Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ticket To Ride III

Part III: Don’t get cocky, kid—You’ve soloed. Time to prep for The Ride!

Jim celebrates his big day with CFI John Lampson (left), who’s a member of the band Stealing Jupiter.
Remembering something Grandpa used to say, “Let people know what concerns ’em,” I keep my wits and stay on the radio, broadcasting my position at regular intervals while rubbernecking everywhere for traffic. Soon enough, the circus is over, and I pull off a few landings. Whew!

Flight-Sim Practice
During a long and nasty spell of Northeast thunderstorm activity, I endeavor to stay sharp in my home flight-simulator “cockpit.” I have an extremely cool but affordable Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System (around $250 street price), which consists of a joystick, throttle quadrant and rudder pedals.

Thoroughly tres tech, with more switches, toggles and buttons than I’ll ever use. The throttle quadrant even has an MFD. You can set up a radio stack and other interactive readouts and truly go nuts with this thing.

The stick is mounted on a pedestal between my legs. With the throttle on my right and rudder pedals on the floor, it’s just like the CTLS.

But the real issue is, how well do they work? Amazingly well, indeed. The spring feedback mechanisms create a realistic feel. About the only thing the Saitek system won’t do is pick you up and move you around to simulate G-forces.

My flight through virtual airspace comes courtesy of Microsoft Flight Simulator X, which is fantastic. MSF gets better and better with each iteration. I’ve got a robust computer with a quad core CPU and 8 GB of fast memory, so I select every possible graphic enhancement possible: high-resolution terrain, wind simulation, thermals and more to give a close-to-real simulation.

Cross-Country & Beyond
On a bright and clear day with light and variable winds, we launch on the route Lampson has picked for my solo cross-country flight. Southeast we go to Groton-New London Airport (GON) in Connecticut, then 36 nm over to New Haven, then 35 nm back to HFD.

Landing at New Haven, I had caught myself assuming that I could touch down effortlessly instead of using the “every landing counts” attitude, and I was a little sloppy. “Am I really ready,” I had wondered as we flew home, “to solo today?”

At HFD, Lampson says I’m good to go. Tired, a mite queasy from light bumps and the stress of learning, I decide to think about it over lunch.

One Subway sandwich calms the jitters: Let’s do it!

I launch solo at 4:40 p.m. to head south to Groton, remembering to avoid the enormous 1,000-foot AGL tower in the approach path to Groton. First landing? Aced it. Next?


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