

John HurlbutFlying1 Comment

Route in Foreflight from KPLU to KTIW

Route in Foreflight from KPLU to KTIW

So as I mentioned, I soloed on August 21st!  And yes, that means I flew a plane ALL BY MYSELF! I’m still surprised by the number of people that still think that soloing means that your instructor is in the plane, but just doesn’t do anything.  Nope, it’s just you and the airplane all alone.  It’s a feeling I’ll never forget and it’s pretty darn incredible!  But after you solo, you’re only about half way through flight training.  There’s still a lot to do and you’re not only on your own after that.  My last blog post was about my breakthrough.  Finally getting my landings down to the point where my instructor is confident enough in me to let me go to the airport and just rent the plane and go flying.  Do you remember when you first got your drivers license and you were free to just go anywhere you darn well pleased?  Well this is like that, but about a bazillion times better!

So last week I was scheduled to fly three times.  Two of those flights were scrapped by weather.  But the third was just me on Friday doing laps in the pattern.  Even though my log book is endorsed to fly to other airports within 25 nautical miles, I didn’t think it would be the best plan to hop in the plane and just head out to another airport my first time out alone.  So I arrived at the airport and started my weight and balance calculations as well as checking the weather.  Even though it was overcast, the clouds were high enough for me to fly VFR.  The winds bothered me a bit and I did some additional checking with the chief flight instructor, Shawn, to get his input on if I should give it a go or not.  He gave me his blessing, so I was off!

It was weird to do a pre-flight check and not wait for anyone else to get in the plane.  Checking the brakes on taxi, it was just me.  Doing the runup?  Yep, just me.  Finally it was time.  I taxied out to the end of Runway 16, waited for a couple of other planes to land, made my call and I was off!  The winds were blowing straight down the runway, so the combination of not having an extra person in the plane, along with favorable winds, the plane lifted off much sooner than I’m used to.  The turns on crosswind and base were “festive” simply because of the wind.  It was hard to not over correct, but I managed just dandy.  I ended up doing 4 takeoffs and landings that day.  The most I’ve ever done on my own.  I didn’t break the plane and overall my landings were pretty darn good.  Here’s the YouTube Video if you want to see for yourself.  If you go to the YouTube description, I noted where the takeoffs and landings are so you can skip all the boring parts. 🙂  The GPS track is embedded in the video and I think I did pretty darn good!

Today, Tuesday September 30th, I went back to the airport for some more solo work.  I was watching the weather all day trying to see if I was going to be able to fly.  The morning, most airports around were reporting VFR, but the Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) had it as Marginal VFR or IFR by the time I was supposed to fly.  But as the time got closer, the weather reports were for VFR.  It was looking good!  I got to the airport at 2:30 for my 3PM flight.  I went out checked the gas and the oil, came back in, did my weight & balance and checked the weather again.  Back out at the plane, I got my preflight done and I was ready to go!  I did have the mechanic come out to check the rotating beacon (the red light on the top of the tail that goes round and round) because I could not get it to function.  Turns out I wasn’t pulling the switch out far enough.

So it was time to go!  Today I wanted to fly from Thun Field (KPLU) over to Tacoma Narrows (KTIW).  The clouds based on local reports said they were anywhere from 9,000 to 12,000 feet, well below where I would be flying.  But I’ll tell you what, at altitude they looked a lot closer than that.  Didn’t have any close calls or anything, but they sure “felt” lower.  After I took off from Thun, I headed Northwest along the route my instructor and I had followed a couple times.  Follow the Puyallup river and you thread the needle between the class B airspace of SeaTac and the class D airspace of McChord AFB.  When I was over the Tacoma Dome after listening to the weather at Tacoma Narrows, I called the tower to announce my intentions.  They asked me to report on the base leg for runway 17.  Just after talking to the tower, I encountered rain!  My first time flying in rain (with me at the controls anyway).  It was no drama, just a new experience.  I flew over Tacoma and just as I was about to cross the water, I told the tower that I was entering the base leg for runway 17, I got clearance to land and it was go time!

I ended up doing 4 touch and gos at Tacoma Narrows.  The controller even threw a “Right Traffic” at me on my last touch and go.  I feel like all four of my landings were pretty darn good. I still find myself left of centerline, not sure what it’s going to take for me to break myself of that habit, but I’ll figure it out.  Just more practice I suppose.  I also completely forgot my pre-landing checklist.  Six times.  OOPS.  So I REALLY have to work on that too.  After my four touch and gos at Tacoma Narrows, I headed back to the home base.

My setup for the 45 was a bit wonky, but I straightened it out for the downwind leg for my first landing at Thun.  Coming in, I could see from the wind T that my landing was going to have to deal with a bit of a cross wind.  That made me a little nervous, but I’m going to HAVE to learn to land with a cross wind at some point, so what better time than now?  (I have done a few cross wind takeoffs and landings with my instructor, just not on my own)  The landing was just a bit hard, but certainly passable.  I controlled for the crosswind rather nicely I think.  You can see the right wing dip just a bit before the first landing, but I corrected for it pretty quickly.  I went around for another lap, this landing was better.  I wish the microphone on my headset was better at picking up the stall warning horn because on nearly all six landings today, that baby was screaming just before touchdown.  It’s a good noise to hear! 🙂  Here’s the YouTube video of today’s flight as well.  Feel free to fast forward to the good parts.  The bits of me flying across Tacoma I sped up to 4X just to keep the video shorter.  But even with the editing I did, it’s still over 1/2 hour long!  I know these videos are super boring to you, but they do help me review and I have a lot of fun making them.

I have to say I’m super stoked about my upcoming flights!  I’ve got three more flight lessons booked this week.  I suspect one or more of them will be cancelled by weather, but I’m hopeful I can get all of them in.  If all goes well, then on Friday, I’m going out by myself and practicing some maneuvers.  Stalls, turns around a point, slow flight, etc.  Then Saturday my instructor and I will head off for a cross country flight to Skagit-Bayview airport in Mount Vernon.  If that goes according to plan, with any luck I’ll be signed off for solo flights to airports within 50 nautical miles of my home airport. So on Sunday, I’ll plan and fly a cross country flight on my own.  Maybe to Jefferson County to bring Teri back some pie!?  Beyond that I have some night flying to do, a night cross country to do and some additional solo cross country requirements.  But I can see the end in sight.  I’m really hoping to have it finished up this year, but again, it’ll happen when it happens.

Studying for the oral exam won’t be fun.  But I think I’ll be OK.  I’m excited to fly more and more and polish my skills.  If I can keep flying 2+ times per week for the near future, I should be ready for my check ride by December!  Fingers crossed the weather cooperates!!

One Comment on “Really REALLY Solo!”

  1. Congrats on your awesome progress! Isn’t it amazing how well the plane handles without the instructor’s weight to slow you down?

    Don’t be so worried about "threading the needle" between SeaTac and McChord… while Class B isn’t really an option for student pilots from the outside, McChord’s Class D isn’t at all restricted… it’s "just Class D". In fact, you SHOULD go though McChord’s airspace whenever you can because, like you, many of the controllers at McChord are trainees who are learning their jobs. They need practice dealing with "Cessnas" and "Ercoupes" just as much as they need practice with those C-17 "Huskies" and "Sonics". Also, unlike most other Class D airports, McChord will almost always give you a Squawk code for your transponder (one more skill a student pilot should practice).

    When you get your landings polished to the point where you are hitting the middle of the centerline, come over to Spanaway (S44) for a visit.

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