Who am I kidding?
For the few weeks after my first solo, all my solo flights were ‘in the circuit’, meaning that I was only allowed to fly solo when I was practicing take-offs and landings. Then came the day that my instructor decided that I was ready to fly solo away from the airport. She may have thought I was ready, but I wasn’t so sure.Flying solo is supposed to build confidence. However, I found that getting into the airplane to fly solo away from the airport required overcoming a lack of the confidence that flying solo is supposed to build (sort of like a ‘catch-22’). I had struggled with confidence, on and off, since I started learning to fly. There were times when I felt that I would never master a particular maneuver (especially landing), but with my instructor was by my side, I was not frightened….except during my ‘spin recovery’ lesson. That frightened me in spite of having my instructor with me.
Now I was expected to fly solo to the ‘practice area’ north-east of Port Perry (20 miles north of the airport) and perform many of those same maneuvers without an instructor by my side (but not spins, thank goodness).
I recall one day when I was climbing into the airplane to do a solo flight. Jeff and the fellow in the hangar next to ours were watching me and I heard John say wistfully to Jeff “I wish my wife would learn how to fly. But she’s just too nervous”. “I know how she feels”. I muttered to myself.
So how did I force myself to climb into the cockpit on the day that I first flew solo away from the airport (and on many subsequent days) in order to do what was necessary to build the confidence? How did I do the thing that I feared in order that it may no longer frighten me? How did I confront and overcome my fear?
I had already developed and used some strategies for overcoming obstacles. For example, I used perseverance, research and networking to master the art of landing the airplane. Now I needed some strategies to conquer my fear of flying solo, in order to achieve my dream of becoming a pilot.
First, I focused on the end goal – my dream of becoming a pilot. I visualized the pilot license itself – a piece of paper that proved that I had met the requirements of becoming a pilot, something that a very small percentage of the population achieves. I visualized flying with Jeff as my passenger. I visualized flying the Fisk approach to Oshkosh as ‘pilot in command’. I visualized the lifestyle that Jeff and I would have, flying all over North America, and taking turns at the controls. I visualized all the things that have since come true and that you will read about in my future stories.
Second, I drew upon my sense of obligation. I had announced that I was going to get my pilot’s license – I had made a commitment. And also, I did not want to disappoint Jeff or my instructor, Teresa. Flying solo away from the airport is a step in the process and they were expecting me to do it. They expected me to do it, whether I was afraid to or not.
Next, I took it one small step at a time. The first time I flew to the practice area, I did not do any maneuvers – I just flew around and got a feel for flying by myself. After about a half hour, I radioed to the Oshawa Tower Controller that I was returning to the airport for some circuits. Nothing scary or remarkable happened on that flight. On the next solo flight, I did some steep turns and slow flight – two fairly simple maneuvers that I knew I was good at. I was struck by how relaxing it was to do these exercises without an instructor beside me. Strange. On the next flight, I added a couple more maneuvers and next thing I knew, I was doing forced and precautionary approaches by myself. And I was doing them with confidence!
Then it was time for my solo cross country flight!
In order to obtain a pilot’s license in Canada, a candidate is required to do 5 hours of solo cross country flight. This is accomplished by conducting 2 solo cross country flights – a short and a long one.
My short cross country route was Lindsay, Peterborough, then back to Oshawa. I flew the route with my instructor on one day and on the next day, I was to fly it by myself. Unlike the Oshawa Airport, Lindsay and Peterborough did not have control towers, but I was quite familiar with the procedures and the radio calls, as I had been to both airports a few times with Jeff and now I had also been there with Teresa.
On the day after I flew the cross country route with Teresa, the weather was great. I took off with confidence and headed north for the 20 minute flight to Lindsay. As I approached the airport, I heard reports on the radio frequency that there was a bit of a crosswind, which could be a bit of a challenge for me. Teresa had said that if that happened and if I didn’t think I could accomplish the landing, I should simply overfly the airport and continue to Peterborough. I could re-do the flight another time (safety first!). Fortunately, at the time that I landed, the wind conditions were within my comfort zone and I landed smoothly.
I jumped out of the airplane and headed into the terminal building to get my logbook stamped by the airport manager (to prove to Transport Canada that I had completed that leg of the flight). The airport manager, who I was familiar with, said to me “Lesley, you are on your solo cross country, aren’t you?! Congratulations!”
I was very excited as I rushed back out to the airplane! Then, halfway across the ramp, I stopped short. I stared in awe at my Cessna 172. I had seen the airplane many times before, but never had I climbed into it alone except at Oshawa. That little airplane suddenly looked huge! I was overwhelmed by the fact that, in order to get my license, I was required to get into that large ‘vehicle’, start it up, taxi, take off and fly to Peterborough, by myself! Who was I kidding? Maybe this wasn’t for me. I could call Jeff and he could drive to Lindsay in about an hour, I could drive the car home and he could fly the plane. I actually considered doing that!
I stood stock still – long enough that I realized that if anyone was watching, I would look foolish. Believe it or not, that is what got me moving – embarrassment! I walked tentatively, casually towards the plane, one step at a time….and with every step, I felt myself getting a step closer to my goal. By the time I got to the airplane, my confidence had returned, and once I was in the cockpit, all my fears had vanished.
I flew to Peterborough, then to Oshawa. My short solo cross country was a success!