My First Solo Flight... by Gary Fisher
My first solo was in a PPG with a trike. Same basic principle as a PPC, but on a smaller scale. I flew it once in Florida out of a giant field, under radio supervision. When I got back to Boise, I had my first REAL solo (without radio assistance). It was quite a ride... basically just one continuous emergency flight.

I started from an elementary school playground on a Saturday morning. It was grass, surrounded by a chain link fence. No people around, but a subdivision nearby on one side. My plan was to get up and immediately go away from the congested area and fly over some farmland nearby.

It was a hot summer day. I had arrived early, but being my first time, I didn't get off the ground until almost noon. Inflation went fine. I didn't encounter a single problem until I was all of three feet off the ground. It was then that I realized I needed a much larger field. Three things were working against me. It was at a higher altitude than Florida, it was hot, and I had no head wind. So my climb out was very flat. I was afraid I would hit the fence, but I knew I would crash if I aborted now, so I kept at full throttle and barely made it.

I climbed to 500 feet where I was supposed to feel safe. But between the scary takeoff, the thermals, my fear of heights and the lack of radio assistance, I felt like maybe this whole "I can fly" fantasy was not such a good idea. I distinctly remember looking down and thinking: This hobby is going to get me killed and if someone offered me $50 for this machine, I would take it and never look back.

I abandoned my flight plan and decided to land immediately. So I circled back to the school yard. It was a big, slow circle because I was too afraid to turn sharply. I was at 500' when I throttled back for my landing approach. But when I passed over the school, I was still at about 350'. This thing had a 7:1 glide ratio and with no headwind like I had in Florida, I couldn't exactly drop into the school yard like I had planned.

So I went around to try again... another big circle, this time a little lower. Still no luck. One more time. Eventually I realized that I could not clear the power lines and still drop into the field. I would need to turn sharper and stay inside the power line perimeter, which fortunately was only close on two sides. More tries... getting progressively lower. Now I was inside the power lines, but outside the chain link fence. I didn't want to pass too low over the fence, but I would need to if I wanted to land inside the fence. The field now seemed like a postage stamp.

I finally got low enough to ALMOST land, but not quite. When I realized I wasn't going to make it, I went to full throttle and BARELY missed the monkey bars as I pulled out. With my flat glide slope, this was like trying to pitch a dime into a dish at a carnival. And at the rate I was making these attempts, I would run out of my gallon and a half of gas before I landed... just before!

I would need to turn even sharper and circle right over the subdivision in order to stay low enough to land. As I turned, I lost some altitude and even at full power I could only stay level. I ended up passing just over the rooftops of the subdivision on my final three attempts. Children were running out to watch! This would be no time to have an engine out, but that was the last thing on my mind since I was barely surviving as is. Besides, what were the odds of my reliable Japanese engine failing? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Did I mention there was some kind of microwave antenna or something that I had to circle around each time. Well, there was. Finally, I had to start turning inside the radius of all these obstacles. Meanwhile, my wife was watching and didn't even have a clue that I was in big trouble. She figured I must have just been showing off for the video camera. Once she concluded that I was not actually going to land, she stopped filming and started reading a book.

I finally learned by trial and error to do something like THE PATTERN. Eventually, I was flying along the perimeter of the chain link fence, so I could lose altitude until finally turning in, just in time to land. It worked! I was alive! I wanted to fall down and kiss the ground, but I was held in place by my paragliding harness. So I just collapsed in total exhaustion.

The whole flight had only taken 28 minutes (3 minutes going up and 25 minutes trying to get down). That doesn't seem like much time now, but it was like getting the scare of my life every 30 seconds... constant adrenaline. I was as physically and mentally exhausted as I can ever remember being. It wasn't until later that I heard: It's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground. Tell me about it!

I thought I would never go again, but after a while I started thinking... If the field were only bigger, etc... and before you know it I was back for more.

And remember when I said I was skimming over the rooftops? Well I never did that again, but on my very next flight, the single inverted spark plug fell out of my engine at 150'. Fortunately, I had already learned my lesson and was over a large hay field at the time, so I was able to land easily. God must have been looking out for me until I started looking out for myself.

Eventually I got a PPC AND some training. Ironically, it wasn't until I was finally flying safely that I got into trouble with the FAA... but that's another story.

Gary Fisher