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.
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.
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!!