My First Solo Flight

It's been many years since I made my first solo flight, but I ran across this old photo recently and it reminded me of a certain afternoon in 1987 at Paine Field, just north of Seattle. It had taken a long while before I finally found an instructor who would teach me to fly in that Grumman Yankee AA1 beside me in the photo. The plane was designed by Jim Bede and had developed a reputation for being a touchy one to fly. It had low-wings, a freely rotating nose wheel, and stalled at an indicated airspeed of 67 mph (108 km/h), which meant that landing the plane was a bit more exciting than in your average Cessna that most people learn to fly, since it was necessary to dive at power for the end of the runway at 90 mph (145 km/h), flare and land on the back wheels as the power was cut, and touch down the nose wheel as the final step. Failure to do all this correctly could lead to an unforgiving crash, most likely ending in a permanent "dirt nap", as my instructor called such an untimely event. So I was a bit surprised when my instructor, a veteran Navy jet pilot, told me after a lesson to take the plane up on my own and climbed out of the right seat, leaving me all alone in the plane. After all, I only had nine hours in my log book, which was just a couple of hours off the record for anyone soloing that particular plane. But then I noticed some local pilots pulling lawn chairs out of their hangers and waving at us, so I guessed my instructor had told them today was my day. I nervously began my pre-flight checklist. Getting into the air was a snap, but it's hard to describe the feeling after completing the pattern around the runway and being on final approach for the first time when it is just you and the airplane. It's similar to that first leap off the high-dive at the public pool. You know you're committed and you'd better "straighten up and fly right", but the ground is coming up fast, it is isn't water, and you're surrounded by screaming metal. It couldn't have been a more perfect landing, and I got a long round of applause from the crusty old veterans on the airfield. And then my photo was taken, though it's fading now...

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...a Czech-speaking American expat living in Prague since 1993.

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