Archive for student pilot

Fly Along On My First Solo

Posted in air travel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2020 by Chris Manno

A2PL new cvr F - Amazon blurb

If you’re a pilot, there’s really not another moment that surpasses a first solo. Many other pilot milestones come after, but though some may equal the momentous experience, I’ve never found any that actually surpasses my first solo, and that includes even supersonic solo flight, solo formation, aerobatics, or any of the other big events like checking out as an airline captain.

Here’s an excerpt from my new book, “An Airline Pilot’s Life,” (Amazon’s #1 New Release in commercial aviation) that will allow you to ride with me on my initial solo in a Cessna-152 after I’d had just over eight hours of flight instruction.

The book is on an introductory price of only $3.99. This Part One of the story is over 300 pages long, spanning my early flying experience, detailing my passage through USAF pilot training then six years of military flying throughout the Pacific and Asia.

Part Two covers my decades as an airline pilot, starting as a flight engineer at the world’s largest airline and continuing through years as a pilot on the MD-80, DC-10, F-100 and 737. Join me in the cockpit as both first officer and then nearly three decades as a captain. Part Two will be released in both Kindle and paperback formats in May.

amazon screen grab a2pl

Here, then, is a sample, a chapter that focuses on my first solo. The setting is at the Bedford Flying Services flight school at Roanoke, Virginia’s Woodrum Field. As an Air Force ROTC cadet selected for USAF pilot training after graduation from the Virginia Military Institute, I was enrolled in the USAF Flight Instruction Program. The program was equal parts flight instruction and screening for the Air Force. There was a basic syllabus designed to get a cadet ready to solo in minimum time and as importantly, see who had the aptitude (or didn’t) to become an Air Force pilot before arriving at a pilot training base.

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After a few hours of flight instruction from Pat, I was handed off to another flight instructor, a younger guy that the other Flight Instruction Program cadets had warned me about.

Bob was a former enlisted guy, a boom operator on a KC-135 crew. He seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, having had five years of “yessir-ing” officers on his assigned flight crew, pilots and navigators, but now we who’d soon be officers would have to answer to him. I think he may have resented the fact that he was helping us along the Air Force pilot path he’d never had an opportunity to travel.

His attitude was both aloof and condescending, especially compared to Pat’s easy-going instructor attitude. But for me, I had enough faith in the two Cessna-152s and my ability to fly them or as accurately, let them fly as they’d been designed, that I wasn’t going to let his attitude be an obstacle. Besides, for an FIP cadet who’d endured over three years at VMI, his caustic attitude was barely amateur level by comparison.

He was sarcastic in the plane and seemed to set up each maneuver as a test, then scoff if it didn’t work out perfectly, which often it did not. I had less than ten hours flying time, so chances were good, given my inexperience and his obstructive attitude, that my maneuvers would be somewhat rough. I didn’t let it bother me, although one of my classmates was having a very difficult time with Bob.

Bob actually let one nose high stall accelerate into what I realized afterward was a spin. We were nose low, corkscrewing toward the ground and that, I found out later, was definitely not in any part of the flight syllabus.

But if his intent was to have me lock up, or to panic, it didn’t work. The lesson of my skydiving streamer still held full sway: panic is never, ever an option, period. I fell back on Pat’s offhand remark and just pulled the power back, since we were in a dive, and let the plane right itself and eventually, return lift to the airfoil so we could fly again.

Maybe that was Bob’s backhanded way to build my confidence, which it did. I knew I’d be fine in those planes come what may when I was solo. Most of all, as I’d learned from skydiving, I could trust myself to keep a cool head

Or maybe it was his way of weeding me out, tripping me up, undermining my confidence or worse, the Air Force’s confidence in me. It didn’t work. I had more faith than ever in the two little planes and my ability to shepherd them around the bumpy skies of Roanoke.

On a late fall afternoon Bob and I went up in 11-Juliet. He sat next to me, elbow to elbow, taciturn as always. He’d shadowed my preflight walkaround, seemingly bored. I did all of the preflight radio clearances and we taxied out, lined up on runway 23 and took off.

We flew directly to the practice area and immediately worked through all of our maneuvers and a stall recovery series. I really felt it was unfair, two against one: me and Juliet against Bob, and he didn’t stand a chance. Whatever he demanded, we could do. Stall, falling off on the left wing? Give her slack, let the nose fall, tap the rudder, level the wings, feed in power—not too much, climb back to the original altitude.

Compass figure eight? Watch us. Slight back pressure and a touch of rudder, let the compass and Juliet swing her nose at a thirty degree bank left to right, in her own time; remember where you started, track back with the nose just above the horizon, now reverse course, smoothly. No rush; let her fly. Claim the peaceful time lag as your own little slice of calmness.

“I’ve got it,” Bob said abruptly, then aimed us toward a field a couple thousand feet below and just north of Interstate-81. I had an inkling of what might be coming next. Fine, I decided. Bring it on. It’s still two against one.

Bob pulled the throttle completely back and the engine fluttered to idle, the prop practically feathered.

“The engine just died,” Bob said, sounding annoyed. “Land.”

I set up a long, lazy downwind. I searched, then spied a smoke stack near the western edge of the practice area, all the while easing Juliet lower, trying to keep a clean, power-off airspeed to stretch our powerless flight. Smoke showed wind out of the west, so we’d land into the wind.

I eased a wide turn to the left, into the wind. I slowed, gradually fed out landing flaps. And waited. How far would he take this, I wondered, as we slipped below five hundred feet. But I also didn’t worry: I’ll land it in the field, I don’t care—that’ll be your ass, Bob, not mine.

At about three hundred feet, Bob pushed the throttle back in and the engine buzzed back to life. We climbed, and I retracted the landing flaps.

We entered the landing traffic pattern for runway 23 at Woodrum Field. I taxied us clear after a routine landing.

We taxied back towards the departure end, but at midfield, Bob spoke again.

“Pull over here.”

I swung us off the taxiway and pulled into an apron abeam the flight school. I let the engine idle. He popped open his door.

“You ready?” he asked.

Sweet Jesus. Ready? Ready? I was born for this.

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Do a couple patterns, touch and goes, then park it back at Bedford Flying Service.”

I nodded. He strapped down his seatbelt, then left, clicking the door shut securely, walked away and didn’t look back.

I nosed 11-Juliet forward, back onto the taxiway. I paused at the departure end and ran through the magneto check fairly mechanically. We’d been flying for an hour, the magnetos, the ignition, the airframe, me—we were all ready. This wasn’t about manuals and numbers and specs—this was about flight.

In that golden instant I had the rare sense that this was momentous not just for what it was, a first solo flight, but for what it meant. There are unique, lifetime flying moments that matter more than anything in a pilot’s life. Few they are, and I somehow intuitively knew the truth: whether you went on to fly supersonic, aerobatics or formation in an Air Force jet solo, or commanded an Air Force flight crew on trans-Pacific missions or succeeded in airline captain upgrade and took on worldwide jet flight with hundreds of souls in your hands—nothing would outdo this first solo. Nothing. Equal maybe, add to the legacy, but never surpass this moment. I knew that, even as a twenty-one year old strapped to a beautiful little Cessna, I knew that.

And I made a point of savoring the reality, burning it into my memory as a golden moment, even back then. I knew it belonged equally to the tough guys like Clark King who punched me into reality, to Buck who held me strictly accountable for my life, to Coach Wade who led with tough but caring leadership, to Major Sullivan, who found me a way forward from disaster.

But it also belonged to me and I’d damn well own it, every God-given second. Cleared for take-off I took a deep breath. This is mine, I resolved. I don’t deserve it, but no less than anyone else who’d attained it, nor any more than those who hadn’t. But I can own it, do it justice.

I had a weighty premonition that once I left the earth solo, nothing would ever be the same again.

When the sturdy little engine reached takeoff power, I released the brakes. We rolled into the headwind, she steadied, then Cessna 9811 Juliet and I rose into the sky, alone.

We climbed to pattern altitude as I’d done a dozen times before and I allowed myself a glance to my right, to the empty seat, and a real peace and jubilation warmed me from the inside out. This was how it was meant to be. Airplanes just fly better solo, I realized, because flying was all about the aircraft, you, and flight. That’s what mattered and everything else was just giving the devil his due for the privilege of flight, of piloting.

And I was right—I was never the same after that. This was what my life was meant to be. And in that moment—at long last—it was mine. And there was no way, not so long as I breathed, that I’d ever let it go.

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To get your copy of Part One on Amazon Kindle and

live the adventure yourself, CLICK HERE.

solo receipt

Midair Collision? You bet your life.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

The near mid-air collision between a jumbo jet and a light aircraft near San Francisco International Airport last week should be a wake-up call for the FAA and passengers alike. Sadly, it wasn’t for either–and so the imminent risk of a midair collision remains.

Sweep aside the usual hot-button issues of “free access to the skies” and other light aircraft lobby specialties. Here’s the bottom line: slow, light aircraft with hobbyists at the controls mixing with high-speed, heavy jet traffic promises disaster.

144 people died in the worst air disaster in California history When PSA flight 182 collided with a Cessna 172 and crashed into North Park.

A major risk is the overly simplistic rules of separation between aircraft: see and avoid.  That’s it.

When a jetliner is in the airport traffic pattern either taking off or landing, often controllers are able to use “visual separation” rules. That is, if the visibility is deemed minimally adequate, an air traffic controller can issue a traffic warning that holds a pilot responsible for avoiding another aircraft if the pilot can confirm that they have visual contact with the aircraft being pointed out.

There’s the roots of a disaster that will happen: when there are multiple aircraft in question, it’s very difficult to be sure as a pilot that you are looking at the one the controller is trying to point out.

Radar snapshot of the Atlanta Airport Terminal Area.

If you are looking at the wrong aircraft–and there are many at all points of the compass and at various altitudes–you cannot assure the clearance you just promised to maintain.

According to a recent study produced by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, air traffic at major hubs has increased exponentially in the past ten years. And even after 30+ years and over 17,000 flight hours, I find myself more often than ever when given a “see and avoid” clearance, telling air traffic controllers, unable to accept that clearance– I do not have visual contact with that aircraft.

Why?

Because with the multiple targets (i.e., other aircraft large and small) in the terminal area, I won’t gamble your safety on the bet that I’m seeing the correct aircraft.

And what about that other aircraft? The fact is, that aircraft may not even be flown by a licensed pilot.

Students with minimal hours are allowed to fly solo in the same airspace as your jetliner. And when the air traffic controller points out your jetliner to this student pilot–or weekend hobbyist pilot–what are the chances that he’ll do better than I would? Because my point is, I often refuse the visual separation clearance.

The result?

The air traffic controller must maintain positive radar separation between our jetliner and the other aircraft. This may mean slightly longer vectors, maybe a minute or two of extra flying in order to sequence our aircraft safely into the mix of flights in the terminal area. I personally can find no downside in that for you and me at a mile or two up flying at a couple hundred miles per hour.

Where do the air traffic controllers stand in this squeeze play of airspace users and managers? Tireless advocates for airline safety through appropriate air traffic control manning and airspace management, controllers have long warned of shortages of radar monitoring and manpower in critical terminal areas.

But the FAA and private plane owners may often prioritize workload and operating costs respectively above my (and your) priorities in the same situation and unfortunately, the same airspace. Both have resisted attempt by safety groups to exclude student pilots or even low-time private pilots from crowded airways and airports.

With increased pressure on the FAA to move air traffic in and out of airports as quickly as possible (see again the Wharton report), “see-and-avoid” clearances allow Air Traffic Control to increase the flow rates of an ever-increasing traffic load.

Light aircraft owners have a powerful lobby group that opposes all efforts to limit their airspace access.

This powerful lobby group is supported by an even more powerful and financially vulnerable group, the manufacturers of light aircraft whose sales depend upon users’ access to airspace.

Add up those factors, throw in ever-increasing air traffic congestion, airspace demands and private pilot owners’ “rights” to free flight and you have the a volatile mix that sooner or later will erupt in disaster–again.

Because when it comes to “see and avoid” in today’s complex mix of air traffic and inexperienced pilots at every major airport, I can sum up the risk of a midair collision in four words:

“You bet your life.”

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