On a cool, crisp and calm October morning, I finally took my first solo flight. It was amazing! My journey to this point started almost three years before, in early 2007. My husband, Jack, and I had picked up a Cessna Stationair 206T from Cessna’s Independence, Kans., facility and my dream of learning to fly had started. After a couple of flights, I realized that perhaps the 206T was just a little too much airplane for a beginner.
A few months later, in June, I was on the set for a video shoot of Cessna’s new Skycatcher light-sport aircraft. This video was going to be part of the unveiling of the Model 162 at Cessna’s dealer meeting at Oshkosh. As I waited patiently while Jack participated in this taping, one of the crew asked if I would like to sit in the airplane. I said, “Sure.” As I sat in the cockpit, I was pleasantly surprised at the new glass panel and the great view over the instrument panel and out the side windows. I felt very comfortable and thought this would be the perfect airplane for me to learn to fly.
After the taping, we went to dinner and by the time our salads arrived, I had convinced Jack this was the right airplane for me to learn in. He asked if I wanted to be the first customer. I asked, “You can do that?” With a smile, he said, “Yes, I have connections!” After a few e-mails on his BlackBerry and by the time dessert arrived, I was the first customer.
It was exciting to follow the development of the Skycatcher from concept, through flight test and certification, especially as the first airplane off the production line from China made its way to Yingling Aviation in Wichita for reassembly.
I took delivery on Friday, December 18, 2009. Lynn Nichols and his team at Yingling put on a fabulous delivery ceremony with a special surprise of having John and Martha King in attendance. The Kings created the new web-based training course for Cessna to be introduced with the Skycatcher. This was going to mean an integrated training experience with my new airplane, already named “Rosebud.” I was going to be the first student using this course.
It was a bit windy on my first lesson, and I was a little nervous. But from my online course, I had learned that my instructor, Kirby Ortega, would perform our first takeoff and landing. He was ready to guide me through our short trip from Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport to Rosebud’s new home at Stearman Field in Benton, Kans.
Thus began my flying lessons in the new Skycatcher. I documented my lessons on my Facebook page, and by the fifth lesson, Jack asked if I would fly the Skycatcher with Kirby to Sebring, Fla., for the U.S. Sport Aviation show. Cessna wanted to put the plane on display there, since it was the first production 162 delivered. I quickly responded, “Yes,” because I had felt very comfortable so far in the airplane and with my lessons.
As of this writing, I’ve logged 63.5 hours of dual. Of those, 32 hours have been cross-country with Kirby positioning the plane for air shows to help Cessna. I made the trip down and back to Florida for the LSA show and then back to Florida to display it at Sun ’n Fun. While those trips were very educational, I didn’t get many takeoffs and landings accomplished.
As with most disciplines, flight training takes persistence, and as time went on, the challenges emerged—the Kansas wind, Kirby’s availability, my travel schedule, my emotions...and did I mention the Kansas wind? I was finally ready to attempt my solo flight. We had practiced takeoffs and landings for three straight days. I was completely confident by day three to solo, but the winds were a bit gusty. On the fourth day, after the third touch-and-go, Kirby got out of the airplane, closed the door and waved me on.
I was ready and talked to myself during the entire flight. I radioed, “Stearman traffic, N450RP departing on runway 17.” I took a deep breath and pushed the throttle in. I remembered, “Okay, look down the runway and stay on the centerline. Rotate at about 50 and hold at 10 degrees of pitch.” Great, I’m in the air, flying all by myself! The pattern for runway 17 is right traffic, and I focused on my next task. “Right turn onto crosswind leg and level out at 2,200 feet.”
I radioed again, “Stearman traffic, N450RP on downwind for runway 17.” So far, so good. As I came abeam the numbers, I said to myself, “Pull the carb heat out, pull the throttle to idle and set flaps to 10 degrees.” Almost there.
I made a right turn onto my base leg and heard, “500,” from the Garmin G300. Good, I was at the right altitude and set the flaps to 25 degrees. I radioed again, “Stearman traffic, N450RP on final for runway 17.” It seemed to get quieter as I approached the runway. I continued to talk myself through it: “Okay, focus on the numbers, a little power to get over the tree line. Good. Past the trees, slowly pull back power. On the numbers, look out at the end of the runway, hold the centerline and gently pull back on the stick.”
Touchdown! I did it! I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be.” I had put so much pressure on myself.
As I taxied back, I picked up Kirby and saw that Jack was there. He had been hiding behind a truck so I wouldn’t know he was there. I was so excited. We headed for the Stearman Field Bar & Grill to sign off my logbook and have breakfast. Kirby started the ceremonial cutting of the back of my shirt but we had a little trouble with the scissors, so my friend, Dwayne Clemens, assisted. My shirttail is proudly displayed at the Grill.
I was on cloud nine all day, replaying my solo in my head and telling everyone I saw, “I soloed my airplane today!” It was an amazing day that I will vividly remember for a long, long time.
Rose Pelton purchased the first production Cessna Skycatcher in December 2009. She soloed in October 2010 and is on track to earn her private pilot license by the end of 2011. Then she and Rosebud intend to enjoy all of what the midwestern skies have to offer.