You always remember your first time.

It doesn’t really matter what it is. Could be your first solo flight in an airplane.

I remember the surprise and thrill I got on December 17, 1975 when Virginia Hanic, my flight instructor at Skypark, just west of Wadsworth, Ohio, told me to drop her off at Flight Ops; she had cheated death enough for one day, but I hadn’t. She wanted me to go up and throw myself at the ground a few more times before I put the Cessna to bed for the day.

I taxied over to the departure end of runway 05 (heading to the northeast), stopped at the hold-short and did my checklists, while listening on UNICOM for any other planes in the traffic pattern. No voices heard, I looked to the southwest to see if there were any planes on final. None were present, so I taxied out onto the runway, all 2,200 feet of it, set takeoff power, released the brakes and let the Ponies from Lycoming send me skyward. A little bit of rudder to compensate for the crosswind and I was airborne a few hundred feet down the tarmac, grinning, I am quite certain, like the Proverbial Cat. I had dreamed of this moment for 17 years.

I was too busy to really enjoy the moment though, as I turned downwind and commenced the landing checklist. First item on said list was:

1. Please Lord, don’t let me screw this up.

I’m not kidding – that really was the first item on my landing checklist. Written in the scrawl of arthritic doctor filling out a prescription, mind you, but none the less there. I don’t really recall the rest of the flight, but I do know I made several landings before taxiing over to the flight line and facing my biggest challenge of the afternoon.

The hardest part of flying lessons to me was tying down the airplane afterwards. Good thing there weren’t camera phones back then or I would have gone viral on YouTube. Knots and me are like Indiana Jones and snakes. I can tie two knots: the square knot and the slip knot. The second one is always accidental and occurs when attempting the first one. Now you know why I never made it past “Tenderfoot” in the Boy Scouts.

And tonight I soloed again. See checkist, above.

At least no knots were involved.

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