First Hawk Flight to First Solo

Three weeks since writing about my pre-flight thoughts in the Hawk, and I am now 30% done the course and completed my first solo in the Hawk today. It's been a busy three weeks getting to this point, and I was extremely excited and slightly nervous for my first solo. Before getting to that, I'd like to talk a bit about how I actually like flying the Hawk.

The first thought is rather obvious, and that is that the hawk is an incredibly capable and powerful machine. From the first takeoff on my first flight, it was immediately apparent that the Hawk is an entirely different animal from the Harvard II. One of the ways this performance and power presents itself is in the challenge of not overspeeding the landing gear - particularly in winter. In winter time with temperatures from -15 to -35 C the Hawk produces an enormous amount of power and in order to stay below gear speed while retracting the gear a steep climb angle of approximately 10 degrees is required.  Even this high nose up attitude sometimes cuts it close and only provides a margin of 10-15 knots on the speed limit of the gear.  On my first flight in the Hawk we had the additional problem of low lying clouds a couple thousand feet above ground and this required us to level off below the cloud to transit south to the area. Within 60 seconds of takeoff and levelling off below the clouds we were accelerating through 400 knots.  This is a huge amount of speed that I simply was not prepared for on my first flight, and am only just starting to get used to.  Another key difference between the Hawk and Harvard is how smooth the Hawk is in comparison. With a jet engine instead of a noisy, vibration inducing propeller the flight is much smoother. 

My second thought about the Hawk is that it has a very small cockpit, and for the most part, I don't fit in it very well.  With the Hawk having been built in the 70's for much smaller, British men, and myself being a 5'11", two-hundred pound male, there is a little bit of incompatibility between myself and it. This is only exacerbated by the large amount of winter kit required when the temperature plummets in winter, the G-suit, kneeboard, and any approach plates or documents that I may need to carry. The result is such that even with the rudder pedals extended to their full forward position my knees nearly touch the instrument panel. Furthermore, when I use my hand to operate the landing gear or flaps, my knee gets in the way of the control column and I can't get full roll deflection. Although this is essentially never a problem as I rarely need full deflection while operating ancillaries, it is a dramatic difference from the Harvard where I comfortably fit with ample space to move about in the cockpit.

So this morning I got up, and took a 29 million dollar jet up for a solo (price sourced from wikipedia - so take it with a grain of salt). This was a truly surreal experience, and it's days like today that make me shake my head in disbelief that I am lucky enough to call this my job. The weather couldn't have been much better with light winds and clear skies and I spent the next hour and a bit roaring through the skies having more fun than should be legally allowed. Most of the flight was spent practicing basic aerobatic maneuveres  and "buffet" control. Buffet refers to the rumbling vibrations that are felt through the airframe when under large aerodynamic stresses. This buffet is used to  know when the aircraft is being maximally performed, and basic aerodynamic maneuveres are used to practice maintaining this buffet throughout the maneuver. Following this I spent the remainder of my time in the circuit practicing landings. Once again, a truly surreal experience and I definitely took a few moments airborne to try and soak it all in and enjoy the moment.

It's hard to look cool while squinting into the sun, but the jet helps.

It's hard to look cool while squinting into the sun, but the jet helps.

It's incredible how quickly this course has been going, an its only going to get faster now that I am past solo. I  have a few more solo flights left on course, and am already looking forward to those. My second flight of today was an introduction to advanced handling maneuvers in the jet, and I'll get to practice a few of those on my next solo.

Thanks to all those who keep up with my blog, and stay tuned for future posts! Please subscribe to get an email when new posts are published, and share with friends and family who might be interested!