Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pilot In Command

Several years ago, two friends and I made an attempt to climb the highest peak in North America. That particular mountain is quite crowded with box-checkers from all over the world. No matter what language they speak, all the climbers know one word, summit. Everybody asks, "Did you summit?" "You summit?" or "Summit?" depending on the speaker's grasp of the English language. The summit of acquiring one's private pilot license is to fly all by yourself. Everyone asks, "When are you gonna solo?" or "Did you solo, yet?"

The flight school spends lots of time and energy getting you to that goal. First your instructor puts you through the paces to make sure you're ready. It's his or her ass if you wreck while soloing as a student pilot. You are asked to demonstrate maneuvers with no help, talk to air traffic control, and that sort of thing. Once your instructor feels good, he schedules a stage check with the chief instructor.

Noah, the chief instructor, asked me how I felt during the preflight. I told him I was a little nervous. When he asked me why, I told him that it had been a while since I'd taken a test in which I cared about the results. That flight went well and I got the school blessing to go solo.

Corbin and I did a couple of pick-ups and set downs, stressing forward movement on both. Forward motion keeps the tail rotor ground strike scenario out of the realm of possibility. Then we did a few patterns, none of which were my best work. Probably nervous that he'd yank the solo endorsement out of my logbook.

I wasn't nervous about going solo. I felt I'd received adequate instruction, I'd been thinking about and understood the different handling characteristics, and really just wanted to get the hurdle behind me. We set down, he hopped out, and once a safe distance away, gave the thumbs up.

I checked my warning lights, gauges, and cleared my skids. Then I slowly raised the collective. I adjusted the cyclic way left to counter the lack of weight on left seat and a bit forward to protect the tail. It felt weird for sure, mostly because I had way more power and no one telling me all the things I should be doing better.

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