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By NateHallahan

This last Saturday I did my first solo flight which was preceded by a tandem check flight around 12:30 with my instructor that was supposed to follow the solo flight plan, but I mentioned that I had never seen launch from above... Since it was active we found a thermal and I practiced sensing when I entered and exited, making adjustments to stay in it. A few minutes after launching we took a pass over launch (a first for me!) and headed back out front to practice some more thermaling. Ultimately I climbed to 4,400 (launch is 3,500 and I think they were expecting climbs to 4,500 that day) before continuing with my solo flight plan. Nice and fun practice before my solo!
The solo.
For whatever reason during the days leading up to my solo I started over thinking launching and began to become much more anxious about it than I expected, but only about the launch. I had taken a week off since my last lesson at the beach where I was signed off for my H2 and was starting to think too much time had gone by and I would already lose my skills. After setting up the tandem glider earlier in the day I had already forgotten all my worries and easily launched in a 15mph wind. Breaking down the steps, doing the current step, and thinking through the next one really makes each part a non-issue.
We got to the top of the mountain around 3:30 and set up. I got on the side wires and assisted other pilots launch. My instructor, an H2 with a few solos under his belt, the driver, and I waited around till the winds calmed to around 7-8mph. My instructor launched and went straight to the landing field where he provided instruction over radio to the other H2 (who launched without clearance, so forgetful that guy!) After he landed I got the instruction to prepare to launch, I moved my glider over, did my hang check and had an amusing conversation about whether or not I was comfortable with the conditions. Apparently “I think so” isn’t the right answer but I told him that to be sure I’d actually have to get on launch to tell.
On launch I checked in with my instructor, got cleared for launch and did a hook in check. I picked up the glider with the driver on the nose wires and it yawed over to the right something like 30 degrees from my course line. For some reason I thought “no my first solo flight should have a straight take off” so I moved it back to center but balancing the wing brought the nose back over to the right. Everything was smooth and balanced. “My first solo flight is going to be a crosswind takeoff” I said “clear” and my assistant moved out of the way and said “clear.” I accelerated along my course line looking beyond the hill in front at a distant point took off effortlessly and without worry!
I cleared the terrain and turned towards my next target. That first turn was probably a little strong and I hit some rising air (it’s there waiting for me every tandem) which rolled me a little further (maybe, it was probably all me). I went to trim and checked my airspeed (first time it was ever attached). On course to my target it struck me how much easier it was to handle my glider than that tandem beast. More than anything I was amazed by how calm and peaceful this is, simply amazing. That thought was constantly with me as I performed my turns: 90 left, 180 right, then another 90 left to the staging area.
I started circling down, see that the wind is only slightly cross, no big deal. With each turn I drift a little downwind, that’s something I have to work on. I signal to my instructor by waving my legs that I think I have one more rotation to go before going on the downwind leg, he confirms it. I pull in for speed and drift a little to the inside and get a little PIO. My instructor warned me that the falcon 3’s have that tendency, something else for me to work on. I turn base and final, I’m a little off course and try to correct it. Keeping up my speed I get a little more PIO which eventually smooths out. Over the radio my instructor recommends keeping my speed instead of pulling in more. So instead of rounding out into ground effect a few inches over the ground I skim about 5 feet over the ground, push out a little and flare to parachute down the last few feet (I had actually practiced this maneuver at the beach). I land to an applause from the other pilots and immediately receive complements and congratulations. The pilot who I helped with the assembly of his ATOS hours earlier walks over and recounts my whole flight from his perspective.
After a few phone calls everything sinks in and I find my instructor. “Why the hell am I on the ground?!”

A little about my training.
I’m learning with Windsports in southern California. There are no small hills to use so training takes place in two locations. The training hills are actually a dune on the beach near LAX, you thought walking back up your nice green hills was hard, ugg, try sand! I lost some weight and didn’t have to go do squats at the gym and I’m still dumping sand out of my shoes. The other location is the 3,500 foot Kagel Mountain in Sylmar. It varies by student but it took me 5 lessons at the beach to earn my H1. Then off to the mountain to do tandem flights to work on turns, flight speeds, and landing approaches. This took 4 tandem flights. Then back to the beach to work on launches and landings and other H2 skills. This took me another 7 lessons to get my H2. Then to graduate here it takes about 8 solo flight lessons over the radio. Which I am working on now.

I'll be back at it this weekend!
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By miraclepieco
Heck of flight! That's a big time mountain site with mid-summer air, plus your crosswind launch technique is quite a skilled maneuver. :mosh:
By blindrodie
DAMN...sweet launch and way to stay on the DTs until you were comfy. Those 360s were great before you set down. Background applause well deserved! :mosh:

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By kukailimoku2
+1 on the launch, great technique and done with power and confidence. Nice work
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By DMarley
Congrats on your first solo! Very nice crossing launch!
Flying tandem a few times is definitely the way to go before your first solo. Nice flight! You'll be soaring solo in short order.

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