First Flight – Going Solo

The first day of flight school is a little bit like the first day of high school. I remember sitting in a new classroom with 20 other new cadets who I’d be spending the next year with, all wearing new uniforms that still didn’t quite fit or feel right. The main difference, I was excited to finally be learning and studying something I was really interested in, that was also directly related to my future goals.

Cadets
I also couldn’t wait to start flying!
For 2 months, waiting is exactly what we did!
The flight school was still waiting to receive its AOC (Air Operators Certificate.) Which meant the flight school, wasn’t yet a flight school, legally.  There were students, planes, instructors and classrooms, but no legal piece of paper. This gave me my first lesson in aviation. “Aircraft don’t fly without the right paper.”

There are always teething problems when entering into a new venture. This delay was one of them.
We were REX002, the second ever Regional Express Cadet course, REX001 had started 3 months earlier. Even they were still sitting around waiting for their first flights.
For me, it wasn’t a big problem sitting on my butt playing Microsoft Flight Simulator for 2 months. It wasn’t costing me anything. But for a few of the older guys, they were starting to feel the pressure. They had given up well-paying careers in other industries to pursue their dream career in aviation. They knew they’d have to support their families for another 2 or 3 months longer than expected without a paycheck. I’m not sure how they did it, but they managed.

After two months of poorly utilised time on my behalf, we finally had an AOC. New training aircraft were also arriving every few weeks.198940_1007746234126_9424_n
The first few flying lessons flew by, before I knew it, with no more than 8 hours in my logbook, I was ready to go solo!

Having completed a lesson of circuits (Take-off and landing practice) I taxi the small, single engine aircraft into the apron area with my instructor sitting beside me. Before pulling onto the parking position, he instructs me to, “Just stop the aircraft here.” I set the parking brake. “Do exactly what you just did then to a full stop landing,” he says while unbuckling his seatbelt. He climbs out of the cockpit, closes the door and waves me off with ‘a thumbs up’.

It is a crisp June morning in Mangalore, Victoria. Clear blue winter skies and still air; a perfect day for flying. And I am about to fly solo for the first time!
I take a calming breath in and out to re-focus. I reach down and release the parking brake of the small 4 seater aircraft. “Mangalore Traffic, Piper Warrior, xray delta echo, taxing for circuits, Runway Three-Six” I broadcast over the radio. The aircraft creeps forward under the pull of the Idling propeller. One hand on the throttle, the other on the yoke, my feet placed on the rudder and brake pedals controlling direction and speed. I start my pre-take-off safety checks as I have rehearsed many times before. I am back in the zone.
Lining up on the runway, I take another deep breath to settle my nerves and focus.

I push the throttle all the way forward; the engine roars with full power. Without the 70 kilogramme instructor beside me weighing the aircraft down, it accelerates faster than I’m used to. “Airspeed alive”, at 60 knots I rotate. The aircraft leaps into the air, I set the attitude and before I know it I’m on the downwind leg of the circuit at 1000feet Untitledabove the ground. I glance to my right to see an empty seat. I smile to myself, I’m flying solo!  –  I still have to land this thing and that’s the hard part! So I get back to work. I perform me before landing checks like a well-programmed robot, I manoeuvre onto base then final, rolling out on the centre line and selecting the last stage of flaps. The picture looks good. I just need to keep it on the runway centreline and stable.

I close the throttle over the fence gliding the little plane onto the runway. I can’t remember whether it was with a smooth touchdown with a gentle squeak of the tyres or a rough thud. Probably a thud, but I didn’t care I had landed safely! And as they say, “any landing you walk away from is a good landing.”

I pull the aircraft off the runway on to the first taxiway, perform my after landing checks and bring the aircraft to a stop on its parking position in front of the Instructor and shut down the engine.
I fling the door open and climb out; I feel like Tom Cruise in that scene from Top Gun, where Maverick climbs out of his F-14 Tomcat for the last time! giphy

That famous electric guitar riff is playing in my head. Disappointingly the Instructor doesn’t say that I can be his “Wingman any time.” But he congratulates me and shakes solomy hand. I guess that’ll do.

Every pilot’s first solo flight is a very memorable milestone. That night we made a tradition of swimming a lap of the freezing pool in uniform. That tradition lasted a whole month until the pool was drained for maintenance over winter.

218061_1023765114588_2470_n
As 2008 wore on, we experienced many more disruptions as the school struggled its way through infancy.
The Australian aviation industry was beginning to watch us like Guinee pigs. Qantas had just abandoned their cadet program. While our flying academy was going through organisation and ownership changes; transitioning from Civil Aviation Training Academy (CATA) to Australian Airline Pilot Academy (AAPA). This included new managers and chief pilot.
There was quite a lot of doubt and controversy; everyone seemed to have their opinion. It was a hot topic on PPRUNE (Professional Pilot Rumour Network). We didn’t know what lay ahead or what to expect. But this was all part of being amongst the first to try something new. So I just stuck with it; we were making progress at least. And that was the main thing.
AAPA eventually established a new home in Wagga Wagga in 2009 where it has matured into a top quality flight academy.

I progressed from my first solo flight to navigation flights and completing theory exams. Then also onto failing a flight test and getting myself lost somewhere in the countryside, it happens to the best of us. I’ll tell you about it next time.

Pre-flight – The Beginning

 As a child, flying captivated my imagination; it seemed powerful, free and adventurous. It also seemed out of my reach as a career.
Fast forward to 18 years old, still captivated by flight, I received the heartbreaking letter, informing me that I was; “unfit for pilot selection in the Royal Australian Air Force.” I have been Asthmatic since I was a child, and I still am. This crushed my dreams.
After finishing my final year of High School, I was accepted into University for Mechanical Engineering; I was due to start in February. But my flying dreams were still lingering. By this stage, I had already taken a couple of casual flying lessons at my local flying school. When my instructor suggested, “Why don’t you just do a commercial pilot course?” for some reason, I thought the Airforce was the only way to get into the Airlines.
I came home to tell my Mother. She being just as ignorant on the topic, replied, “Okay, do some research and then tell me about it.” I’ve been lucky enough to have parents, who support me, but they also had me to do things for myself, rather than being spoon fed.
So I got to work researching, or more accurately Google Searching “How to become a pilot” and “Commercial pilot courses.” I also managed to organise an interview with a Qantas pilot who my instructor knew, for some advice. This is where I learned about Pilot Cadet Programs. Sadly, for that year, I had missed out on applying for the Qantas program by only 2 months. (This actually turned out to be a blessing, because 8 months later; the Qantas cadet program was abandoned!)
Then sometime around late December 2007 I Google searched: Pilot Cadetships Australia.  That’s when I first heard of REX (Regional Express.) They had just started a cadet program; I put together an application and sent it off. I also applied to Cathay Pacific who was also starting a cadet program.

By mid-January, I had made my mind up. I was going to spend 2008 learning to fly, one way or another. I Deferred university for the year and began calling each day the recruitment office for Cathay and Rex. Turns out everyone is on summer holidays that time of year. Then finally, on Thursday the 24rd of January 2008, REX returned my call. My persistence had paid off! That call had me jump in front of the 1200 other applicants ahead of me. I was offered an interview for the following Tuesday!

With such short notice, fortunately, I had spent the last 3 weeks researching (more Google searching) “Regional Express” “Saab340” “Turboprop” “how turboprops work” ”WOMBAT test.” So I felt prepared. In hindsight, I think what got me through was my enthusiasm and honesty, more than my knowledge.

2 weeks later I was off to Adelaide to interview for the Cathay Program. The interview went terribly! I totally blew it. Luckily, I could write this off as a learning experience; the day before this interview, Rex offered me a position! I was due to start on the 7th of April!

This is where my career started. I took the opportunity Rex gave me with both hands and went for it.

In my next post, I will discuss how to become a pilot. I’ll also share my experience in a cadet program and Flight School; where I spent the next year of my life studying and flying light aircraft to gain my CPL and MECIR.

In future posts, I will continue my story from simulator and line training, my career with Rex, maturing as a person and a professional, becoming a Captain, Interviewing for a major airline, moving city and country. I’ll share my successes and failures, lessons learned hints and tips. I’ll also discuss relevant news in aviation and what my life is like as a pilot, Jet setting around the world in a Boeing 777.

 

Image: boeing.com

 

Send me questions and feedback so I can give you better information.