And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...."
- John Gillespie Magee, Jr., "High Flight"
There was something in the air this day, I felt it from the moment I woke up. I knew, and even told a coworker when he asked if this would be "the flight," "Yes, I'm saying it. Today is the day."
It was hot. Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't stand this kind of hot. As I drove to the airport, I watched a roadside digital sign tick from 94 to 95°F. With the humidity, the heat index was 105°F according to the Yahoo! Weather App before I left .
I did my pre-flight walkaround, noting the weak piece of plastic around the fuel drain on the right wing was starting to split to the aft. Other than that, N9634Q looked more beautiful than she ever did. Randy and I talked a little about other pilots' mistakes, discussing the scenario first & what I would do, followed by the pilot's choice and the very unfavorable outcome. We finished our discussion as the KingAir taxied to the runway, then climbed in the cockpit and started the rest of the checklist.
About halfway through my briefing, etc, he advised me to go ahead and get it started. "I know you know how to do the briefing. You've done it since your second flight. Not trying to rush you, let's just get it started. No need to set up the GPS, we're just going to work on landings."
AWOS said winds were straight down the runway at 5, but all three wind socks said otherwise, which wasn't really a concern since they felt lighter than 5 knots.
Startup, taxi, runup were all normal, though whether or not the landing light was working is still up in the air. I called my takeoff, then brought 34Q around through the pattern and set up on final, calling that it would be a full stop. It was one of my better landings. We taxied clear of the runway then headed back out. "Alright, you give me two more landings like that and we're going to solo you tonight."
Landing 2 wasn't as good. I carried too much speed, even after touchdown. "Alright let's just go around, full power." Cleaned it up, started climbout, then called that I was touch-and-go for Two Seven.
Landing 3 was as good as the first. As I exited the runway I was expecting him to want one more good one. "Alright, take me back to the hangar, and I need to see your logbook and your medical."
An RV8 getting ready to depart asked over the radio if we were done. Randy advised I was getting ready to solo, and the RV pilot (same one I met after an earlier lesson) said he'd go flying to the north to give me plenty of time.
We taxied off to the side of the ramp away from the pumps. He reached into the back seat and got my flight bag. I handed him my logbook, then my medical for the appropriate endorsements. We had to move toward the taxiway to make way for N177JE (Citation), then he finished writing, I put everything back in my flight bag, and he climbed out.
I expected this moment to be filled with nervousness, anxiety, and tension. But it wasn't. I'd done this hundreds of times by myself at home, both in X-Plane and FSX/P3D. The one thing that did concern me was the storm clouds that appeared to be building to the Northeast. I couldn't tell if they were getting closer or moving away.
I taxied to Two Seven just as I had done dozens of times with Randy, stopped at the hold short, checked final approach, then made my radio call. Deep breath. "Moment of truth, right here" I said out loud to myself. I taxied out onto the centerline, then advanced the throttle to full,
With less weight in the plane, and a new engine, she accelerated quickly, and was ready to fly in no time. I lifted off and began my climbout. The first solo trip around the pattern was uneventful to be honest. That's not to say it was boring, but it was cut-and-dry. I lined up on final, made my full-stop radio call, and set her down for one of my best landings so far. As before, the plan was to do three full-stop landings. I taxied back, and repeated the pattern.
Landing #2 was much less graceful, but I thought I had it under control. I bounced. Not hard, but high (looking back I suspect I had help from a wind gust); high enough that I didn't feel comfortable continuing the landing, so I added some power to stay up, retracted the flaps, then added full power and called my go-around. I did everything else as usual and didn't even worry about not getting a good landing.
Landing #3 was back on-point. As I taxied off the runway Randy called over the radio and asked how the weather looked to the East. I responded that it was very cloudy. He'd been watching the weather and the radar, and said I should have time for one more if I felt like it. "Sure, I'm up for one more." I taxied back to Two-Seven, made my call, and started down the runway.
As soon as I got in the air, I was questioning my decision for a few moments. Due South of the airport, about 10-15 miles, was a dark bank of clouds and what appeared to be rain. I looked for a second, also glancing back to the Southeast, then continued my climbout, just as I had done over a hundred times before. I visually checked the clouds on downwind, but otherwise did everything just as I always had, no rushing, no pressure, just fly the plane. As I made my call on final, the RV8 called that he'd be entering midfield crosswind.
The fourth and final landing of the evening was probably the best. Everything I did looked and felt better than it had the other six times to me. I taxied off the runway, past the hold short, and called that 34Q was "clear of Two-Seven for the evening." The RV8 pilot offered his congrats over the radio, I thanked him, completed the post-landing part of the checklist, and started taxiing back to the hangar.
It was at this very moment it sank in what I had just done. The minute I started rolling after post-landing, I could not control the huge grin that came across my face.
I'd finally arrived. After years of dreaming, hoping, waiting, wondering if it would ever happen, I just flew, and landed, myself, with no one else in the plane.
I taxied 34Q back to the DCFS hangar. Randy and his wife were there - she had been taking pictures. He pretended to marshal me in, then I turned her around and set her up so we could push back into the hangar. I proceeded with shutdown, took off my headset & seat belts, climbed out and shook Randy's hand. I had to give him a hard time. "Randy, no offense, but she flies a lot better without you in there." We had a good laugh, then took some pics with the plane before putting it in the hangar.
The RV8 owner taxied over to get fuel, and to congratulate me. "You've just opened up a whole new world of possibilities," he said as he shook my hand. "Welcome, it's great to have you."
We went upstairs to the classroom for the ceremonial cutting of my shirt tail. Unfortunately due to the heat, my shirt was too soaked to write on, so he will write all the details this week and have it ready by my next lesson.
As he cut my shirt, I couldn't help but think about the last year, and how I felt after that first flight, knowing this was the time to do this. All the delays, all the frustrations, every setback was gone in that moment, not even on my mind anymore. Afterward I also got the joy of adding my first entry into my logbook for PIC/solo time, 0.8 hrs worth.
"You've just done something that very few people ever get the chance to do. You left the earth, in a machine, by yourself. There's only 300,000 or so of us in the world right now, out of how many billion? That's something special." Indeed it is. It's all I've been able to think about the last two days.
Next Monday will be another supervised solo, two landings with Randy, two or three by myself. Then after we put the plane away, it's upstairs to plan the first cross country flight, with the intention of flying the cross country during the following lesson.
I expect to have my checkride scheduled by the end of August, though I have contingencies planned for the Medical Flight Test portion if it looks like I won't get it in before my authorization runs out. I'm no longer stressed about that part, I'll just take care of it separately if it comes down to it.
It's happening, and it's happening quickly. If all goes as it appears it will, I should be getting ready for my checkride this time next month. No doubt I'll be FULL of anxiety and nervousness for that flight.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.