Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Thrill Of Solo

Do you remember your first solo flight?

When Peg first expressed her interest after that initial flight, I explained what an AOPA pinch-hitter course would teach her. She made it clear that wouldn't be enough. She wanted to earn her private pilot's license. I had struck gold.

As with so many successful professionals, Peggy's primary restriction is time, and learning to fly has been a long-term process. She soloed on May 28 at Long Beach, and her reflections shine a slightly different light on the process of taking that important step toward the private license.

"My instructor, Alan Wilson of Aero Aviation, is an easygoing guy with the patience of Job," Peggy comments, "and he certainly had his work cut out for him with me. Unlike Bill, flying wasn't a lifelong dream of mine, since I'd only been recently introduced to it.

"As much as I wanted to do more than just warm the right seat, I had my doubts," says the student pilot. "I was sure I could never learn to land until I did; then, I was positive I'd never pass the written test until I did; and finally, I knew I'd never be able to solo.

"No matter what dumb thing I did, Alan is a great mentor. He kept reminding me that flying was supposed to be fun, and gradually, it started to be. He never became frustrated, stayed cool when I had trouble with power-on stalls and generally maintained an even keel. I always felt a little out of my depth in the 152 and, of course, in Bill's Mooney, but Alan did a great job of putting me at ease in the little Cessna.

"Despite my reservations, there came a day after I'd made several reasonable landings, when he asked, 'How about I get out?' I almost replied, 'How about I get out?'" Peggy laughs, "but I knew it was probably time for him to take me off the leash (sic).

"I'm not sure what I expected from the 152 on my first solo takeoff, but it turned out to be business as usual. When I roused all the hamsters for departure, the Cessna accelerated a little quicker and jumped off the ground a bit cleaner without Alan's weight, but the difference wasn't that dramatic.

"Like any baby bird," says Peggy, "I did become a little hyper about an engine failure as I flew the downwind, especially when they extended me for other traffic, but I was flying next to perhaps the world's largest general aviation airport, with 10 runways extending in all directions. Certainly, I should have been able to hit one of them.

"Of course, the little airplane worked perfectly, and I was amazed at how relaxed I was, even into the flare," Peg comments. "My three landings went by in what seemed five minutes, and I was proud of all three. The feeling of accomplishment and exultation was overwhelming."

Peggy says she received plenty of support from clients at her hospital. "Many of my clients are retired or current airline pilots, doctors or businessmen with Bonanzas, Cirruses or Aerostars, and their enthusiasm has been consistently contagious. Everyone is very supportive and encouraging. I gained immediate club-member status when I mentioned I'd soloed.

"I'm far from a kid, but I can imagine how difficult it is for young people to afford flight training. Before I stepped down to the 152, I was renting a new-generation Skyhawk with air-conditioning and the G1000 glass panel at $160/hour. Add the instructor, and I was paying $235/hour.

"The current airplane/instructor costs about half that," Peggy emphasizes, "still not inexpensive, but believe me, the first time you climb into the sky with that right seat empty, you'll be guaranteed it's all worth it."


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