First Solo Flight

May 12, 1999

Centennial Airport (KAPA), Denver, Colorado
C-172 N98969
May 11, 1999

I just thought I would let everyone know that at about 8:10 Tuesday morning I successfully soloed in a Cessna 172. After doing 3 full stop taxi-backs with my instructor she declared I was ready to solo. We taxied back to the parking area where she endorsed my student certificate and logbook for solo flight. She got out of the plane and I was alone in the cockpit. The adrenaline was definitely doing its thing.

I restarted the plane, went through the usual checklist, called ground control and requested clearance to taxi. I taxied out to runway 17L as we did earlier in the morning.

I have been taking lessons at Centennial Airport about 12 miles south of Denver. This is the second busiest general aviation airport in the country. Normally two parallel runways are used. For today's wind this would be 17L and 17R. Normally the bulk of departing and arriving traffic use 17L. Aircraft doing pattern work, like me, usually use 17R for touch and goes, and full stops taxi backs. Notice I've used the word 'normally' a few times. Well today they decided to close runway 17R so now all the traffic needs to use 17L. This is the first time this has happened while I was flying.

This wasn't much of a problem earlier in the morning when I was with my instructor. There was very little other traffic. By 8:00 though traffic had picked up quite a bit. I taxied out to 17L and performed my usual run-up. Everything was fine so I radioed ground control I was ready. They had me switch to tower control as usual and I waited. Briefly I was contacted by tower that I was cleared to take-off but to be quick about it since a plane was coming in. I replied I would expedite my take-off and I moved into position. This was it. My first solo take-off. Without worrying about it I added full throttle, picked up speed, and left the ground. The plane goes quicker with one less person in it. Cool - I was flying all by myself!

I slowly climbed up toward pattern altitude. I turned cross-wind toward I-25, then downwind parallel to I-25. "Look at all those poor people stuck in traffic down there". Moments later tower called me to do a 360 degree turn to the left to help spread out the traffic pattern. I have never had to this (I've done 360's before, just not in the pattern). No big deal though. I did my 360 and was back in the pattern on the downwind leg. Moments later tower called me up to do something completely new. I was to do a low approach over closed runway 17R. Now I was a little nervous. I knew I could do this but it was very unexpected. I radioed back I would continue my right traffic but now for runway 17R and do a low approach, not to land.

I turned base then final and flew over runway 17R at 6400 feet, as requested, just 400 below the normal pattern. This was strange being this high right over the runway. I flew past the end of the runway and started to turn cross-wind and then downwind to return to the normal pattern. Wouldn't you know it - tower called me and asked me to do another low approach over 17R. I complied of course and did this over again. At least two other people from my club were being asked to do the same. By the time I got back in the pattern on the downwind leg I noticed the ground traffic waiting to take-off had cleared up quite a bit. Sure enough the plane ahead of me was cleared to land and then I was called to follow him in for my landing.

OK now. Back to more familiar circumstances. I began my normal landing procedures. Carb heat on, power back to 1200, added some trim for 70 knots. When the other plane was on final and passing under my wing (visually, not actually) I turned base then final. The moment of truth was coming - and so was the ground. There was very little wind so the landing should be straight forward enough. A little roll to line up on the centerline. A little rudder to straighten the nose. Getting closer, closer, start to flare - too much, hold it, hold it, settling again, more flare, almost down, more flare, perfect. Wow, that was the smoothest touch down I have had yet. Yehaaaa! I did it, my first solo was a success despite all the new things and the traffic.

But I'm not done. I have two more to do. I slowed the plane and turned onto the taxi-way. Tower cleared me to taxi back to 17L. I did my "after landing" checklist - Carb heat off, trim reset, lights off, transponder to standby. I taxied back to the hold line for 17L and waited. The wait was a minute or two as a plane left ahead of me and one or two landed. I was asked to move into position and hold. I did so and waited for the plane ahead of me to take-off. Soon I was cleared to take-off. I did all the usual and soon was off the ground again. I was remembering all the usual my instructor tells me along with all instructors and their students. Right rudder, right rudder. The plane ahead of me turned cross-wind then started turning downwind. I was starting to prepare for my crosswind turn when - oops - this guy just cut ahead of another plane in the pattern who went way too far to the south. I didn't see the other plane either until I heard all the chatter on the radio about it. Not a huge deal since the planes were plenty far apart. In fact the plane that went too far south got more grief from the tower than did the guy that turned too soon. I was called and asked to follow the other plane that went too far south. No problem and I just did a longer upwind and got in the pattern behind the plane. I was now 4th in the right hand pattern for landing.

I expected to have more of the first flight but traffic was lighter now. Slowly I heard the other planes getting cleared to land. The plane ahead was finally cleared. They turned base then final. As they passed under my wing I was about to turn base. I then realized I hadn't heard anything from the tower about me. I stayed on my downwind expecting to hear something any second. Waiting, waiting. I'm now heading north on my downwind going much farther than I ever have before. I was getting worried. I was looking everywhere keeping an eye out for traffic. Lots of planes were coming in from the north to land in addition to those of us in the pattern. I certainly didn't want to turn and cut anyone off. I was just about to call tower to ask for help. At this point I assumed I missed something. Just then tower called out asking who was at such and such position and altitude. Hey, that's my position and altitude. I replied with my call sign that is was me. Now I knew for sure I screwed up. By this time I had spotted a plane on long final heading south at my altitude just a bit to my north. Tower asked me to turn base and final at this point. What! I quickly informed then of my new neighbor and tower then asked that I follow this plane in. OK, finally. The plane passed by me and I turned to follow. Now I was on final but several miles further out than normal. I adjusted and made a good approach.

Landing two was OK but not as good as the first. I ballooned a bit while flaring, held it, finished the flare, and came down with a minor thump. I've certainly done worse. I was cleared to taxi back to 17L before I even left the runway. Once again I did the usual "after landing" checklist. Now I waited a while and I'm not sure why. I was at the hold line and watched one big plane come in and land. Soon there was no radio traffic and no air traffic on final I could see. I got on the radio to simply state I was ready at the hold line. I figured they forgot about me. Boy was I wrong. I was simply asked to monitor the tower but it was said in a tone that told me they knew I was there and they didn't appreciate me letting them know - oops. So I waited patiently. Tower came on, started to clear me for take-off, then simply told me to hold short. OK, I'll wait some more. Finally I was cleared to take-off. No other plane had landed this whole time. From a learning point of view I would love to know what was going on.

Take-off three went smooth as usual. I got into the pattern and mentally prepared for my final landing. This pattern went smooth. I was cleared to land second after another plane that had gotten into the pattern. This should be simple. All was looking as it should. I was on final watching the plane ahead of me. It landed fine and was rolling down the runway. At this point I couldn't remember if the plane was cleared to land, cleared for the option, or cleared for a touch and go. As I approached the end of the runway I decided the plane was too close and I added full throttle for a go-around. Seconds later the plane left the runway. I radioed in was going around and the tower simply said "Why?" in a tone that indicated a little disappointment and maybe some frustration. I simply said the other plane wasn't clear and this was my first solo. Looking back on it I most likely could have safely landed but at the time I wasn't going to risk it.

I got back into the right hand pattern again and waited for clearance to land again. It came when it should have and I set up my approach. The tower apparently wasn't taking any chances this time. No body was ahead of me this time. While on final I saw two small trucks cross my runway to get to the closed runway. I knew they weren't an issue. But tower decided to inform me in a tone a parent uses with a six year old that "two trucks will be crossing the runway and they will not be a problem". I laughed to myself and replied an acknowledgement. I know one thing, I never want to be an air traffic controller. They have a tough job on days like this.

I did my final landing. It was better then the last one but not quite as good as the first. I was quite happy overall. Smiles ear to ear. I taxied off the runway, got clearance to the ramp, and taxied to the parking area. I shut down, parked, and returned to the club's counter with a bounce in my step and a perma-grin starting to form.

I saw my instructor who happened to catch most, but not all, of my flight. I was happy, she was happy. Every stranger I told was happy. You all better be happy too :)

All in all the three flights went well. I made one big screw up on the downwind leg of the second flight - I think. I really am not sure if I missed a call or not. Usually if I miss a call I get called back pretty quickly. I handled it well though. I didn't panic. I watched for other traffic, and got things back in order without causing any problems.

OK, this went on for a while but that's fine. I'm pumped. This is so cool. I highly recommend this to anyone.