Going Solo

Hello everyone, sorry for the delay in getting this post out, it's been a busy week and I completed 9 X's this week. ( X's are missions. After each mission, we cross an X on a board that counts down how many missions we have left on course). That means I flew twice a day every day this week, except for one day where I flew once. I solo'ed on Monday, Wednesday I completed my Initial Instrument Test (IIT), and Thursday I went for my first area solo. If you don't know what any of this means, read on!

So, going solo. The first time flying solo in a new aircraft is exciting and nerve wracking no matter how many times you've flown before, or how many other aircraft you've soloed in. I've gone for "first solo's" several times before. The most memorable ones for me were my first solo in a air cadet glider, my first Cessna solo, and my first solo in the Grob 125A. No matter the fact that I've done this before, and no matter the fact that by this point I've flown the Harvard II a fair bit, and am quite comfortable in the aircraft, and have been trained for just about every eventuality, I still get filled with a bit of nervous excitement. There's something about being well and truly on your own, and having the safety net of a instructor pilot taken away from you that suddenly throws all of your knowledge and ability into doubt. I've flown flights where the instructor will be completely silent in the back seat and only speaking when necessary for checks because they want you to behave as if you were solo, and assess your abilities without outside influence from them. I've flown these missions, and done so completely successfully without intervention. So why is it different when the instructor isn't there at all? He didn't do anything, he didn't provide insight or direction, so why am I so conscious of the empty back seat? Despite these nerves, after a successful first solo you are filled with an amazing sense of accomplishment. Although I haven't actually done anything different or amazing (again, I've flown this plane effectively "by myself" multiple times), but the knowledge that you CAN in fact fly this aircraft without any assistance (or even the option to have assistance) does wonders for your confidence.

Since every pilot has the same experience going for their first solo, it's become an occasion for celebration. A pilot who has passed the test of safely flying an aircraft on their own deserves to be celebrated. So how do you celebrate a successful first solo in the military? Well, you throw the pilot in a tub of cold water of course!

This isn't exclusively a military tradition, "solo dunking" is a common practice in the cadet program and in the civilian world as well. That being said, it's been in practice in the RCAF basically as far back as anyone can remember. The bathtub in Portage-La-Prairie is that same bathtub that pilots in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) were dunked in during the second world war, so literally every pilot in the RCAF has been dunked in that tub at one point or another. I was fortunate enough to complete my first solo on a nice day with the temperature around 20 degrees celsius, but many pilots have their first solo in the depth's of winter in Saskatchewan. If you think that the tub is moved in the hangar for warmth, you would be mistaken. In fact, the tub is often filled with a mix of water and snow to increase the chance of hypothermia! The tub in Moose Jaw has the names of various pilots throughout the years who solo'ed in particularly cold days. After being dunked in the tub, students are given their solo patch that shows they are qualified to fly the Harvard II.

There are a couple more traditions following a first solo, but these are Moose Jaw specific traditions. One is that whatever pilot solo'ed this week has to buy pizza lunch for the flight on Friday! Pizza lunch is a regular occurrence on Friday's, and each of the flight's has a standing order placed with their pizza delivery service of choice. Whatever pilot solo'ed that week is on the hook for the meal! If multiple students solo'ed in the same week, their name goes on the list to ensure we have plenty of pizza Friday's to come! Another tradition is a solo roast, as well as a solo coin. The solo roast is a friendly event where the student and instructor can poke fun and "roast" each other while in the presence of the flight. Following the roast, the student is awarded a flight coin which he is expected to have on him during all beer calls (don't worry about that for now, I'll come back to that).

So that about covers my first solo. So what about that area solo nonsense I was saying? Well, unlike PH I in Portage-La-Prairie, students in Moose Jaw complete more than one solo on the Harvard II.  Their first solo is restricted to the pattern only (so they never actually leave the airport vicinity), but all their future solo's are in the practice area, and as such are called "area solo's". If flying solo around the airport is nerve wracking because of the sense that you are truly on your own, flying solo in the area for the first time is also nerve wracking because you are truly out and away from the airport. Unfortunately, no traditions for area solo's. No pizza, no hypothermia, you only get to borrow a multi-million dollar aircraft for an hour or so. 

After all that talk about going solo, my Initial Instrument Test seems pretty uninteresting. This was my first official "test" of flying in the Harvard II, and it's important for a number of reasons. First off, test's are weighted more heavily than normal flights in terms of course performance, and as such test scores have a relatively big influence on selection. Secondly, since it's normally the first test in the aircraft it's the first time students experience a test environment, and the stress of this first test can affect student's performance. The test itself is pretty boring as it's just testing fundamental instrument flying procedures. Students fly a instrument departure, and demonstrate various instrument flying techniques, as well as two different instrument approaches. I am normally pretty proficient at instrument flying, but I was particularly nervous for this test as my two previous instrument flights were less than ideal and I was making dumb mistakes that I don't normally make. As I will talk about in a future post, all it takes to completely fail a flight is one dumb mistake. Even if the entire flight is perfect, if you make one dumb mistake it can fail a flight. Thankfully, I figured out how to fly the airplane in the nick of time, and my test went really well. 

Following my solo and IIT, I've been flying a lot of CH missions. I have now reached the aerobatics part of course, and the past couple days I've been flying two missions a day of aerobatics. This is one of my favorite things to do in aircraft, and I've been having a blast learning new aerobatic maneuvers such as the cuban 8, the roll off the top, and the half roll pull through. There will be a video coming eventually (as well as the F18 ride!). It takes me forever to sit down and edit video, but they will come eventually, so keep checking back!