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Going Solo

No I donít mean without a partner in life. I am now talking about the first solo flight in an aircraft. Believe me, a much more daunting prospect. I had started flying again with Jim in his Zenair CH701 Stol about 2 or 3 months ago. So after 23 flying hours in total, 20 of them at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, I was just about getting around to landing myself and thatís what itís all about, landing that is. Most aircraft will take off, just by opening the throttle i.e., putting your foot on the gas, except in most aircraft you use your hand. Whilst aloft itís my guess that most people can handle a light aircraft in light winds sufficiently well enough to get it to go in one direction or another. However, landing is another matter entirely.  

My Kite

First light with the sun just popping out through the Eucalyptus trees at the top of the airfield.


I was due another 3 Ĺ hours in the Zenair that I had already paid for, but Jim managed to crash it. I am not going to talk about that. No! The less said the better. Needless to say I was not happy, OK, but donít worry he walked out without a scratch, more than likely, wishing to himself he had been killed to save the embarrassment. So there I was with nothing to fly. Then I heard that they were selling off the QuickSilvers about 40 miles away at Chonburi Flying Club. So before they were all sold, I went to have a look at them.

Alright, they had a few hours on the clock, but they were kept in excellent condition by the head mechanic, Mr. Wisoon, a very charming Thai gentleman. They were all for sale, every one ranging from $6,400.USD, to a whopping $19,000.USD.  I settled for one that I got a very good deal on at $7,600.USD. It had brand new wing covers plus an engine life left of 150 hrs.  

I was planning to let Jim teach me in my aircraft but the day after it was delivered to Eastern Flying Club across the field from my house, Jim managed to crash yet another aircraft owned 50% by himself and the other 50% by Paul. Young Paul as he is known and I am old Paul, naturally. Charming but there you have it. There was a birthday celebration at Chonburi Flying Club when everyone was invited so I took Noi and the boys down in the truck. We had a little lunch & watched the flying displays by the Thai Air force and Thai Navy pilots and what they canít make a Quicksilver do is not worth mentioning. Both Jim and young Paul had flown down in their Renegade bi-plane that they had bought from a cousin of the Thai King, known as Mum. Apparently itís a royal name.

By 4.30pm or so the boys & Noi where getting restless having put up with indulging me all day. So we set off for home. There was also a free dinner later, but to be honest I had seen enough for one day as well. So back home it was. I dropped Noi and the boys at home and went on to the airfield to see if there was anything going on there. Very shortly after getting there the news was that Jim with Paul on board had crashed on take off. ďOh my goodnessĒ, as you no doubt can imagine my saying. Anyway, thankfully, they both walked away from that one yet again, suffering no more than perhaps slight concussion. Again the aircraft was a total loss. It reached a height of about 50ft, and the official line is the engine lost power? It came down at the very far end of the airfield, and was on fire either before it hit the ground or as soon as it did. Jim was groggy from hitting his head, but very luckily recovereded quickly enough to get out before the fuel tanks exploded. 

The very next day he had to attend a Thai Air Force medical center for a very full medical, having crashed twice in just about as many weeks. So far and it may not be over yet, they have only taken his ticket for two weeks, to get over the concussion Hmm? We will see. 

Anyway, that leaves me now with an aircraft and no one at our club qualified to teach me to fly. You may well be thinking maybe I was just not meant to fly. Believe me I have asked the same question and I just put it down to being tested. The point being if you really do want to do something, short of being struck down on the spot, you will find a way to do it. 

Where on earth has the other end of that seat belt gone?

So now what? I asked my good friend Mr. Ad the junior of the two flying Dutchmen to fly me down to Chonburi, so I could consult Mr. Wisoon about the compass fitted to my aircraft, as for sure itís not reading correctly. He put it down to deviation caused by interference within the aircraft, and gave me the manual to copy, in order to set it. Iíll have to give that a try, and see if itís that, but, as Booner, my present flying instructor says, we never use them. He, being a Thai Navy pilot, who is about to join the Thai Airways International as a 747 pilot. This is true, in the local area from one airfield to the other, is in line of sight, while carrying a map in your head. To say it would be difficult to look at a map in this aircraft is an under-statement to say the least. Even if you had the air charts and you had them in some sort of folder or other, they would be next to useless. For sure, one is better off with a current road map. People put this down to air defence or something like that.

 Well, maybe. But my guess is that if the Cambodians decided to invade they wonít bother with Thai air charts anyway. They will go to the book shop and buy a road map, eh? Anyway, whatever.  I would still like a compass that I can rely on. So, back to the point. I asked them at Chonburi for Mr. Boonerís phone number to see if he would be prepared to teach me. Sure enough he was. So after about 4 hrs in this aircraft, having had one day in fairly heavy winds for this sort of aircraft and as a student, I thought so. He said that on Saturday I was to go solo. Now, I normally wake up early, but Saturday morning I was awake with my head full of flying at 3am, having deliberately stayed up late Ďtill 11pm the night before. The reasoning being that if I was up late, I might sleep in till around 5am. Not so, I was also probably flying in my sleep. So I answered my emails, watched the early morning news and was off to the airfield at first light. A further cup of coffee and the all essential pre flight checks, I rolled my Quicksilver out of the hanger just as the sun was glimmering through the eucalyptus trees at the top of the field. Every nut and bolt of which there are hundreds is inspected. The tires are kicked & the propeller is inspected for any damage and back to more coffee.

One day before solo, or so I thought.

Training with Booner before going solo.

The winds were light as they always are at that time of day and the sun was now dancing on the mirrored glass ordaining the Wat ( temple )on the other side of the valley. I had been flying this aircraft for at least 4 hrs and had landed it at least 10 times on my own the day before and quite well really. Nothing to worry about at all I kept telling myself.  Well, Booner arrived about 7am and we prepared to fly around and around, landing after landing, which I thought were quite well done. I wondered if he was going to say OK youíre on your own now. He didnít and after about an hour it was the end of the lesson when after the last landing it was back to the hanger. I was wondering what had happened to my solo, but I wasnít going to say anything, as that is up to him. Naturally I was wondering if I had been doing anything wrong.

Then it came out. I was braking my glide too low. He told me, I had been testing his nerve, not getting it wrong for the weather conditions on the day, but I had to learn to brake the glide higher because if it had been a day with more wind I could well have been in deep doo doo. So the next lesson came along and could I get it right now, no. By the lesson after that I was getting there again, but still no mention of a solo flight. Then it was Saturday 25th of April 2004 after an evening lesson in heavier winds when he told me I would be flying solo early next morning, with light to no wind. 

The Chonburi by-pass just by the flying club.

Chonburi Flying Club Airfield

Safely on the ground at Chonburi

You have no idea what that is like, or if you have please let me know. Booner, took me up for two touch and go's first thing on Sunday which were very well done by me. Then on the second landing he said, ďStop and let me out, you can go aloneĒ. We are talking about 7am or thereabouts and having let him out, taxi-ing down to the far end of the runway seemed very short indeed. Then I have to do it myself - I had to take to the air and come back without damaging the aircraft all on my very own.

As you might know I am not religious in any way, don't get me on that one. However with all the antics that I have got up to in my life I have long thought that someone or something is looking out for me because I reckon I should have been dead under the wheels of some truck or other, at about seventeen years of age. I was totally crazy in my youth. If there was a throttle, there were only ever two positions - fully open or fully closed. I was given an award for the best crash of the season when I used to race cars and I have a picture of my car, a Mini with its roof about 8' in the air but the wheels were above that. I crashed at about 60 - 80mph about two years ago and only broke a collar bone while on a four day motor-cycle International Enduro event  in Thailand.

When finally coming round after about half an hour or so all I wanted was a fag. (cigarette in English ) So I asked who or what had taken care of me for so long to look after the aircraft because I can't afford the repair bills. 

So doing the last checks sitting at the far end of the runway at 01, that is approximately 10 degrees off north to you, and I was slowly opening the throttle to full revs. I was in the air in about 50 meters or so, the aircraft being so light with only me in it. Climbing with one eye on the air speed indicator. Don't want to stall on take-off; that's very bad form. Finally in the air after about 30 hours of training and now alone. It was fabulous, it was fantastic, it was all those things, times ten but now I had to do the circuit and get down again in one piece. So left turn over the fields that run just to the south of my housing estate at about 200 ft then left again at about 300ft then nose down to level off and throttle back to about 5200 rpm.

 Then cruise down-wind Ďtill I was just about level with the duck sheds at the far end of the runway,  left again lowering the revs to about 4500 rpm at a high of 250ft and lastly the next left turn to final. Thatís all there is to it  apart from the fact you have to now land without breaking the aircraft.

 ďLine up the numbersĒ I can hear Booner saying in my head ďline up the numbersĒ No there is no radio but you hear it anyway. You remember all the things that the instructor has ever said. In fact for a few days I had probably been dreaming of them. Now the numbers are lined up and the throttle is way back, way what? Oh I don't know, you have to listen at this time, just fly by the seat of your pants as thereís no time to be looking at instruments. You need to make sure you have pressure on the stick which means you have the air speed and keep those numbers lined up. Six feet off the ground you are looking at no. 19 disappearing. That's the number at the far end of the runway meaning 10 degrees of south when coming the other way, and it's time to break your glide or in other words stop from ploughing into the ground. Now level up dropping the revs again while pulling back on the stick to flare, that's to say point the nose slightly in the air while making sure you don't balloon, thus don't go up again, because now you have no airspeed to count on. So the last thing you want is to gain any height bringing about a stall too high. Now it's back on the stick ballooning a little forward on the stick to stop it. Back on the stick, lower the revs again, then finally touch down gently. I had done it!

I had touched down like a feather, I had done it, and it had all worked, just as it should. Now it was time to open the throttle and do it all again, at least another two times before stopping for a well-earned fag, with a swig of water. 

So three circuits completed with no go- a- rounds meaning that there were no aborted landings and that water was looking so good. However, Josh the senior of the two flying Dutchmen had other ideas. He thought I would look better wearing the water. So after the impromptu shower it was sure time for that fag & the discussion with Booner about my efforts. Booner said all was good and cleared me for going solo any time the winds are light. 

Just after 6am, flying towards one of the many reservoirs. It's cool; what more could you ask?

On the way to Chonburi Flying Club.

Not far now. there's the lake at the end of the runway, just peering out of the mist.

One of the very many quarry sites used to prepare soil for building.

Sri Ratcha Airport on the way to Chonburi

Since then I have made several cross -country flights, all without the aid of a working compass, apart from the $2.USD item that is attached to my wristwatch. The last being 29-04-04 to an airfield called Doc Rey. This was the most challenging, because for the others you could just either follow the road, or as in the case of the first one, there is a building that is by the airfield, which can be seen even from the ground at the home airfield.

Unfortunately, I failed to find the airfield and land that day, but I did find the area by the side of the lake. Josh told me when I had returned that it was very much overgrown and unless you knew the site well, it could be very easy to miss. So having not found it, it was time to turn for home. At this time I noticed that the sky was looking very black in the direction of home, and black skies generally mean thunderstorms with very high winds; not good. Not good, but what choice? The choices are : you carry on and hope for the best. You find any likely spot to land, like a dirt road, a flat field, even an empty car park by the side of a factory perhaps But how bad is that weather looking? OK I canít see any rain yet, but those clouds are passing above me and straight on my heading at a very alarming rate. After about another twenty minutes, I was passing over the top of the race track and those long straights looked very inviting indeed. I didnít fancy going on and having to put down just a head of a storm in the nearest ploughed field as they can look very inviting from 500ft but very different close up.  

So what to do, carry on, or land at the track? I made the decision to press on, more from the point of how do you explain an aircraft turning up at the pits. In one sense they may have been tickled pink to find me land there, or on the other hand, they may have been straight on to the DOA (Department of Aviation) and who knows what sort of trouble I may have been in then? Oh well, now I will never know, thank goodness. What I did do was increase the revs. and point the nose down to gain more air speed to get home ahead of the storm which put on a further 15 mph of airspeed. Not having a clue what the ground speed was, I could see some smoke in the far distance, which was blowing horizontally, coming from the direction of my left, meaning from the south, which is normal at this time of the year. So I knew that, when I finally did get home, I would be using runway 19 and could go straight in.

By now I was at the far side of the reservoir with the home airfield in sight. It was a beautiful sight as probably any sailor will have a similar story of reaching port just ahead of a storm.  But having done that as well, believe me I know which is the most worrying, or at least now I do. Straight in to base leg, turn left to line up the numbers on final, lower the revs for a gentle landing, then straight back to the hanger. Job well done, all in one piece. No having to explain why I had to put down at the race-track, or in a ploughed field, not to speak of farmers with guns wanting all sorts of cash for landing in their field. So, where to next?

The Local reservoir to the North of Pattaya on the way back from Chonburi you have seen photo's of this before in the story about the two young Thai boys.

Can you see my home airfield yet?

Can you see it now.

Oh that's where I left it.


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