Today was a significant milestone in my 4-month aviation “career”. For the first time, I was the sole occupant of a small airplane. I flew alone for three takeoffs and landings totaling 0.4 hours of flight time. Woohoo!

The weather couldn’t have been better, though I was a little cold on the ride down. Clear blue skies and little to no wind was waiting for me. It had been almost two weeks since my last flight, which is the longest I’ve gone between flights since I started. I was a little concerned that I might not do so well because of that but I was abnormally not nervous before the flight.

After preflight, Gene and I hopped into 40B and made our way to runway 3. There was one slight delay, though: I had trouble starting the engine. 40B has always been easy to start, but today it just would not stay running. After a few minutes of pumping the throttle and another half shot of the primer, it finally started. The plan was to make at least three laps around the pattern with him to make sure I was okay with everything. With the cool air, the plane performed quite well. It left the ground and climbed easily. I hit pattern altitude before finishing my turn to crosswind. Normally it’s at or shortly after turning downwind.

The air was very smooth too. Well… at least while Gene was in the plane. My pattern was a little wide for Gene’s taste, but it wasn’t that bad. He’s a precision instructor, so I keep that in mind when he notes things to adjust. It’s a good thing, I guess. I don’t want to be sloppy. All three dual laps, approaches and landings were decent. I was rounding out a little higher than I should, so touchdown was on the hard side, but not bad. On the third landing, Gene asked if I was ready for him to get out. I thought for a couple seconds about how to respond. “Sure. Yeah. I think I’ll be fine.” is what I was thinking. Then it hit me. I’m ready. I’ve been ready. I’ve been waiting for weeks. “Yes!” is what came out of my mouth in a very confident tone. Gene chuckled and we taxied back to the ramp.

I cut the engine and Gene packed up his stuff. He signed my medical certificate and logbook to authorize solo flight and left the plane. He said he would come back out and observe after he put his stuff in the club house. I didn’t wait. I went through the checklist to start the engine and taxied out to runway 3. There was one other plane (a club Mooney) in the pattern, but I was ready to go before it was anywhere near landing. As I called for departure and taxied onto the runway, I knew this was it. I was about to do something I’d done 100+ times, but this time I wouldn’t have a backup in case of trouble. And up I went.

Without the extra 150 pounds, I hit pattern altitude even more quickly than before. Turn crosswind. No traffic (the Mooney landed and was done for the day). Turn downwind. Make radio call. Talk to myself. It was quiet without Gene. Look at the empty seat to my right. Look around for traffic. Wow. There I was. I was the only person on the planet that could get me on the ground safely. Carb heat on at midfield. Pull some power abeam the numbers to descend and 10° flaps. Turn base, make a call, and 20° flaps. Check for traffic; none. Turn final, make a call, pray. The approach was as good as any other. I made power adjustments and significant aileron adjustments as it seemed the wind was playing games with me. It was relatively calm, but there were little bursts of wind that required abrupt adjustments to stay straight. Down, down I went. I was in the right place going the right speed. Roundout (a little high, again), power back, flare, keep it on the center line, and touchdown. No different than any other… that’s a good thing. Gene advised that I make the first one a full stop and taxi back to give me some time to recap, or perform self-CPR, or whatever. I was excited, but I maintained my concentration and taxied back. Gene was out on the ramp and gave me a thumbs up. Good sign.

Here we go again. Not much different, except there was some inbound traffic to the north at 1,500 feet that called asking for traffic advisories. I had just turned downwind and reported so. He said he would come in behind me, so I relaxed about it. This landing was a touch and go and was nearly identical to the previous one, including the slightly high roundout, except that there seemed to be a bit of a right crosswind. After landing, as I cleaned up the flaps and carb heat, I used aileron to counter the crosswind, but didn’t let off enough before liftoff. The plane reminded me to do so by banking quickly to the right. My heart skipped a beat as I let off. No biggie; I’m still in the air. I was expecting to hear something from the inbound traffic, but nothing. Gene later told me it was a helicopter and he ended up flying over and passed instead of landing as he had indicated. Oh well… less for me to worry about.

As I turned crosswind, I got a call from a familiar voice… “40B, try making your downwind a little less wide.” I had recently learned that double-click on the mic button is a shorthand way of saying “Got it. Will do.” or the like. So, I gave Gene the double-click and turned downwind sooner. I don’t think it helped my approach much, if any, but he was happier with it. I did manage to land more smoothly with a slight skip of the left main gear an instant before both touched down. I used less runway than before, too. It was almost good enough to just stop and taxi back to a closer exit, but I decided to take my time and enjoy the rollout. I taxied back to the ramp, cut the engine, and Gene met me with a congratulatory handshake. Way cool!

We went inside and talked about the slightly high roundout but he noted that it went very well overall. My upcoming lessons will be more of the same: some dual followed by solo. I’m not sure yet how many before he just lets me go flyin’ around in the practice area on my own, but soon, I hope.

A total of 1.0 hours (0.6 dual and 0.4 solo!) brings me to 32.2 total hours. There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m happy with my progress.