I took my written pre-solo test a few days ago. It was 4 or 5 pages long and mostly procedures to follow if a warning light flickered on or 9HH had an issue. All of these procedures were burned into my memory months ago. The test was not a big deal but a good refresher.
I grabbed my gear and walked out to the helicopter. On the way out I passed Chris, the owner/operator, he said, “If anything happens put the collective down”. I know he meant much more than that but, sound advice…
The winds are out of the south at about 10knts, it’s 85 degrees and there are broken clouds. I have 30.4 hours in the books and today I get to solo.
It was hot and humid as I worked through the longest pre-flight in the world. I checked the oil levels 19 times and looked at every nut and bolt. Niner Hotel Hotel was in good shape.
Grant walked out of the hanger and asked me if I was ready. I nodded and then he asked me to fire up the Guimbal. That’s new. I’ve never started it up by myself. He nervously watched while I took forever to go through the checklist. Everything was exactly as it should have been and off we went.
Grant and I ran a few laps in preparation for the solo. Nothing of interest just warming up and working through the pattern I was going to be on. I’ve never landed on 23 nor have I hover taxied to a different airport ramp so he was there to walk me through the details.
We did 3 or 4 laps figuring out the radio calls. They were a little rough but not horrible. We landed at the Ideal Aviation ramp and he talked me through what was likely to happen with the tower. Then he unplugged his headset and walked off. I was alone in the helicopter again. Weird feeling… The plan was to pop up, pedal turn right, ask to depart, get into the pattern, make a bunch of left turns then request to land on 23 and gently put the Guimbal down where I found it. The traffic was light so it should be easy.
I rolled the Guimbal up to 1900 rpm, flipped on the governor, protected the throttle to 2000 – the governor grabbed ahold and it was time to go. I was hyper aware of all the sounds the helicopter was making and the fact that the left seat was empty. I gave Grant a thumbs up and pulled some collective.
On a day with high humidity and 85 degrees we pull a fair amount of power to get the 9HH up. Not so today. Around 65% power I could feel it getting light and I <—- there is no “we”… I … pulled a little more power and popped right up. DAMN.
It was a bizarre feeling, hovering a helicopter ALONE for the first time, one that stayed with me all day. I won’t ever forget it.
I sat there for a second, got the thing steady then pedal turned to the right.
I called the tower, asked to depart, and got ONE TWO RIGHT as the runway. We generally get ONE TWO LEFT for all kinds of reasons that I won’t go into but today, my 1st solo, the tower gave me 12R. I repeated it back very clearly, hover taxied way way way out of ground effect and got moving.
I have a hunch Grant was thinking, “nice job Dan, you were up for 5 seconds and already screwed up”, which I hadn’t. I also have a hunch he was thinking I was hovering way too high, which I was.
I was easily 20 or 30 feet AGL. I kept on thinking about dropping a few feet but for some reason I could not lower the collective.
Once on the go, tower called and asked me to make left traffic over to 12L. I looked over to my left at 12L and the other helicopter in the pattern that was getting ready to turn crosswind. Damn, I’d be close to him. I slowed as best I could and extended my upwind just a bit. I made my turn crosswind well after the other helicopter then turned downwind and tried to not be right on his ass. Tower cleared me for the option on 12L and I kept it around 60 knots to give him a little breathing room. I kept an eye on him as he spent, what felt like 20 minutes, on the 1000′ markers. I slowed it down just a bit more again, then turned base and final. He was on the move as started my approach. Looking back I should have put a little more distance between him and I but it was passable.
I was about 10 yards in front of my spot and got on the move for the 2nd lap. No one was there to tell at me about keeping my nose straight so I took off with a 10 degree yaw. Oops, need to fix that on the next one. Grant was probably sitting in his office drinking coffee feeling annoyed but had no idea why… little did he know it was me making rookie mistakes in a very expensive helicopter half a mile away.
The next lap I was going to take a little slower but as soon as I was in my crosswind Tower told me to search for some diamond traffic that was 3 miles out. What? What happened to the slow dude in front of me? Why is there now a diamond landing on 12L? I’ve got 30 hours around KCPS and the only plane I’ve seen on 12L was a piper that got lost and poached it accidentally. I responded that I did not have them in sight so the tower took mercy on me and said he’d call my base. Thank you unknown Tower guy. The diamond got down fast made a hard right on to Bravo 6 taxiway. Thank you unknown SLU student in that diamond. I came in with the ugliest approach of all time. I was 100 yards proud of the 1000′ markers. I am not smooth today and the airspace is busy… awesome.
The final lap was as slightly less ugly as the previous two. After I got on the move I requested to land on 23 and hover taxi to the Ideal ramp. Both the approach and the hover taxi on 23 were pretty solid. My radio call was rough but I was safely 3 feet from mother earth and VERY happy about it.
I landed for the first time by myself and sat there feeling like I’d finally accomplished something in my life.
I’d been thinking about this for a long time and it went well. Thirty hours of annoying Grant and the folks in the tower + 4 months of Saturday morning classes + I don’t know how many hours of studying and it all culminated in 24 minutes of flight.
For the longest time:
I thought there was no way I could pass the written. [Math is hard and I am not good at it.]
I thought my vision might not be good enough. [Turns out I have better than 20/20 after new lenses, get your vision tested every year kids.]
I thought I didn’t have enough time. [That’s BS. Drink more coffee and stay up late to study / get up earlier to be the first flight of the day.]
I thought my wife would not be supportive. [She is supportive-ish. Thanks wife.]
I thought I was too busy at work. [I am… but Grant gets up early and makes time for my stupid schedule. Thanks Grant.]
Anyway, the point is that I had created all the obstacles and after my first flight… well, there wasn’t really an option not to continue doing this.
That 24 minutes up there was pretty amazing. There is the day I got hitched, when my babies were born and soloing a damn helicopter.
This is one of those things that will stick with you for your entire life.
I cannot wait to get back up in the air.