Once upon a time, a self-proclaimed Archaeology-Lifer got a job as a flight attendant. No one knows quite how it happened. Here's what happened next...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Whiskey Zulu November, confirm that was your first solo?"

Well this has been a long time coming.  No excuses, just apologies.

On Thursday morning I woke up early and went straight to my window to check the weather.  Slightly windy, a few clouds, but nothing too sinister.  I immediately got butterflies.  I was going to go for my first solo.  I packed a change of clothes, and attempted to eat some breakfast, but couldn't manage much more than an English Muffin.  During the drive to the Flying Club, I felt as though my stomach had vacated my body, and was somehow already cruising around at circuit altitude checking out the conditions.  The little voice in my head seemed to be stuck on repeating two tracks.  The first went "What am I doing?  This is nuts.  Why am I nuts?!"  The second; "I'm gonna fly today, AND I'm gonna fly by myself today! Oh my god oh my god oh my god yay!"

Parts of the day are a blur.  Some things really stick out in my mind, but others have just blended in, overshadowed by others.  I met up with the instructor who was going to be taking me out that morning, and he sent me out to do my walk-around while he had a cigarette - hopefully NOT to calm his nerves!  The walk-around went well, and I even managed not to have a single clumsy moment. 

Checking out the fuel - I hear it's useful.

 After I had determined my plane was good to go, I walked back to the club feeling slightly dazed, and following what I vaguely remember as being a quick weight and balance sheet and checking out of the weather, it was suddenly time to go.  I am quite sure that at least half an hour passed between my walk-around and climbing into the plane to go, but I can't for the life of me remember it.  There may even have been a briefing situation.  Like I said...there are blurs.

 As I climbed into the plane (Whiskey Zulu November, definitely one of my favourites!) I calmed down a bit.  It was just going to be like doing normal circuits with My Instructor.  That was no problem.  It was the bit after that would be the challenge.  I went through the motions of all my start-up procedures and such, and we taxied out to line up on the runway.  Just a normal take-off, although the circuit was a little busier than I am used to.  My first landing an approach was unbelievable - I had no idea I was capable of performing such a smooth and gentle landing.  My confidence soared, and hearing the instructor say "Holy crap, that was amazing!" made me smile so much my face hurt.

Naturally, because it's me, my second landing was awful.  Cringeworthy, unbelievably poor.  I think I landed twice.  Facepalm of the century.  I started to worry that the instructor would just say "I have control" and call the whole damned thing off.  The movie theatre in my mind played a film of us parking on the grass and me walking up to the club with my head hanging in shame while everyone stared at me and said "What happened?" as they lowered the water guns which were supposed to provide me with a celebratory soaking. 

But nothing happened.  I opened the throttle again, and took off.  The instructor showed no signs of taking control of the plane and berating me for a poor performance.  I perked up my hopes again, and started mentally preparing myself for my third landing.  The approach was better this time, and I somehow pulled off another good landing.  At this point there is a huge gap in my memory.  I can't for the life of me remember if that was my last circuit with the instructor, or if we went around again.  The next thing I remember was the instructor telling ATC that we were going to do a full stop and drop off a passenger.  My mind did the math - a little sluggishly, like ailerons in slow flight, but when the solution arrived, it hit like a truck.  We were letting off a passenger, and I was going to fly solo!

Taxiing back to the club with the instructor.

 We landed and taxied over to the club.  The instructor spent a few minutes going over a few last minute instructions, and hopped out.  As he shut the door, he said something to me along the lines of "good luck and have fun", and shut the door.  I was alone in an airplane with the engine on.  I took a moment to appreciate that fact, and only succeeded in making my nerves come back tenfold.  I paused for a moment before calling ground control and requesting my taxi clearance.

A few last-minute instructions...

As I taxied to the runway I felt as though someone was dancing a tango inside of me.  I could not believe this was happening.  I felt sure that at some point before I reached 04 someone was going to come sprinting across the field and say "NO!  What are you doing?  Get your overreaching butt back to the club right now young lady!" but the request to return never came, so I positioned myself on the runway when instructed to do so, and it was time.

"Full power.  Oil and temperature gauges are green.  Airspeed is coming alive...and who the f*** am I talking to?"

And that was it.  I was in the air.  My nerves seemed to have been left on the ground - their own airspeed hadn't come alive quite as quickly, and the sudden and surprising rate of climb had caught them off guard.  They weren't going to catch me now!  I had been warned that the plane would climb a lot faster without the added weight of an instructor next to me, but I wasn't prepared to be quite so high in such a short time.  I felt like I was auditioning for a role in Top Gun.  Ok not quite.

I had no issues during the circuit more than a bump or two, a result of the wind picking up slightly.  But considering I always seem to be flying in strong wings, I wasn't bothered.  At one point I turned to say something to My Instructor, having completely forgotten that he wouldn't be there, and instead of his head and a teasingly raised eyebrow, I saw the view out the right side of the plane. 

Coming in to land I started to feel slight anxiety again - this was the big test.  Landing by myself.  But then I realised that there really wasn't any reason that landing by myself should be any different from landing with someone else there, so I just ignored my brain and went for it - not exactly like I had a choice.  I had gotten myself up into the air.  At some point I was going to have to get myself back down again.

The landing is a blur, and taxiing off of the runway I can recall in a haze of happiness and pride in myself.  As I did my post-landing procedures I became aware of several people on the radio - mainly Controllers wishing me congratulations on my first solo.  I even received a congratulatory call from 1102, which turned out to be an Air Canada flight just on its way off to Winnipeg! 

I taxied over to the club, and parked the plane on the grass.  As I shut down the engine, I realised my hands were shaking.  Seemingly out of nowhere, My Instructor appeared and showed me how to enter my times on the sheet, before kindly taking my things so they wouldn't be soaked in the upcoming ritual.  We walked back to the club, the others taking care to stay clear behind me, and I saw the group of people waiting and trying to look innocent.

'Hey, what are you all sitting around here for?' I asked, trying not to laugh, just before a bucket of water was dumped on me from behind.  Got to love traditions.


  1. No apologies needed.

    Thank you for sharing that incredible experience! :) :) :) :)

  2. What an amazing post! I had butterflies in MY stomach as I read about your instructor telling you good luck and have fun, then closing the door.
    Congratulations on your successful first solo!

  3. Well done, and congrats. :)

  4. Congratulations!

    Reading your blog has made me think again about wanting to take some flying lessons!

    YYC Dispatcher

  5. Hello Flygirl!

    Firstly, congratulations on your first solo! It's a day you'll never forget. I can relive mine and that was thirty years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    Second. My apology for not finding your blog sooner. We aviation bloggers have to stick together. :)

    Third. I noticed you have my blog site listed as first. Thanks. I'll adjust my list to include yours.

    I'l be in YOW this week on a layover. Happy flying and enjoy the trek!

    Maybe one day you and I will share the flight deck. But hurry, I have 11 years to go.

    Captain Doug

  6. Congrats Hannah... it's great to have such enthusiastic people such as yourself in the Ottawa Flying Club. Keep up the great work!! Keep the blue side up!!

  7. Congratulations Flygirl! It's amazing how first-solo stories can stir up that feeling we all had when we did our own... Just reading yours and I can smell avgas, old 152-seat-cushion and my own sweat....

    Great blog by the way, your writing is great!

  8. Have checked out your blog too, nice read and keep up the posts! I'll try my best to update mine weekly ;-)