What a day today was! Started out with a one hour lesson this morning with Mubashar. We did some air work, then some landings. He is at that point everyone goes through where we both feel like little progress is being made. We will continue working on Monday, and I'm optimistic that we will make progress again soon. I'm starting this new thing where I try really hard not to schedule myself every minute of every day of the week, and I actually wound up with a Saturday off. He seemed a little miffed about not being able to fly tomorrow, but honestly, I'm not too sympathetic. I'm not completely convinced that flying once or twice every single day is the way to go, and it will help improve relations with the more senior CFI at the school, who really only works weekends.
Anyway, after that was done, I met Francis. We were planning on using a lot of the rest of the day, first to prep for the written test, then to plan a dual-instruction cross country flight to Sporty's, about 100 nautical miles away. Once there, he was to take and pass the written, then we would grab a bite to eat and fly home. Well, this went well, but we took about an hour longer than planned to do the prep work and plan the flight, then actually get in the air and underway. Actually, scheduling and estimating how long any given activity will take is the bane of my professional life right now. It seems like a 1.2 hour lesson takes from 9:00am to noon. We finally got airborne, but by that time clouds had started to form about 1000 feet below our planned cruising altitude. Nice real-life lesson for him about how to deal with the unexpected on a flight, and how to re-work the performance calculations on the fly (literally).
Following a somewhat meandering course (and reviewing VOR tracking and intercept procedures), we arrived at Sporty's. After a quick glance around the pilot shop, he got started on the written test and I parked it in front of a weather computer. Thunderstorms were a'brewin' all along our route of flight home, and a particularly nasty line was stalled out right at our home base. Having started the written around 2:30, we were running a little later than I thought we would. We discussed the possibility of this before we ever took off, and agreed that if we had to wait until temperatures dropped in the evening, an 8 or 9pm arrival home wouldn't be a problem. Remember the old saying "time to spare, go by air?" Well, today was the day it was written for. Flight Services told me "you know how we always warn you guys about outflow, wind shear, and hail around storms? Well, today we really mean it." About 4pm we decided to take the crew car, head into town, and grab a bite to eat while we waited for the storm lines to roll north of our route. Apparently, it was pretty bad at home, because everyone who knew we were in the air from the flight school was calling us to warn and/or check on us. Headed back to the airport, filled the tanks, and finally, at about 5:30, we took off again. This time the clouds were much higher, the air smoother, and we got flight following from Cincinnati Approach and Indy Center, who was extremely busy trying to deal with a ton of airline deviations going into Port Columbus for the evening push.
Once we arrived in our home area, we saw that there was good weather - the storms on radar had either dissipated or moved on down the road, just as radar had shown they would. Landed in the clear with a ceiling above 12,000' and plus 10 miles visibility with absolutely no wind and more than 40 miles from the closest storm cell with not a trace of turbulence the entire flight. I really hope Francis learned something about weather decisions and got something out of the lesson. At the very least, I hope his first cross-country trip taught him that having to deviate from the plan is not only OK, but is often the wise thing to do.
At any rate, we got home, called all the people who were worried, and thats when I popped the big surprise. "Either take the plane we just flew, or take the plane we usually fly, but pick one and go fly it yourself. I'm going to sit here on the porch with a handheld radio and watch you." I wanted to sign his solo flight off 2 weeks ago, and a bunch of little things (plus a little stalling, I believe) have stopped us so far. Tonight was the perfect night for it, with beautiful weather this evening. He preflighted the usual plane and I did some paperwork as I watched him taxi out and do the run-up. About that time, one of the usual airport crew, Fred, showed up, and I told him that it was a first solo. He grabbed his camera and ran out to the runway to take some pictures.
As Francis was lining up to take off, I'm not sure if I was more nervous/excited than he or not, but I know it was close. Its a huge responsibility for both of us. The takeoff was textbook, but the first approach was a little high. I had told him to expect much better climb performance out of the plane with my big rear-end gone, but I had forgotten to tell him the plane would glide a lot better as well. The radio in the plane either had the squelch set too high, or my handheld was too weak to transmit, but he couldn't hear me on the radio. I was wondering what to do, and if he was going to try and save the approach or go around. After a timely go-around, he put it on the runway three times in a row. The first two touchdowns had just the slightest bounce to them (maybe 12 inches), and the last was absolutely beautiful. Francis shut down in the tie-down spot and Fred shot some more photos of us in front of the plane. Then he handed me a pair of scissors. "You know what to do." I looked at Francis and asked if he minded if his shirt was completely destroyed. Then I took the scissors and administered the traditional post-solo reward - the back of your shirt, handed to you.
This tradition is probably one of the oldest in aviation. It all started when Orville landed the Wright Flyer after that first 13 second flight on a Carolina beach, Wilbur ran over and cut the back of his shirt out with some scissors! Actually, there are conflicting stories about where this all got started, but many claim that, during the pre-WWI and WWI era, instructors had to tug on students' shirt tails to get their attention, then to shout instructions - there were no intercoms in those days, and open cockpits and radial engines are much louder than the inside of a Skyhawk. Once students could fly by themselves, removing the shirt tail was a sign to other pilots and students that the person no longer needed an instructor to fly an "aeroplane".
Anyway, it was a fantastic day and night (with the exception of getting home at 9pm). I'll really try to post some pictures in the next few days if I can a few copies. I really need to get my own camera. We both had some "firsts," had an enjoyable and challenging flight home, I found my paycheck on the desk in the office, and I have the weekend off!