Airborne Alone (First Solo)

7 Long months from that late summer afternoon in 1981, when i sat in the co pilot seat of the Towline Neon Baby (the most trusted glider of yester years - why, even today), my instructor at the pilot seat, gliding over the lovely city of Coimbatore, the enormous skyline of the Nilgiris on the horizon, I remember saying - This is Incredible!, what could be better ?

Later on, I did discover something that was - My first solo!

I had enjoyed the rides with the Captain at the helm, on that sleek beauty, for several months.I had everything going right for me during training, but was stunned when he walked up to me one Sunday and said "Enough of Piggy backing on me kid, you are going up alone the Sunday after next". I was too dazed to react and by the time I had gathered myself up to respond - He was Gone !

The next few days, were the most traumatic times in my life. Every time I closed my eyes to catch a few winks of sleep, disastrous flight sequences would play out on my mind and I would wake up to cold sweat breaking across my forehead. Nightmares of crash landings on cornfields, entangled wreckage of gliders on power lines and the likes, kept scaring the day light out of me. Danger seemed to be lurking in every corner. Even riding my bike was becoming a nightmare, for my thoughts flashed around hospitals, mortuaries, coffins etc. It was then I decided that the best way to fight this, was to take it head on. I had to look up the challenge - right into the eye (get done with it, was more like it ).

I walked into Caps office on Friday and pleaded "Sir, can i go up this Sunday, than the next please ?"The years of experience behind those grey hairs and tough jaws, soon spotted my predicament. With a naughty wink he said "Looks like you are loosing sleep over dying kid, Alright, you go up the day after".

What have I got myself into, What a cozy life I've lead till now, Where is this headed ? These were my thoughts, mere seconds after my rollout from the runway at the Coimbatore flying club. Moments earlier, I remember glancing over to my instructors seat - empty, the glider gathering speed, towed by the winch, thinking 'Oh my god, this is really it....no turning back".

Once I was airborne however, all worries, fear and anxiety of flying solo the first time were gone. After all, I was'nt doing anything new here. Get the plane in the air, release the winch chord, start turning 300 feetcross winds before pattern altitude and land the plane. The numbers could have been engraved on my brain: 85 KIAS on down wind, 75 KIAS on base and 65 KIAS on the final. Pick a point on the runway, fly to it, keeping it at the same position on the windshield. It was a sequence of events that I had done an awful lot of times before. Why should this one be different ?

Actually, it was. IT WAS THE BEST LANDING EVER ! Not because when I realized I was above glide slope, I pitched up slightly; Not because I remembered that if you round off a little too high, a touch of nose down can extend your glide before the flare: It was beacuse IT WAS MY LANDING !

On the final, I was a bit too fast. "Nose up, if you need to slow down" a stern voice said. Looking over, I realized the instructor seat was empty. The voice was in my head! (remember, no Radio's or even basic Walkie - Talkies those days on these trainers). Of couse, I needed to slow down. Easing the nose up, lining up perfectly on the runway, I glided to the smoothest landing I have ever experienced.

Now, I can talk for hours, on the greaser of the landing and it will all sound so simple. Frankly the hours of reading and burning the midnight oil by the gallon had finally paid off. I spent many hours before bed time (and solo time) reading and memorizing landing sequences, spin recovery routines and crash landing checklists and at times, cherishing the experiences of pilots, remembering and reliving their 'Up there alone - first time'.

The first solo, is something special for any flyer. The sheer feeling of defying gravity, hurtling into space, far from the comfort of mother earth, all alone and high up inside a wooden tube, is certainly a momentous experience. It shall remain in my memory forever and I would cherish reliving every moment of it.

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