My First Solo Cross Country Flight
In 1960 the regulations for
student pilots were very loose by today's standards. For example once your student pilot license was endorsed by your instructor
for solo cross-country flight, you could conduct solo cross-country flights,
all over the
My instructor, Bill, said
next we would do a cross-country training flight. The flight would be from Whiteman to
I hit the books all week, studying navigation. I planned out the trip, as best as I could, with my limited experience and knowledge. I bought a pilot's handbook on the Cessna 150 and studied it thoroughly. I got a flight computer (which is a circular slide-rule) and worked away at learning how to use it.
I did not attend any kind of aviation ground school. In fact I never have. Through private, commercial, instrument rating, and flight instructor licenses, I just self-studied.
Saturday finally came. I showed up at
I could not believe how easy it was to taxi that nose wheel type airplane. It was like driving a car. It went where pointed. This was not my experience in the tail dragger Aeronca Champ I had grown to love. After that I always felted that taildraggers were real airplanes. The nose wheel airplane was just too easy to land and takeoff. They were for airplane drivers not real pilots.
So in one trip I was to learn a new airplane, radio communications and navigation, approaching strange airports, tower communications, aeronautical chart reading, identification of landmarks, etc. I was soon on overload.
The takeoff was easy. We headed out
We had a hamburger at the
airport café, while Bill re-did my plan for the next segment of our trip. We were running out of time. Off we went toward
Bill is worried. We are late. The flying service management is going to be upset at him for being so late. He just gives me headings to fly. He is not instructing. It is a race to get home. We get to Whiteman. It is pitch-black on the ground. Whiteman has no airport lighting. We circle over where Bill says the airport is. Down we go into the darkness. The beam of the landing light illuminates the strip. Bill lands the plane.
The management at the flying service is yelling at Bill while he fills out the back of my student license and log book. I am approved for cross country flight. I am approved to fly a Cessna 150. I go home, very tired. As usual, I have no one to share my flying experiences with, or to learn from. I just relive it all, in my head, ala Walter Mitty, over and over again. It is an escape from reality.
Well this is amazing. I'm approved to fly this airplane in which I
have only made one landing. I am
approved to fly, solo (by myself) from anywhere to anywhere in the
Well it took a few weeks to
recover from the dollar cost of that 3-hour flight instruction trip. I built up some more money for flying. I call the flying service to schedule some
more time with Bill. "Bill? Bill doesn't work here anymore. He got a job flying DC3s in the
I have the endorsement for solo cross-country flight. Might as well use it. This will be fun! I call the flying service again to schedule the Cessna 150 for half of the next Saturday. They ask me nothing about what I am going to do or where I am going to go.
Where shall I go? Somewhere that has no control tower! I don't understand aviation communications. I don't want to talk to anyone on the airplane's radio.
So the mission for the day
It was a hazy day in the
Crossing over the LAX VOR, I turned southwest tracking to the Seal Beach (SLI) VOR. At the SLI VOR I turned a little more to the east and tracked on a the radial that would take me over the Elsinor airfield. I was still flying on top of the cloud layer. That layer extended up to the base of the coastal mountains. The Elsinor area and airfield I had never seen before, either in the air or on the ground. The chart indicated that the airfield was dirt. My text book on flying stated that the VOR system was accurate to within +/- 4 degrees. The Elsinor Airfield was about 60 miles from SLI. That meant if I kept the needle centered and could figure when I was 60 miles from SLI, I would be within +/- 4 miles of Elsinor Airfield. That is if it was working properly. Anyway, I could always turn around and go back the way I came.
I kept tracking that radial. After crossing the coastal range, the signal became a little flaky, the needle wandering without any course changes by me. I saw the lake, then the airfield. Out in the distance another airplane seem to be headed that way. I followed, descending toward pattern attitude. This other plane took me into a downwind entry, for a landing to the southeast. I gave the other plane plenty of room. Let’s see how my second landing in this airplane turns out.
I totally mis-judged the approach. I ended up with flaps all the way down, 10 feet above the ground, about 100 yards short of the runway threshold. Praying, I flew at high power, in ground effect, all the way to the start of the runway. Soon as I reduced the power, the main wheels were on the ground. Thank you again Lord! The runway was semi-soft sand. Seeing a line of parked planes at the far end, I made them my destination.
As I got out of the airplane,
a fellow pilot, a little older than me, walked up. Instantly I had a new friend.
“Where you from?” “I’m on a
student cross-country. I’m from
Whiteman Ariport near
The flight back, over new territory for me, was relaxed and fun. I went north to Ontario, then west along the San Gabriel Mountains, north of the Rose Bowl, and along Foothill Blvd, to Hansen Dam, and into the pattern at my home airport. I did it myself! It was an adventure. I lived to fly!