Another Solo!

                                                             Varun’s First Solo !!!

23rd June 2013, KPAO, Cessna N48849

With 25 lessons, 175 landings and all of Ron’s confidence in me, I was eagerly looking forward for my first solo flight on Sunday. The Friday before, we checked and Sunday’s forecast was cloudy and it was not 100% clear if I could solo. Ron said to lookout for the weather on Sunday morning and if I did not hear back from him, that would mean the Solo schedule was on.

So came the Sunday. The morning started with the sun nowhere to be seen. It was cloud all over. I was a little disheartened. Then I checked for any message from Ron. There was none. I got hopeful. A message probably would have meant no solo. I was a little nervous (far less nervous though than my pre-solo check ride with another senior instructor) on the drive to the club and all the while hoping for everything to go fine.

After the pre-flight we decided to go for a few practice landings. ATIS, read “Ceiling 1600 overcast”. And right at the end of the engine run-up at rwy 31, Ground called and informed rwy assignment has changed to 13. I know things do not stay the same always. But I had practiced very hard the pattern for rwy 31 in the last few lessons picking up landmarks all the way. Use of rwy 13 is rare at KPAO (I had used only once during my training) and I already started feeling that things are not in my favor for solo today.

But Ron’s training kicked in and we did six landings. I got some confidence back, Ron backed me up and I thought I can solo just fine if the clouds cleared up. We were unsure of the clouds and decided to give it some time while we waited in the briefing room. Club rule for a student pilot is a cloud ceiling of at least 2000.

With every passing moment the uncertainty grew more and more and I kept thinking is this going to be the day? All the while since morning, my excitement was bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball in a long rally. After some more time, Ron looked up the weather on his IPad and confirmed I am good to solo! Scattered clouds at 1600 is ok. He signed the necessary endorsements and gave me a go ahead. We walked up to the plane. My wife had joined as well to watch me solo. Ron fixed a couple of cameras inside the cockpit, shook my hand, wished me good luck and they walked to the spot to watch me solo.

Varun Takeoff

I went over the checklists, started the engine, wrote down the ATIS and contacted ground for taxi clearance. No reply from ground for almost a minute. I checked the radios and contacted ground one more time. I heard the response, “Cessna 48849 Palo Alto ground rwy 31 taxi via terminal side”. I was so excited I almost wanted to shout and say, “Ron, rwy 31!” Everything from that point forward was automatic (thanks to Ron’s excellent training) except for the fact that it seemed odd and desolate to have an empty seat beside me. I had to talk to myself to keep company.

Varun Solo from Ron Klutts on Vimeo.

The first landing went good and I felt as if I took my first breath after the first landing. I did not feel nervous anymore and went on. I bounced a bit on the second landing (Ron joked later that it will still be counted as one :-)) and then went on to the third one which was smooth again. After three landings to a full stop, I parked the plane, and then Ron came along and raised his hand for a high five ! At that point I thought yes, I did it… I did the SOLO flight !!!!

Then followed the tradition of Ron cutting off the back of my shirt, signing it and giving it back to me. That is my trophy! And it indeed was my day!!



I have been hard at work training several students recently and 2 of them have made great strides towards the first big achievement of soloing. So thanks for bearing with me as it’s been a while since the last post but I think your going to enjoy Patricks story.

The trip to my first solo in the Skyhawk 172 (tail N4660G) was more memorable than the solo itself. Taking flight by yourself for the first time is a dubious prospect at best, never mind the fact that the hardware you are flying is older than you by a considerable amount, and you recall far too much about the metallurgical effects of cyclic stress and strain on rigid bodies from some sleepy materials engineering class a few years ago.

Alone in the cockpit

Perhaps it is simply the fear of not having the right hand seat occupied for the first time that makes you think of the endless list of possible catastrophes (self induced or otherwise) that could cause your tiny plane to go careening into the ground with a sickening crunch.  But on the 16th of June 2013, I decided it would be a good idea to try my hand at some real flying.

I suppose the act of soloing the airplane is akin to a test in which the results can — by nature — only be binary: you either “sink or swim,” you “crash or land,” which is where (I think) some of the hesitation and nervousness must come from for students.  It is literally a test of skill from which there can only be two outcomes.  More importantly, I felt it was a demonstration of my learning over the past few months – a critical milestone to build confidence in the aircraft and myself as a pilot.

After endless loops around runway 31 in Palo Alto, endlessly hearing Ron’s voice in my headset: “right rudder,” “centerline,” “look at your airspeed,” “CENTERLINE!” my time to become a “pilot in command” seemed to be drawing near.  It really seemed more like an inevitable point in my training, not necessarily something I was building to.  To be completely honest, I hadn’t given the occasion much thought or reverence and was very at ease about the situation (an indication of Ron’s excellent CFI skills) – “sure” I thought, “I’ll fly this airplane, by myself, I guess?”

So, after a few runs around the pattern, Ron asked me to taxi to the “J” row and let him out so he could observe from the safety of the ground.  We shook hands, Ron wished me luck, signed my endorsement, then I secured the passenger side door.

The pattern was already buzzing with some traffic, one student was already in front of me on the taxiway waiting for his solo takeoff clearance as well.  Pretty soon, I heard “Skyhawk 60G, Palo Alto tower, winds variable at 4, runway 31, cleared for takeoff, right closed traffic.”  I responded with the crispest pilot voice I could muster despite the fact that I was excited beyond words: “cleared for takeoff, Skyhawk 60G, runway 31, right closed.”

From here on, it was all automatic for me as the checklists are engrained into my brain at this point: “power set, right rudder, gauges OK, airspeed alive, 55 knots, rotate, tap the brakes.”  My tiny C172 shot up into the sky like a Saturn 5 without Ron in the passenger seat!  In no time at all, I was sitting at 800 feet and on downwind.

Patrick on takeoff

I get my clearance for the option right away.  Abeam the numbers, I throttle back and expect the airspeed to drop to my flaps extended range and add 10 degrees.  Again, almost as quickly as I gained my airspeed on takeoff, I lost my airspeed.  I was abruptly reminded that momentum is indeed the mass times the velocity.  Base turn and final were completely uneventful as was the landing.  I asked myself: “that was it?”

And indeed it was, after careful training and prep work, I soloed an airplane for the first time.

Ron greeted me with an exuberant high-five and the ceremonial shirt tail cutting and I became a student pilot!

Solo is done!