First Home Field Solo
By Kathleen Elrod-Foer

"You've got to write this up".  My husband says.  "I wouldn't know where to start" I reply. 

To myself I'm thinking:  "these PPC guys wouldn't be interested in 
hearing about my first solo at my home-sweet-home field.  I'm sure that with their experiences, it will seem tame".  My husband is persistent:  "You've gotta write this up."

I understand how those PPC guys got all of their experience: flying our PPC is just too darn much fun!  How can anyone pass it up?  How could anyone turn down the opportunity to leave earths' surface, in control of an open cockpit craft, with the wind in your face and the world laid out before you? My husband is persuasive: " If you write about your flight, maybe more couples will share the same fun that we have".  Maybe more will get out there and suffer from the "Help, I've done my first solo, and I can't stop smiling" ailment (which usually lasts until the next solo)

Okay, okay I surrender.  I will try to keep it short. This is the 
story of my first solo in my husbands' machine.

I have been a student in the back seat for about two years.  I have taken many beautiful and interesting photos.  I have listened, 
questioned and learned.  My husband also is wise enough to have 
suggested that my first solo should not be under his instruction, in 
(let's face it) his baby.  It could get way too tense.  I'm sure that 
he was remembering last fall, with my practice inflations.  On those, he was so nervous that he got home and shaved off his moustache, because of all the gray hair that had grown in!

I took my first solo under a different BFI, in a different PPC and 
equipped with radio gear.  I soloed.  After landing, I grinned for
two weeks!

This Saturday.  Warm day, winds calm.  We head for the field.  After uncovering, gassing up and pre-flight safety checks, we fly.  Great flight, we land.  He turns to me and says: "you ready?"

In the period of three seconds, my mind races:  Oh my God, our PPC.  Oh my God, NO RADIO.  Okay, I'll take off; take a short couple of passes and land.  Just a short, little pop-up. It'll give me the chance to practice landing. 

So I answer: "I'm ready"

Along with the minutia of prepping for any flight, we discuss a
flight pattern, we pre flight the plane again, go over the no radio, ground hand signals and make sure that I have the "abort take-off" signal and sequence down pat.

His last instructions, just before the "clear prop" warning are: 
"Now once you get up, you should take a nice long flight.  You need the time in the plane. Practice but have some fun, take your time and enjoy."

Now the engine is purring, I am giving it some throttle, I am moving forward, and I am watching the chute. Seconds later, I am still moving forward, I'm still checking lines and chute, but I'm also still not getting the chute to pop up.  I am going along this way for what seems to be an eternity. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  If you want to see the cells inflate, you can only be so timid with the throttle, and who's in control of this PPC anyway? 

I add throttle, up comes the chute; I'm in the air!  Lots of throttle 
now, little more, little more, little more.  Altitude is my friend. 
"Yeeeehah" my husband hears on the ground.

I check that everything looks right. At 350 Feet, as I make my first turn, suddenly I don't care that I have no radio.  I know who's in 
control.  I look out onto the landscape that, from the students' back seat, I have seen change from spring, to summer, to fall and than winter, and then back again. 

That same familiar terrain, right now, looks so different. Strangely, 
I feel like it's mine. Now I feel that somehow I own it. I fly and 
wave over my "adopted family" planting their garden, my "adopted" nieces and nephew are jumping and waving.  For close to an hour, I fly and I fly and I watch the sun become a big orange ball.  I watch that orange ball sink lower and lower on the horizon creating an orange shimmering ribbon of ripples on the water.  I watch the sun disappear. 

I sigh. I could go on flying "for days" but sadly, I will need to 
land.  I also figure that maybe the folks down on the ground are 
thinking I can't land and that is why I have been up for so long!  I 
circle the landing field, losing altitude.  I set up my approach and 
"chicken-out" of my first attempt to land because the old timid-ness crept in for a moment. The angle of the approach turn also spooked me. 

I climb; it is OK to take another go around. I circle; lose altitude 
again, closer, closer, closer.  I land. (PERFECTLY, if I must say so myself.)  In a flurry the chute is down the cart has stopped, and it is so unbelievably still and peaceful in this huge field.  Not a puff 
of wind. 

My husband is driving the car down the field to meet me.  I get out
of the cart and lay flat-out, face-to-the-sky, on the ground and think," Life just keeps getting better all the time" 

So I have to say, to any spouse, partner, or friend of a "PPC Geek", if you get the opportunity to listen, question, and learn from someone that is willing to share the knowledge: Go for it. There is a phrase in a Pink Floyd song: "there's no sensation to compare to this, suspended animation, state of bliss".  It is true.

Kathleen Elrod-Foer