Back to Ballad Poems | Back to Main Page 

"First Solo"

by William Woodall from Akron, Ohio


First solo flight


The engine's ticking over; check pilot's getting out;
He must be going to have a smoke; that's what it's about.
But now he's walking closer, and I don't see any signs--
He's not fumbling for a package; he's fumbling for his "lines".

His eyes meet mine, and hold, and then they turn away.
"Do you think that you can fly this thing?" is what he has to say.
I can't believe he said that, it's not the time or day!
My instructor's supposed to sign me off ; that's the Navy way.

He must mean in the "future", he really can't mean now;
I hear myself say "yes sir" as my inner voice gulps "wow".
All doubt is terminated as he etches on my brain,
"Two touch and go's, and a full stop, then pick me up again".

He undoes his seat pack, and sits beneath a tree;
I try at acting nonchalant, but is this really me?
Coiling up the gosport hose that dangles from my head;
I search in vain for cozy slots for it to find a bed.

I've opened up the throttle; begun taxiing away;
I have to find a secure place, where that hose will really stay!
Now I've reached the region where my take-off run will start,
As landing traffic clears away -- I feel my pounding heart!

With left hand on the throttle; and right hand on the stick,
Hose jammed 'neath the tailwheel lock (that should do the trick).
The Stearman races 'oer the sod; it really wants to fly,
It's tough to hold us on the ground; our only load is I.

And just as I am feeling thrilled at being all alone;
My ears are stunned by drum beat drums ; my heart turns into stone!
I must have had a mid-air! -- as I was climbing blind!
Frantic looks both fore and aft -- the hose streams out behind.

The swirl of the propwash has it firmly in its sway,
Rhythmic whacks away in back -- I may live another day!
With joystick and the blasted hose held firmly in my grip,
I now perform appointed tasks, and finish up my trip.

The Ensign duly climbs aboard; -- delivers modest praise.
He'll never know the Hell I've known, on this my "day of days"
I am really something "special", the first among my class,
To be allowed to "solo"! May this feeling never pass!

Our takeoff run is text-book; so is our climb away;
I bank to port and head for home; composing what I'll say.
My classmates will be jealous as they pat me on the back,
My tie (though new), they'll cut in two; and short-sheet me, my sack.

And just as my self image has reached epitome,
The engine coughs and dies complete. We are headed for a tree!
My expertise evaporates. The limbs come rushing on;
But the Ensign does a side-slip, and now the tree is gone.

I had had "emergencies", 'til I thought I would go daft;
But these had all been signaled by the throttle moving aft.
This wily Ensign sees my helmet growing tight,
Turns off the gas instead; and turns my gloat to fright.

Most men who fly in airplanes, no matter what their year;
Can tell of that first solo; how they conquered over fear.
A time so well remembered that the details never fade.
How they flew so free and easy -- the landing that they made.

I am almost in there with them but I have this six point star*;
The *flapping hose; my *dead-stick woes; still haunt me from afar.
Instead of talking landings and the skills that I had shone,
I remember more the takeoff; -- the emergency so blown! 



There are many aviators who really do enjoy;
Punishing their bodies, with the skills they can employ.
Being one with their airframe, which they wildly fling about;
Elated by the "G" loads that push or pull without.

It may well be a taste for this, is something one acquires;
The little time I practiced these; didn't seem to light my fires.
Looking up to view the ground, while falling from my seat,
Didn't seem to fill some void that would make my life complete.

But there IS one maneuver that I will not soon forget;
Involving partial looping, with half-roll tagged on yet.
It was named for a German from long forgotten time;
Whether his Eindecker could DO one is not a matter for this rhyme.

A solo Immelmann was on my list to do
I had had them demonstrated; as a "dual" had done a few.
I acquired the four thousand, above the land below,
Did clearing turns required of me; ('til now, I'm like a pro.).

And then I dived the Stearman, 'til it read one twenty knots,
Pulled the stick back rather smartly; shoved the throttle to the stops.
Looking back above my rudder for the sky to turn to land;
Leveled out the wings when horizon could be scanned.

With landing gear now skyward, the engine popped and quit;
Shoved the stick too far forward, climbed inverted for a bit.
It was then that I decided to initiate some roll;
Pushed the stick into the corner, added rudder to the toll.

The trusty sturdy Stearman did all that it could do;
Rotated rather weakly as we pointed at the blue.
I felt the stall approaching, knew a tailslide was at hand;
Got the stick back into neutral; (no hammerhead was planned!)

It seemed to take forever for the front and back to swap;
And the airplane now was spinning like it didn't want to stop.
The venting of the gas from the wing tank to my face;
Means the spin I'm in's inverted, normal motions to re-place!

I feed in counter rudder, stop the spin and merely dive;
Pull back on the stick, hear the wires come alive.
As the airplane found its axis, the carburetor fed;
The engine came on full bore; the tach was in the red!

Yanked the throttle back to idle; now the airspeed got a glance;
We're a long ways past the red line, hauled the stick and took a chance.
The "G" load was a power as we rounded out the curve;
The blurring of my vision spoke of blood and optic nerve.

Exchanged our speed for altitude as spots flew in my eyes;
When down to cruise, put down the nose, flew level in the skies.
At first I cursed my clumsiness, ashamed of the mess I'd made;
Hoped no one had seen my show; at least no one in the trade!

But then I got to thinking, what this looked like from the ground;
The action quite unbroken as I went from round to round.
It was not so very often that one would chance to see,
A half loop to a climbing roll, and a hammerhead for free;

A tailslide for an encore-- add one inverted spin;
Do a split-ess for finale with sound effects thrown in.
I never did discuss this with cadets or Navy brass,
(Inverted spins "verbotten") for those in solo class.

But as I go to airshows and watch the big boys fly,
I think back to MY "airshow"---how I didn't even try.


Top | Back to Ballad Poems | Back to Main Page