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    First Solo


    David Archer

    This all started in the autumn of 2005, when I was driving back up the A1 after a business trip with my boss. Having exhausted most conventional subjects, our conversation turned onto a more esoteric level, such as the meaning of life and all that entails. "What would you do differently if you had your time again", asked my boss. "Well," I said after a few moments thought "I've always wished I had learned to fly. As you know, I fly model aircraft and that is good fun, but it's not quite the same as the real thing".

    "So, what's stopping you?" said he. Of course, I gave all the usual answers - time, cost, opportunity, but mainly cost, to which he replied with a single word "SKI" - Spend the Kid's Inheritance" for the uninitiated.

    Well, to cut a long story short, that's precisely what I did. I joined a flying club at Wellesbourne Mountford airfield, which is about 4 miles east of Stratford-upon-Avon. This is an ex-RAF base with a superb tarmac runway and access to huge areas of uncontrolled airspace on the edge of the Cotswolds.

    My flying training only commenced in earnest in the spring of 2006, when I was introduced to my trusty mount, a Cessna 152 affectionately named 'Golf Bravo Whisky November Bravo', or 'November Bravo' for short.

    Interior of a Cessna 152

    My first reaction on getting into the cockpit was "It's a bit cosy, isn't it". Imagine a Mini (one of the original 1959 models) but with only two seats and a vastly less spacious interior, and you'll get the idea.

    My initial training covered straight & level flying, turns, climbing, descending, slow-flying, stalls, spins etc, most of which I found relatively easy to pick up as a result of my model flying experience. Then I moved on to take-offs, circuits & landings, and this is where I started to have problems. For one thing, we don't get much practice at steering our motor cars with our feet, do we? And I just could not judge the landing flare correctly. 

    But eventually I began to get the hang of it, and by late September I felt I was about ready to go solo. Then the weather changed - autumn mists, strong crosswinds, rain - and my instructor Richard took 3 weeks well-earned vacation from his day-job flying Boeing 757's out of East-Midlands airport.

    So, it wasn't until the first weekend in November that the opportunity finally arose. It was a superb day - bright autumn sunshine, dead calm, and good visibility. I had just two concerns: -

    a) the light was failing - we didn't start flying until 3.30pm, &

    b) it was bonfire night - I just hoped that wasn't an omen!

    After an hour of dual circuits, we taxied back to the flying club, Richard got out and said "Right, off you go, enjoy yourself, you've still got 40 minutes of daylight left, and you won't need that for one circuit".

    OK, taxi to the holding point for the runway in use, I was number 1 in the queue. Wait for a landing aircraft to pass, then radio-call "Golf November Bravo, ready for departure". I made a nice smooth take-off, climbing to a safe height before commencing a turn to the right, finally levelling off at 1000 ft. Now another turn onto the down-wind leg, watching out for the runway off to the right - spotted it, that was a relief.

    Wellesbourne Mountford Aerodrome

    At this point, I was able to relax a little, and even had time for a quick chat with the chap in the co-pilot's seat beside me. Yes, I was flying solo, but I knew that I wasn't totally alone in that cockpit.

    Now it was time for another turn onto the base leg, at the same time reducing throttle to start the descent. Two stages of flap, dip the nose and then trim for a nice steady rate of descent. Final turn, then ... help, there's another aircraft just ahead. I was a bit high, he was low, but we were both heading for the same bit of runway. There was no alternative, "Golf November Bravo, going around".

    The second time around, I managed to line up perfectly. Crossing the runway threshold, I throttled right back, then flare, flare, flare, flare and touched down, smooth as silk, my best ever. Final radio-call, "November Bravo, runway vacated, thank you and good afternoon", to which I received a reply, "November Bravo congratulations on your first solo". A truly unforgettable moment.

    David with NB

    November 2006