A great day to go solo.

– Matt. 6th November 2010


Like so many people, I’ve long dreamed of flying an aircraft. I imagined that to experience the sense of freedom, the satisfaction and the exhilaration would be a worthy goal. My story really begins earlier this year. Rapidly approaching forty, I decided it was probably around time I had a mid-life crisis. I asked my wife, Sonja, if she would mind and she politely enquired what sort of mid-life crisis I had in mind!


With confidence and bravado, I suggested buying a scooter, to which Sonja pointed out this would be a dumb idea. Living in tropical North Queensland means either being drenched in sweat or torrential rain. So I revisited my long term dream of getting my pilots license. After coming up with all the excuses of why I couldn’t: cost too much money, I don’t have enough time; Sonja just told me to get on with it and start flying.


Internet research led me to www.recrationalflying.com.au and this proved very helpful and encouraging. The importance of choosing a good instructor was emphasized many times. Also to ensure you have sufficient resources to fly regularly so steady progression is achieved. The other thing to be considered is choosing an aircraft that you want to fly in. It’s no good learning to fly a weight-shift trike if you want to cruise at 90-100kts flying three axis.


I chose to fly with Ron Watson who flies out of Innisfail in a Jabiru UL-D. Ron is ex-RAAF and I’m ex-Army so I figured we’d either hit it off immediately or it would be a shocker. Fortunately we clicked really quickly and every lesson has been filled with learning new skills and enjoyment. When I’ve made errors, I’ve already recognized them and so Ron doesn’t berate me, he encourages, corrects and has me perform the task again – an excellent role model for other instructors. I imagine some forget that their students try really hard to please their instructor so we can learn well and become sound, competent pilots – modeled on our instructors.


Innisfail is a great location to learn to fly with spectacular scenery being hemmed in by tropical mountains and the Great Barrier Reef. The weather has been great and there are few other aircraft to battle with.


My lessons began shortly after my 40th in September and we progressed rapidly through the syllabus. Effects of controls, circuits, landings, stalls, loss of power in flight and on take-off, all wove a tapestry of information and skill. Each new skill built upon the previous lessons. I push myself pretty hard and as the lessons advanced I aimed for each manoeuvre to be accurate and precise. A more windy day proved an excellent opportunity to practice side-slipping and cross-wind landings.


Today (6th November) I was driving from Cairns to Innisfail thinking, “this a great day for flying.” I had completed six hours of flying and was gaining in confidence and building up my basic skills. Ron briefed me that today we would be practicing forced landing in the training area, followed by circuits.


After a quick nervous wee (forced landings will do this!), we taxied for runway 14. With no wind, Ron changed plans and said we’d fly some circuits first. I completed the first circuit and everything was neat and tidy. The second circuit was also tidy and after I made the downwind radio call, Ron asked me to practice a full stop landing, then another take-off. I made the amended radio call on final and completed a good landing.


“Right,” said Ron, “I want you to fly another circuit just like that, I’m getting out of the aircraft.”


With that Ron was gone and I was preparing for my first solo flight! I paused, gathered my thoughts and ran through the pre take-off checks. Full throttle and I’m away. The little Jabiru climbed our really well and within moments I was checking airspeed, flaps up, trim the aircraft, ease the throttle, check altitude. I’ve got to admit, I allowed myself a huge, face-splitting grin and I thought, “Wow, I’m really flying this.” What a buzz.


“Okay let’s put the self-glorification on the back-burner and fly the aircraft.” Downwind checks and radio call, turn on base, identify the crop duster working to the North, check airspeed, flaps set, check altitude, glide path, aiming point, good landing.


Ron opens the door, “Congratulations mate, your first solo.”


One solo a pilot does not make; but it is a significant milestone and as Ron pointed out after the lesson, you only ever fly your first solo once. I look forward to the rest of my training and learning how to control the aircraft in both good and adverse conditions.


Not every dream works out like you imagine and not every mid-life crisis should be entertained. Be gee its great when in all comes together. It was a great day to go solo.