As Jim returns from his trial lesson with a potential student, he tells me that today I am going solo. I’m sure he’s checking me out to see what my reaction is to his statement. Any fear? No, just a bit of excitement. I’m really pleased, actually. It means he thinks I’m ready. I’ve thought so myself for a while. (Did I mention that confidence is key when learning to flying helicopters?) Out comes the bag of stones to give some extra ballast under the passenger seat, one for me and one for Jim. These rocks give the aircraft a more natural feel when being flown solo without the weight of the instructor.
Your first solo flight is something quite special. It’s really the first time you put what you have learned into practice, and there is no-one else there to help you out if things go awry. You’ve got to deal with it all yourself. Jim says that we will go out and do a couple of circuits and see how it goes, and if all is well and were both happy then he will hop out and I’ll fly a couple of circuits solo. So we flew a couple of circuits, and Jim did all of the radio work for me so I could concentrate on flying. The circuits were good, and it all felt nice and smooth and good on the controls. Jim explained that the helicopter was going to be much lighter without him in it, and so it will not want to come down as easily without him on board, so I should look to slow when crossing the motorway on my approach. I should aim for 300ft and 50kts over the M40 instead of the usual 60kts.
So out jumps Jim with his walkie-talkie and headset, and off I take. Wow, I really notice the weight difference, and how much lighter the R22 feels (not that Jim is exactly a big lump of a man), but it’s a considerable difference, especially on take off and landing, and when on approach the tail is lower (less weight in the front of the helicopter). It feels even more twitchy than normal, if such a thing were possible. I guess the extra weight of a second passenger has a stabilising effect on the little R22. I talk to myself (not unusual) throughout the whole thing just to keep my mind focussed, and it works. The first circuit is better than the second, but all in all they are fine, the landings are a little more bumpy than usual, but it handles differently with only me on board. All in all I’m pleased with myself. This is not the time for constructive criticism, and Jim keeps it all compliments, (good man Jim). Like watching a small child learning to ride a bicycle without the stabilisers, it must feel the same for an instructor to watch his student flying solo for the first time; yes Jim was there on my first flight, and witnessed my early attempts to hover.
Over the last five hours or so, I’ve been coming to really enjoying my flying more and more. As I have improved my control, I’ve been carrying out the functions of flying more easily. I’ve had the spare brain capacity to appreciate the flying and the view and I’ve freed up my awareness to what is happening, rather than purely focussing on the mechanics of flight and ‘not crashing’ which is how it often feels in the early days. Flying is becoming more subconscious. I know it is exhilarating to fly, but even more so when you alone are at the controls of a helicopter, it’s truly magical. I know I can fly a helicopter as long as conditions and my head is in the right place, and today conditions were perfect and it felt good, I felt confident and relaxed at the controls. I really enjoyed myself.
So there you go. Your first solo is going to be a real cracker. What’s next? Hopefully a glass of champagne to celebrate and consolidate the solo flying next week.
David Gray Solo Acoustic