July 4, 2015
The day started the same as every day for the past week. Wake up at 06:00, breakfast at 06:45, at 07:15 climb in vans and head to Old Town Municipal Airport. This was the Civil Air Patrols, North East Region Powered Flight Academy, and today I would solo.
We arrived at Old Town and proceeded as normal. I went out to pre-flight the aircraft, call sign CAP1823, while my instructor entered our flight information.
I started in the cockpit, turning on the power and checking the gauges, switches, and cooling fan. From there, I moved in a counter clockwise direction around the plane, checking for damage to the fuselage and examining the control surfaces and flaps. When I reached the other side of the plane, I climbed up so I could check the fuel level in the left wing tank. Then using a special container, I drained a portion of fuel into it to check that it was free of water and dirt. I did the same from fuel sumps under the aircrafts nose. I then opened the engine cowling and checked that there was enough oil before moving to the front. I checked the propeller for nicks and cracks and made sure that the air intakes were clear. Then I moved on to the right wing tank for another fuel check.
With everything in order, my instructor and I got into the plane and went through the startup procedures. I then taxied the plane to the end of runway 30 and prepared to take off.
Before a cadet solos, the instructor needs to make sure he is ready. This usually involves flying around for a while doing basic maneuvers to ensure that said cadet is capable of flight without assistance. Unfortunately, I was too tense and nervous. My handling of the aircraft was shaky and unsure, not solid enough to fly alone. After we landed and parked, my instructor asked me, if he could get permission for us to go up again after a break. Would I like to give it another shot? I said “yes,” and he got the OK for another go.
After the break, we started up and took off. This time things were better. My anxiety went away, and I felt relaxed and confident. We landed again, but this time we didn’t taxi back to the airport, but to the runoff area next to the runway. Pulling the throttle to idle, my instructor wished me luck and got out.
Once he was clear, I went through a pre take-off checklist. That completed, I released the brake and, checking that the runway was clear, lined the aircraft up. “Old Town traffic, CAP1823 solo, taking off runway 30, Old Town,” I said over the radio. I increased power and rolled down the runway, speed increasing. At 55 knots, I pulled back on the yoke, and the Cessna 172 lifted free, gaining altitude steadily. I looked out the window and saw the highway near the end of the runway-- time to turn. I made the appropriate radio call and turned to the left into the crosswind leg of the pattern. At 1100 feet, I leveled the airplane and prepared to turn into the downwind leg. “Old Town traffic, CAP1823, downwind runway 30, Old Town.” The next portion of the flight was uneventful. I went through the base and final legs of the pattern and lined up with the runway, adjusting speed and altitude as needed. When the wheels touched the aircraft bounced. Small bounces are common and aren’t always a problem, but the second bounce wasn’t any better, nor was the third. I was ballooning-- a term for when an aircraft keeps touching the runway, but has too much lift to stay down. If I continued trying to land I would crash.
I made a radio call, “Old Town traffic, CAP1823 is going around.” I had to fly the pattern again. I increased the throttle and gained altitude. The second time around was much better. The airplane landed without a hitch, and I taxied it back to the airport. I got out and my instructor dumped a bucket of water on me. Some flight schools cut off shirttails; we dump water. Either way, it was recognition of the fact that I had flown a plane with no assistance-- and on the Fourth of July.
(assignment for Lesson #14 - memoirs)
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