FIRST SOLO!!! – “Reid-Hillview Tower, Citabria 990WY, ready for takeoff”

One more item crossed off the list of 100 things to do before I die.

There are many milestones one can achieve in a life time. Some big, some small. Some just gives you a nice big smile, while some send you flying through air. Solo-ing an airplane is certainly an achievement that would send you flying through air (pun highly intended, if you haven’t realized that’s a very awkward metaphor).

For the whole week I have been practicing landings with various instructors, and I knew things were going well because for the last 3 flights, my instructors didn’t have to touch the controls at all or remind me to do stuff.

Every day I would just go to the airport at 8am, do pre-flight inspection, add gas if needed, grab the instructor, and go shoot about 10 landings – take-off, fly a traffic pattern (rectangular “circle” around the airport about 2 miles by 1 mile), land, and taxi back. We would just do this about 10 times since each round takes about 10 minutes, then terminate. Unlike in Microsoft Flight Sim, we can’t just practice landings without take-offs, since there’s no save and load system IRL. As a nice side effect, my takeoffs are now very good, too.

Today, I thought it would be just like any other day, and the instructor didn’t tell me otherwise. Beautiful Friday morning – wind calm, sky clear, visibility 10 miles, temperature 23, dewpoint 14. We did about 5 pretty good landings, and just when I was about to accept tower’s clearance to back taxi on the runway for another go, the instructor took over the radio, and requested to taxi to “instructor’s bench”!!

It took me a few seconds to realize what that meant.

We taxi-ed there, the instructor hopped off the plane, and gave me a few words of encouragement, and sent me to fly a pattern all by myself!

I was a little shocked, so I just sat in the plane for a minute to collect my thoughts and put up the camera. I thought I would be a lot more nervous, but it really wasn’t bad. I was more relaxed than when I drove a car by myself for the first time. Maybe I have too much confidence in my flying skills (that’s bad).

So I taxi-ed into position, got a clearance to takeoff on Runway 31L, and off I went! It went really well, just like the previous 5. There wasn’t really much difference, but the plane certainly climbs a lot faster without the instructor’s weight! AND I shot an almost perfect landing! I’ve always been a little high on the glide slope (approach angle) today, and had to slip (a technique to lose altitude quickly without gaining airspeed) on almost every landing. But my first solo one was perfect! Right on the glide slope all the way to touchdown. Touchdown was a little rough because some surface wind knocked my plane out of alignment with the runway centerline a little, so the plane swerved a little on touchdown (tailwheel airplanes like to do that). But overall it was pretty good!

On the taxi back, my brain went through a million things. It’s like one of those flashback moments. All the things I’ve done to get to this point. All the hard work, the “firm” landings more accurately described as controlled crashes, emergency procedures, air work, etc. It was awesome! At this point I have about 30 hours total flight time with about 120 landings in my logbook. My solo was delayed by a few things (most people get to solo in much less than 30 hours) – changing instructors, changing airplanes, crazy crosswind, etc, but I made it! The extra hours didn’t go into waste either. I’m now very comfortable flying, and pretty good with all the procedures and maneuvers. I can do almost all of them to much better than practical test standard already.

I just soloed in an airplane for the first time!

This is the point in my flight training where I’ve learned everything about flying the airplane. All the high altitude maneuvers, ground-referenced maneuvers, emergency procedures, takeoffs and landings, etc. All that’s left is cross-country planning and navigation, and more exotic landing techniques (landing on soft and short fields). Hoping to get my license by the end of August!

Instructors so far:
Rich Digrazzi – he did most of the pre-solo part of my training, and is AWESOME, but unfortunately doesn’t fly for this school anymore 🙁 http://www.flysfbay.com/
Erik Schmidt – my new “main” instructor.
Sergey Sinyachkin – my other instructor.
Dave Gray – stopped me from crashing the plane while practicing landings.
http://www.aerodynamicaviation.com/training_instructors.php

I can honestly highly recommend them all. The school takes great pride in hiring only the very best instructors, and it really shows. They all have slightly different teaching styles, but all very competent instructors with thousands of hours of experience.

The victim, Citabria 990WY (photo courtesy of airport-data.com) –
990WY

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