First solo flight

On June 12, I made my first solo flight in an airplane.

We were at the El Monte airport. The wind was out of 230 at 5 knots, visibility 6 miles, with clouds overcast at 1900 feet above ground level. Mild conditions. I got ready for a regular lesson in my usual plane, N19760 (a Cessna 172), and with my instructor David in the right seat I began doing practice circuits around the airport. Take off, turn right, fly back, turn right again, and land. We did this 6 times, and then my instructor said, “You want to go do it on your own?”

I agreed, feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension, and then he asked for permission for us to taxi over to the side and drop him off:

By this point, the winds had picked up to 7 knots, straight down the runway, and the clouds had lifted to 2300 feet. Good conditions.

So my instructor hopped out of the plane and turned on his handheld radio, and then I closed his door and taxied up to the runway all by myself and requested permission to take off.


The tower gave me permission and I started rolling down the runway, then took off and into the air.


Everything was pretty normal. In fact, it was surprisingly normal. It felt so very familiar — I was thinking, “I’ve done this more than a hundred times.” I was so focused that I barely noticed that David’s seat was empty. I also knew he was listening on the radio, so it felt like he virtually was along for the ride.

I was cleared to land behind another plane, so I verified that I could see that plane (which was nearly on the ground) and then began my descent.


Here I am ALMOST on the ground:


That landing went beautifully — so well that I felt comfortable going around again. On your first solo, you do at least one takeoff and landing, and up to three of them total.

The second landing was a little shaky. I started to drift to the left a bit, then had a minor balloon, then got the plane down on the runway. But I was still good to go again, and David waved encouragingly from the sidelines.

The winds had picked up to 11 knots, variable between 170 and 230 degrees. As long as they don’t get too far off of 190, it’s not an issue, but it does make for some little twitchy adjustments as you descend towards the runway.

The third landing was fine, although not stellar. I got clearance to taxi back to park the plane, and then, unexpectedly, the tower controller gave me her congratulations:

Here I am after getting out of the plane on only slightly shaky knees. I did it!


Thanks very much to David (who also took these pictures and recorded the audio) and the Caltech flying club and everyone else who’s been encouraging me in this process. I still have a lot of work to do before getting my license, but this feels like a big step!

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  1. Leigh Torgerson said,

    June 14, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    Still remember the exact same sequence of events when I did that years ago at Santa Monica airport, and the same feelings! (Except that when I made my first right turn and looked over and saw the instructor’s seat was empty, I thought “Holy Cow this is real!” – Congratulations Kiri – I was just telling someone tonight that in my collection of vivid memories, the two things that stand out the most (and which I can re-live at will) are the first time I ever rode a motorcycle, and the first time I soloed. May this be one of your favorite and long-lasting memories!!

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