In the words of Captain Glickman, “A year ago she came to me and said, “I’m afraid of flying”, and look at her now!”
Those very words caught on video, as he approached the N55422 on Friday afternoon, June 10th, alongside my instructor, Captain Davies. Where was I? In the plane. By myself.
Yes. I soloed!
I’m finding it hard to find the right words to express the experience. Part of me doesn’t want to find the words. Part of me doesn’t want to share this.
All day on Thursday, I was checking the TAFs, and the weather was looking good. First thing Friday morning, I checked Aeroweather on my phone, and rejoiced. Winds and cloud cover looked good. The skies weren’t clear, but I kept peeking at the radar and it looked like things were going to clear up.
As the day progressed, the skies cleared. As I was driving to the airport, I checked the AWOS and where was that 5 knot wind heading? Right down the runway. Yes. Perfect conditions. Well, this might be it, I thought.
As I arrived at SCH, I saw the N7292J taxiing to the FBO. Here was Captain Glickman to watch and listen, just in case today was the day. Lovely to have you here, sir!
He joined me as I headed out to preflight the N55422. Lucky he was with me, as he noticed first the bright green tape over the engine compartment (where I’d need to get in and check the oil). Great. What was this? He got assistance from the ground crew, who came out and tried to screw the hatch closed without success, and they ended up removing the cowl cover completely. This was
actually very cool, and as we were waiting, my instructor gave me a tour of the powerplant. All this time I’m thinking, “yeah, it figures I want to get out there and solo and something is standing in the way”. Crap.
Hallelujah in my head when the guys come back out with the cowl cover and attach it back to the plane. Yes, the oil was checked, and the sump drained. And then it was time to go. Yes, there’s still enough time in the day to solo. I hope …
At least two other aircraft in the pattern as we go up and we are sent RIGHT to avoid the traffic. No! Not right! I want to go left! Coming in for the landing, I’ve got the controls. Trying to get over that center line (I tend to drift to the left of center), and we’re down and back up again. Captain Davies getting me to aim to the right of the center line so that I might just land on the center line. Yes. Brilliant!
5 takeoffs and landings and somewhere in there, Captain Davies has me exit the active runway and go around via the taxiway. Explaining to me that if/when I solo, I’ll need to exit the active runway and use the taxiway to go back. Well, after those 5 takeoffs and landings, Captain Davies requests clearance to taxi to base of the tower. Oh, dear. We’ve never done that before.
Once we’re there, he says “you don’t need me anymore” or something along those lines, and opens the door – giving me minimal instruction regarding how many times I should be landing, and what to do if I bounce more than once. If the second bounce is worse than the first, do a go-around. And if I need him, he’ll be in the tower. “What if I have questions?”, I ask. “You can ask them when you get back”, he says. Suddenly my endorsement is on my paperwork, he has my log book in hand, and he’s heading out the door. “No need to do another runup”, were the last words I heard. Door closed and latched.
“Schenectady Ground, this is N55422 at the base of the Tower, ready to taxi”. There wasn’t a bit of nervousness. It was just me and the plane. Taxied out there with confidence, held at the hold short line, switched over to the Tower frequency. “Schenectady Tower, this is 55422 ready for takeoff”. Handled the radio perfectly, turned on to runway 4 and gave her full power. Yes, she lifted sooner without my instructor in the right seat. Yes, I laughed out loud. Yes, it was thrilling. I was in complete control, and felt so comfortable in every way. Everything felt right, and I was right where I was meant to be.
Climbed very quickly and turned a bit too soon (before the end of the runway), but found my place in the pattern just fine. Every step of the way, every move was just natural. Every checklist just going through my head like it was supposed to.
First attempt at landing: Approach was perfect, but I bounced once, and then the second bounce was bigger than the next, so full power immediately, 10 degrees of flaps up, carb heat in, and level flight until the speed is there and then climb and do it again. Not a good start, but that didn’t bother me at all. I knew I could do this. Just keep going and feel it more next time.
First landing: Approach was good – a bit to the left of center as usual, but the landing was perfect. I didn’t think too much, I just felt it. Found the right moment to change my focus from where I was landing to down the runway. And it felt so magnificently beautiful to land that plane for the first time on my own. Made my heart sing.
Pilots talk about how they are one with their aircraft. I know what they mean now. I felt it.
Second landing: At this point, I was just so happy. I know I was laughing out loud, and feeling the joy of the moment – all the time paying careful attention to my duties as PIC. It was my plane and I was flying and I was happy and it was glorious. Approach was good – getting closer to the center line, but then came the bounce. Let her settle and keep calm, and she just settled down on the runway and we were good. We. Yes, I felt it.
At some point there was another aircraft in the pattern, and I alerted the tower when I had the other traffic in sight. Took great care to leave enough space between us.
Third landing: All I could think was that if I nail this one, I’ll have to
taxi back over to the tower and call it a day. Oh, I didn’t want it to end! Coming in on final and everything looking good. Setting up for a good landing and yes, it was perfect. Even closer to the center line. Slow on the brakes and exit the active runway and hold for instructions. Clear to taxi back to the parking area. My work was done.
Brought the N55422 back to her parking spot and was greeted by Captains Glickman and Davies, who filmed a little post-solo video (watch the video). Watching it now, it seems that I wasn’t that excited – a quiet thrill, perhaps.
It didn’t really hit me until a bit later that evening. Worth springing for a damn good bottle of champagne. The chance to celebrate with friends and family. A gorgeous flower arrangement from Captain Glickman.
All weekend I’ve held on to these feelings. Going through different stages. Even after all of these words, I don’t feel like I have the right words.
This is just one part of this journey. I feel like yes, I can be a pilot. And, I can make this dream come true.
Thank you to everyone who has wished me well along my way, and who gets as excited as I do about my achievements on my journey to become a pilot.
Special thanks to my co-pilot Captain Glickman, my instructor Captain Davies, my EAA602 boys (especially Captains Sterling, Devine and Cowper), my 99s women, Captains Haddad, Taber, Cusack, Powell, Amedan, Hamilton, and every other pilot who has inspired me!
Most special thanks to my sister. She was the start of all of this. And her shirt was the one they cut for my wings.