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At the aircraft controls next to an empty seat

By Wayne Elliott

I can only describe my first experiences flying a plane solo as ‘daunting and a huge adrenalin rush’. About an hour afterwards I was still high on adrenalin and obviously feeling a sense of achievement.

Work and family commitments have limited my time in jumping into the cockpit of late but I remain determined to get up my flying hours. The plan of getting my Private Pilots Licence and taking Julie on a flying holiday remains a key goal.
I was initially unaware I was going to fly solo on the day I first took the plane up and brought it down myself.

Hugh and I went over to Warracknabeal to do some flying. I had just completed the medical examination you need to do before going solo.

We went to the plane and went through all the necessary pre-flight checks and Hugh and I went up to do a few circuits which involved practicing all the maneuvers involved in taking off and landing.

I think it was either on the third or fourth circuit that we landed, just as another plane, piloted by Horsham’s Gary Nicholas, taxied out on the opposite runway.
Gary and Hugh were quickly on the radio talking and organised to taxi both aircraft to the runway intersection.

Hugh looked at me and said: “Gary will meet us at the junction and I’ll get out.” I didn’t twig what was going on.

Then he explained and said he would talk to me on the radio with Gary.
I said: “What! Are you sure?” He then said, “you’ll be alright,” and bailed out of the aircraft.

So I started to taxi down the runway so I could turn around for the take-off and, I can tell you, at that moment, I was really nervous. But, as I got further down I said to myself, ‘if he didn’t have confidence in my ability, he wouldn’t let me go’. And then I took off.

It was amazing, just sitting there in control of the aircraft on my own. And as I went up, I don’t know if it’s possible, but my bum had a very firm grip on the seat.
I did a normal circuit, as we did in training, and then I put the aircraft back on the ground. I stopped and Hugh, who had been listening on the radio all the time, got out of Gary’s plane.

As Gary taxied down the runway he chimed in with a ‘congratulations’ and I came back with, “thank you, I think!” What an adrenalin rush.

But my second solo flight provided me with a different set of circumstances. It proved how well you absorbed the training and how you work automatically when confronted with a ‘situation’.

It was all the same thing. We went to Warracknabeal, Hugh jumped out and told be to do three more circuits.

I can tell you, I was feeling confident this time around. I took off and climbed up to 500 feet, automatically following standard instructions and turning off the fuel pump and landing lights.

It was a few seconds later that I felt an unusual vibration from the front of the plant. Instinctively, I immediately turned the fuel pump and landing lights back on. But it was still vibrating.

It was a slight vibration and I never felt anything was terribly wrong so I climbed to 1000 feet. The vibration continued and it was definitely coming from the front of the plane. I thought, ‘this isn’t right’, did one circuit and came in and landed.

Hugh, who had expected me to do three circuits, immediately asked me what was wrong. So I explained the vibration.

It turned out that a tiny metal strip, weighing probably 20 grams, had come off one of the propeller blades and it was just enough to throw the prop slightly out of balance.
It wasn’t dangerous, but probably not common either, just one of those things that happens.

A call to the maintenance guys and it was all resolved with a few minor adjustments to the propeller. Hugh took it up for a test flight and it was fine.

The great thing was, when I was in the air, I had felt okay and confident enough in what I had learnt. I just scanned the instruments and made sure everything else was okay as far as the plane was concerned. There wasn’t a wing flapping or about to drop off, no smoke or anything really out of the ordinary and everything was fine.

There was just a vibration and I felt confident and not overly concerned.
It was just a matter of doing the circuit and checking it out.

Really, it was a good exercise and the training I had done to that point, just kicked in.
The feeling of flying solo is amazing. You think, ‘I’m up here on my own, I’ve got this all to myself’.

But of course at the early stages of training you don’t tend to soak up too much of the scenery. You tend to focus on what’s going on in the plane and what happens next. A circuit takes about seven minutes and you don’t really have a lot of time to look around. You just focus on what needs to be done. It’s all about taking off and landing, good intense practice.

You have to consider if you’re coming in at the right height, the right angle, is the approach right. There’s a lot to remember and it doesn’t take long to get around and it tends to go quicker when you are on your own.

I need to get more hours up and the feeling every time the wheels leave the ground is addictive. It feels like you’re defying the laws of nature.

We’re not meant to fly but we sit in a machine that enables us to do just that, and that’s the part that gives you the buzz.

You are only flying because you have control of a machine that keeps you in the air. There’s no better buzz than defying nature.

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