Friday, June 17, 2005


Flying Lesson #30: Second Solo

Winds were calm today, so the instructor suggested that we first head out to the practice area to do a few stalls, steep turns, and other maneuvers in preparation for the stage check, then we'd go back to the airport and I'd do another thirty minutes of solo flight. I did the preflight checks and got into the plane. I was expecting the instructor to join me, but he just stuck his head in, asked me if I was ready to solo, and then closed the door and left when I told him I was.

I started the engine, listened to the ATIS broadcast, and then made my call: "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee Niner-one-zero-three-mike at the ramp with Juliet, closed pattern, student pilot."

I waited for the response, but got none. That's not unusual—controllers often miss ground calls when they are busy talking to pilots in the air—so I waited for a few seconds and tried again. Again, no response, nor did I get any response after a couple more attempts.

So I started troubleshooting. I checked all the radio controls, suspecting that my instructor had intentionally messed something up to test me. Everything looked like it was set correctly. I could hear my voice amplified in my headset, so I was pretty sure my microphone, my headphones, and all the electronics in between were working. I could hear the ATIS broadcast, so the receiver must be working. I couldn't hear any other ground traffic, but I looked out and saw nobody on any of the taxiways or runways, so there was nobody to listen to.

I rechecked the ground frequency, then tried a different call: "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee Niner-one-zero-three-mike, radio check." Still no response. I switched over to the second radio and tried again. Still nothing. I looked around hoping that maybe my instructor might be watching from a distance, but I was all alone.

Dammit, this is like being at work, I thought as I looked at a bunch of electronic equipment trying to figure out why the hell it wasn't doing what I wanted. It seemed that either both radios were unable to transmit, or something between my microphone and the transmitter wasn't working. I hadn't completely ruled out the Kris-is-an-idiot possibility, but I was confident in my ability to operate a pushbutton.

Finally, I unplugged my headset from the left-seat outlets, and plugged it into the right seat's outlets. "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee Niner-one-zero-three-mike, radio check," and this time, I heard "Niner-one-zero-three-mike, loud and clear," in response. OK, that's progress. The transmitter works.

I plugged back into the left-seat, tried a radio check again, and got no response. I jiggled the plugs, I tried wiping invisible grit from the plugs, but nothing got it to work. So I concluded there must be something wrong with either the push-to-talk switch on the left side, or a problem specific to the left-side circuitry. I considered plugging back into the right-side and making the flight, but I decided I really didn't want to fly with the headphone cord draped over the throttle and flap controls.

So I shut down the engine, tied down the airplane, and made the long walk back to the flight school office. I fully expected that they would find that I'd done something stupid. They would laugh at me, and I'd hear about it again every time I rented an airplane. They'd tell everyone a story about a dumb pilot who had to cancel his second solo because he couldn't figure out how to turn on the radio.

They assigned me another airplane, and the instructor and I walked back to the ramp. I started preflighting N4332L while he went to check out N9103M. As expected, the radio worked fine when he tried it, but I decided to continue with the other plane. N4332L has only has one radio, and everybody sounds a little like Charlie Brown's teacher, but I'd flown that plane on Wednesday and knew that it worked fine then.

After that point, the solo flight in the pattern went smoothly. I had to make one go-around when I ballooned a bit much on one landing attempt. I've noticed that I'm consistently landing a little right of the centerline, with the nose pointed a little left of straight down the runway. Winds were slightly from the left today, so a leftward crab might be expected, but I've been landing the same way with crosswinds from the right. I'll need to work on that sight picture during the flare.

For today: 0.6 hours solo/PIC with 3 takeoffs and 3 landings in N4332L. Cost: $68 (cheapest lesson yet—short flight and no instructor fees).

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