Flying Solo

The date is 15thJuly 2016. It’s a sunny mid-summer Friday afternoon, and I’m behind the controls of a 38-year-old Cessna C152 at eleven-hundred feet, soon to land on Shoreham Airport’s runway 24. It’s my sixteenth birthday, and, weather depending, I’m scheduled to make my first solo flight as part of my training for my private pilot’s license. Next to me sits James, my flight instructor for today. We’re on our final circuit pattern for this flight, and as a result of the morning’s flying, I have become much more relaxed from my nerves earlier in the day. James, too, appears to be relaxed, observing but not involving himself in the control of the aircraft. I turn the main controls, known as the yoke, to the left to initiate a thirty-degree bank to position ourselves so we’re heading into runway’s direction. As a routine landing procedure, and not unfamiliar for me by any means, we soar over the A27 road and surrounding vegetation. Above the runway numbers, I pull back on the throttle, cutting the power and execute what’s known as a landing flare, whereby the aircraft pitches up and glides down to the runway surface. The wheels hit the grass, and I hold the yoke back to protect the propeller from hitting the surface.

We taxied up to Shoreham’s terminal and parked in front of the art deco building. James, unplugging his headset and retrieving his bag, deboarded the aircraft and gave me a final good luck remark and thumbs up. I gave my co-pilot seat a glance. It was now empty, only inhabited by my phone and a pad of paper. I taxied the little Cessna to the edge of the runway, known as the runway holding point. An aircraft was on final approach for runway 24, so I knew I would have to wait for him before I could get clearance from ATC to move.

                  “Shoreham tower, student-golf-bravo-tango-yankee-tango, ready for departure, kilo three”.

The air traffic controller replied with instructions to hold my position until the arriving Diamond DA40 ‘Star’ had landed. With a large queue of larger aircraft of all forms forming behind me, I couldn’t help but feel like a learner driver stalling their car at a junction. However, they knew as well as I did that I could not move until the Diamond had landed, which gave me a little more confidence. I was talking to myself, verbally listing each check that had to be made, throughout the rest of the flight. After one lap of the aerodrome, the aircraft touches down back at Shoreham with just me in the aircraft – a first for me.

Fast forward almost three years to March 2019 and I find myself in command of a larger aircraft, this time it’s a 4-seater Piper PA28 Warrior. By this point, I’m a qualified private pilot, and I’ve had my pilot’s license for a year and a half. My university flatmate and I are flying to Goodwood to land for the day to have lunch and watch the motor racing, and it’s almost perfect flying weather. We were at a cruising altitude of just over two-thousand feet, and since it was a very short flight of just twenty-odd minutes, and I had the chance to briefly remember days where I would fly to Goodwood with my instructor to practice touch and goes on the weekends when our airfield was closed for such manoeuvres.

If anyone has any interest in aviation or wants to try something new, I would highly recommend booking a trial lesson at your local airfield. If you don’t end up pursuing a full license, flying an aircraft for the first time, even with an instructor next to you, is an experience you’ll never forget.