Blog after I flew a plane solo (without an instructor in the plane) for the first time
It's been slow going working on my private pilot's license, but I'm making steady progress. Weather has caused a fair number of cancellations, and I only fly on the weekends to begin with. I'm now in the cross country phase of training where most of my flights are to airports greater than 50 nautical miles away from my home airport. The first two cross country flights I did with the instructor in the plane. Today, I was solo.
The plan was to take off from Manassas Regional Airport (KHEF), proceed west-southwest out of the special flight rules area around Washington DC, then fly direct to Charlottesville–Albemarle Airport (KCHO, cue jokes about white nationalists). Throughout the flight I was taking advantage of an optional service called VFR flight following, where my transponder squawks a unique code that allows folks working at flight services to monitor my location throughout the trip (like an eye in the sky). Navigation is still my responsibility, but at least if I disappear at any point, emergency services will know roughly where to look
The plane I fly does not have GPS or any fancy navigational equipment. All it has is VOR receivers which give you an idea as to where you are (I won't go into the details). However, as a student I am expected to navigate using pilotage and dead reckoning. In other words, I plan ahead what heading to fly, and for how many minutes, in order to reach each checkpoint. The checkpoint is some landmark I can see on the ground. Note that there are not very good landmarks in the middle of the rural countryside. There was definitely one point where I was looking around and thinking to myself, "Where the @$%^ is the prison!?"
Otherwise, I landed without issue at Charlottesville, took a break to duck into the air conditioning and make a pit stop, then took off to return home. The first leg of the flight had me passing a little below a layer of clouds, but the clouds were gone by the time I did the return trip. Here is a rough approximation of the trip, which was roughly 60 nautical miles each way:
Tomorrow, I am going to fly solo again to a different airport that is a little further away (Hanover, KOFP). I will need to go around a big restricted zone where the military performs various munitions firing that I am happy to stay away from. Once I get south of the restricted zone I will join up with 95 (the big highway) and follow it to the airport. I'll even pass right over King's Dominion!
After tomorrow's flight, I'll still need several more cross country flights including a night flight (with the instructor) into Richmond International Airport, a solo to two different airports for a total of three stops, and a final solo of my choosing (thinking of going east into Maryland for that one). If I can complete these cross countries and my written knowledge exam, I'm almost ready for the check ride, which is the final exam before being awarded your pilot's license.