Going solo – a student’s view by Geoff Marshall
“Going solo”! The phrase that can strike a cold sweat on any aspiring student Aviator’s forehead, especially after the cheery recaps from Instructor James as to what to do in the event of various, and hopefully unlikely, events such as an engine or radio failure, or the closure of the airfield while you are flying, or a new one for me recently (what to do if you get lost while flying in the local area). All these dyer thoughts tend to have a bit of a dampening effect on any carefree feelings that ‘going solo’ is going to be straight forward.
The first opportunity to go solo is in the circuit which is by far the scariest. Despite flying the circuit numerous times doing all the checks and radio calls, the first time you turn onto the runway to takeoff, without the comfortable knowledge that you’ve an experienced Instructor sitting next to you to help get you out of the brown stuff if all goes wrong, is scary. You have to steal your resolve with thoughts that he wouldn’t be sending you to fly solo if you weren’t up to it. The first surprise is the increase in performance you gain by not having the additional weight of the Instructor. As you open the throttle to takeoff you are soon up to 60 knots and it’s time to rotate from the runway to climb away. Despite climbing at the correct speed, you seem to be going up much faster than usual and it’s soon time to throttle back, to try and hold the circuit height halfway through the turn on to the cross wind leg. Things then seem to happen fast during the rest of the circuit and as you turn onto ‘finals’ the sight of the runway is both welcoming, insofar that you got this far and are still alive, and scary. Get this wrong and it could be very painful. The training says get the speed and height about right then all should be OK, don’t panic, round-out to fly along the runway, close the throttle and gently sink onto it. Surprisingly to me, this is roughly what happened, though I did air on the fast side of the approach speed which, with the nice long and wide runway at Blackbushe, is not a terrible thing to have done. I then found myself barrelling down the runway while trying to keep the plane straight, steering with the hand control while groping about for the hand brake, leaning forward against the seat-belt ... all very exciting.
After several hours consolidating solo practice in the circuit, the next challenge is to go solo is in the local area. This consists of flying from your home air field off into the local area, making all the appropriate radio calls to leave and rejoin the ATZ and obtain a ‘Basic Service’ from, in my case Farnborough Radar. It was a nice day when I first went solo in the local area. After takeoff, it’s satisfying to have the opportunity to continue climbing through the circuit height, turning to cross the centre of the runway as you then fly off towards Reading. As I reached 2000’ I levelled out, concentrating on getting the course and speed right then doing the first FREDA checks. FREDA checks now seem to take on even more importance as you really don’t want have to compete the forced landing training which, so far, has only been practiced down to 500’. I then discovered when I switch the radio to the Farnborough frequency; the nice day had encouraged every man and his dog to go flying. I ended up trying to make the call with the magic “Student” call sign more than half way around my intended route. I then realised I was on my own, flying on a beautiful clear and smooth winter’s day, where you could see for miles which was very satisfying, I guess one good reason for learning to fly. After ‘not getting lost’, the homely sight of Blackbushe requires the handover radio calls while crossing the upwind end of the runway and descending to 800’ (circuit height) to rejoin the circuit pattern and then to land.
What I’m now working towards is the first solo navigation flight which consists of planning and then flying away from the local area making more radio calls and (again) ideally not getting lost in the process. The planning requires you to dredge out from the dark and murky corners of one’s memory, the navigation theory which was sweated so hard to pass last year, to plan the route.
Once this milestone is complete you then got to look forward to your first solo land away which requires getting out of the aeroplane at a different airfield, paying the landing fees, to then get back in, to fly home, not a trivial exercise for a wheelchair bound complete paraplegic.
After all this, if you are not bankrupt, all you have to do is pass the navigation and flying skills tests, the radio practical and medical tests, then you can, after paying the due fee, apply and hopefully receive a licence, happy days if the wife hasn’t asked for a divorce on the grounds of desertion for a new mistress that is flying!