1 min read
Going Solo

by William Thomas

“Make that a full stop,” Mary Creason said. Standing in the prop blast beside the thrumming Cessna, my instructor fastened her seatbelt across the empty seat and slammed the cockpit door. Suddenly I was alone in airplane about to take flight.  

     Except for my heart rate, everything was in the green. Flaps up. Trim set for take-off. Taking another long look at that empty right seat, I thumbed the mic. “Muskegon Tower, Two Two Tango ready for take-off.” 

     The reply was immediate: “Two Two Tango cleared for take-off.” 

     Releasing the brakes, I pushed the throttle all the way to the stop. The engine roared, engulfing the cockpit in its reassuring noise. As the airplane accelerated, I fed in right rudder to counteract the propeller’s torque and keep the nosewheel on the centerline.  The airspeed indicator awoke: 40, 45, 50 knots. Through the control wheel, I could feel the airplane growing light… 55. 

     With firm fingertip pressure, I applied steady back pressure to the control wheel. The rumble of the wheels stopped. Looking straight down through the side window, I watched the runway drop away.  Good God, I was flying! 

     Glancing back, I saw the shrinking runway drifting off to the right. I banked slightly left to correct for wind drift and throttled back to best climb rate. At 500 feet, I leveled off and turned 90- degrees left. Then a long moment later, another sharp left onto the downwind leg. The engine revs dropped as I pulled on the carb heat. Flying parallel to the runway, I watched the threshold pass the left wingtip. Waited… waited…  Now.  

     Throttle back. Roll the wheel hard left, feed in left rudder. As we banked onto base leg, I reached down beside my seat and pulled up on a handle resembling a parking brake. One click. 

     Out on the wings, those big barn-door flaps notched down 10-degrees, blocking the airstream. The Cessna sagged. But I was already pushing forward on the controls, pinning the airspeed at 60 knots. Everything was happening too fast. I banked hard left onto final approach.  

     Power off. Trim! How could I forget my training nemesis? Reaching down, I rolled the trim wheel forward, taking pressure off the controls. Holding the nose down, I blipped the idling engine to prevent shock cooling. Then power all the way back off. Runway coming up fast, filling the windscreen… 

     “Make the airplane do what you want it to do,” the check pilot had admonished. I hauled back on the wheel. Like a gull coming to roost, the little airplane flared… floated… floated… 

     I never felt the wheels touch. It was the best landing I ever made.  I was 16.   The flying and the sailing? Blame that on my Dad. He was a Navy aviator. So no big surprise. But I would have to choose...  

Photo Captions

William Thomas flying a Cessna 172 over Vancouver Island

Cessna 150 in flight -cessna150club.com