You don’t want to read about my first flight

by Alexandre Paulo on Jun 17 2019
I was never a very emotional person. I never cried listening to a song, never bawled watching The Lion King, never clapped after a good landing. So I was caught by surprise when a buddy approached me to write a story about my first solo.

This man is obviously talking to the wrong person, I thought. I couldn't possibly write anything that touched a reader's heartstrings about a 30 minute flight. The outside perspective would have been something like: your regular Joe got in a common Cessna 152, took off, did a couple of circuits, landed and got out smiling like an idiot. What the heck? People like action, drama, plot twists and a sense of satisfaction at the rolling credits. Yet despite everything, I found myself realizing that, actually, the small, run of the mill flight number EAD602A and my way there had just the right amount of all of these.

I suppose I should start by making a brief introduction. The aforementioned grinning fool's name is Alexandre Paulo. I studied Mechanical Engineering, quit my Master's and started working. I wanted to finish my studies, but the truth was that I did not enjoy my course. I had started looking for other options when one day a family friend, who is a pilot, asked me if I had never thought about being one. Well yes, I had, and like a normal person I thought pilots were simply chosen by fate, born in uniform and given the hat. I had not been born in uniform, not been given a hat, therefore I wasn't a pilot. Turns out I was wrong - there were schools for it. He pointed me to L3 Airline Academy, previously G Air Training Centre, because that was where he had been taught a decade before and trusted the people there. He told me to “think about it. If you pick this path and can't sleep before your first flight, call me and we'll both know this was the right choice”. Alas, irony is strong with this one and needless to say I slept like a baby.

I had nine flights with an instructor, a very good one. He was extremely confident in his own abilities, both to teach and ensure our safety. I never felt at risk at any point, making it easy to focus on learning. I enjoyed his methods, namely his comments about my abilities, or lack thereof. By the end of lesson 9, I still had difficulties landing with stronger crosswind. The way lesson 10 works is: the first hour is an evaluation of your progress. A basic “can you fly safely?” question is posed. If you provide a positive answer, the next 30 minutes will be your first solo. I took off that day meaning to show I had improved. By the end of the first hour I had managed to land a few times but the wind had also picked up, 11 knots and increasing crosswind. “If only it was headwind”, the examiner said as I was sent home.

Tilted off the face of the Earth, I got home and first thing I did was install Flight Simulator on my computer. Crosswind would never plague me again. Too bad that without a stick and pedals simulators really don't help much. Eventually, I reset my mental state and fast forward 12 days and one lesson, the opportunity for redemption came. Alexa, queue Eye of the Tiger.

April 27th, at 11h30 UTC. Runway 03, clear skies with mainly headwind. Pre-flight inspection and checklists out of the way, we were off. We did a couple of circuits, nothing out of the ordinary. Which was what I wanted. Ordinary was good. It was perfect. Just let me ordinarily fly solo. A couple of circuits after take-off, the examiner contacts the tower to request a full stop. The check was over. I wasn't even nervous to know the verdict. Not at all. Nope. Still, it would be great if he could just spit it out. “Stop at Charlie. I will get out and you can do a couple of circuits. At holding point 03, follow the checklist from the top. I'll be at the tower listening so if you need anything just let us know. Well done. Be safe, but most importantly, have fun.” Nailed it! Never doubted!

After following procedure, I was aligned with the runway. During the take-off roll, I felt the responsibility and a small nervousness, but mainly the thrust - I had not expected that big a difference in performance just because one person left the plane. 70 knots, 900 feet turn left, and not long after I was downwind. Looking left I see the aerodrome, looking right I see nobody. Everyone feels things differently. I felt happy. Relieved. Free. Accomplished! Like perhaps some people were right after all, and everything happened in order to get me there. And indeed this was what I wanted to feel every day. My trivial, typical circuits felt exhilarating.

Physics, and a timetable, unfortunately deemed that what was up, had to come down. After landing I joined my instructor for a debrief and handshake. Our academy has the tradition of offering a free shower to those that go on their first solo flight. Traditions are to be respected and maintained. A ladder was put up outside. I took off my shoes, glasses and watch, climbed those steps. Two buckets filled with water. I was asked what I wanted to be in the future, to yell it. While I bellowed the now obvious and only answer, water hit me as well as a thought: I should really call my friend and tell him I sleep well because this is the right path.

- Alexandre Filipe Silva Paulo