PPL(H) – First Solo Navigation Flight

PPL(H) – First Solo Navigation Flight

Same as First Solo Flight?

I had my first solo flight on the same day as my first navigation flight. The navigation flight took place in quite poor visibility and had just opened a totally new field of serious concerns in my mind.

Full of impressions, thinking about something totally different in combination with self-confidence and that we had properly trained for the solo flight helped a lot. I had almost forgotten about the first solo flight, it came out of the blue and, before I could really think about it, I was already flying. I enjoyed it and, straight after landing, I couldn’t help but think that this was not the real challenge. The real challenge was to come, my first solo navigation flight.

This will be the full programme. Reading the chart, talking to different radio stations, pick up and set pressure & transponder squawk. Far enough to get lost and not get home, long enough for warning lights to show up etc. A Long list of basically everything that could potentially go wrong.

We have flown three more navigation flights since then and today’s the day, the flight of the DEEP CONCERNS has arrived.

The most amazing achievement – Overcoming deep Concerns

My feelings before taking off?

We have planned and discussed the flight very carefully. I have visualised the flight in my inner eye before. I slept very well and as usual I am very focused and calm. So, that’s all the same but what about my other concerns?

During the last navigation flight, I started to have a basic idea of the area, but I am still a total stranger. If I get more than 10 miles from my course, I have absolutely no clue where I am. I had started to find my line on the chart but still somehow managed to constantly turn around the chart on my knee and hold it in the wrong direction or upside down etc.

I started to understand and talk on the radio but still on every flight the instructor had to take over some parts, usually because I did not understand them or my reaction was to slow.

I did not feel unprepared, but, I had already justified to myself that if I didn’t find my way back home that was because I am a stranger to the area or because English is not my first language. I estimated my chances to find my way back home at 70:30.

If I am lucky it’s all fine and, if not, I just land somewhere & call my instructor. I go anyway. I am extremely curious to see what happens and I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s ‘the day’ and it will always be frightening.

Don’t look so long – Where are we now – Don’t wait so long

I climb out of Goodwood, I can’t believe the view over the shining sea still blows my mind. I continue towards my starting point, which I can see without even checking the chart. That’s already calming. I am happy, in a good mood and say to myself “this will be a very good flight.”

From here, something happens that I had not expected. I realise that I am not on a solo flight at all. Just after passing my first checkpoint I want to check my position on the chart and I hear my instructor saying: “Don’t look so long”.

Only some minutes later he asks me: “Where are we now?” – “Have you prepared the frequency for the next station to talk?”. As soon as the radar service gives me my squawk code I talk back on the radio at rocket fire speed, just to prevent my instructor from saying “Don’t wait so long”.

It’s really scary and very calming at the same time. He is sitting there like an invisible ghost and continues to talk to me all the time. At some point, I literally try to touch him to make sure I am not again dreaming this flight.

However, as he just continues talking, I start to talk with him as well. I comment on what I see, where we are, what I will do next and even ask him to take a picture of the amazing view. We see an Army helicopter. I never struggled with directions, it couldn’t be any better.

Trust your heading

When I turn into my last leg heading back to Goodwood, flying towards the hills the visibility turns into haze and the sun blurs my sight. The picture in front of me looks totally different, actually wrong. For one or two minutes I am very confused and almost sure that I am flying at least 100° degrees in the wrong direction. This moment is really frightening.

I wondered how I managed to finally get lost exactly at the stage at which I had the impression nothing could go wrong any more. Of course, I try to find myself on the chart but there are only a few features that I cannot recognise anywhere.

Trying to keep calm, but obvisously terrified, I think I should completely change my direction, but right on time, my instructor is back again: “Trust your heading”.  We have a short discussion as to why I think I am wrong and why I should not let myself become distracted just because it looks different.

The next few minutes feel like ages, I follow my heading. The further I get, the more I am convinced I am flying in the wrong direction. But, all of sudden I cross some hills, the views look totally different again and I can see an outstanding feature that I have never seen before. It brings back the certainty that the direction is absolutely perfect. A huge relief.

Welcome Back Home

As soon as I fly over the last hills, I recognise the nose-like half islands that point into the sea. Now I know that I have finally made it. With a large smile on my face I switch back to the home base frequency of Goodwood and call the tower.

A warm and soft voice replies: “Good afternoon – G-OAVA – Welcome back  – Runway in use ….”.

“wow ….  !??! Is this the same black box that terrified me for so long? I am speechless. I have liked Goodwood since my first day but now I liked it even more. My new home & sort of a love. A fantastic feeling, the flight of my life.

On the way towards PPL(H) there are many steps that are very satisfying but this step was for sure one of the most important.


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PPL(H) – First Solo Flight

PPL(H) – First Solo Flight

 — 5 seconds after landing my first solo flight —


Congratulations – Most awesome moment in an aviation career!

It is late afternoon on December 1st, more or less 4 months after this famous coffee with my friend Malvina who had initially influenced my Decision & Plan to start this journey.

Weather: very calm winds, not clear sky but good visibility and some blurred layers of clouds that start to disappear.

Since I started my journey “From_Zero_To_Pro” I continuously post on Facebook about new steps & achievements.

It’s not a big surprise that the post about “My First Solo Flight” gets most “Likes & Comments” so far.

But, it is again Malvina who makes me think the most: Congratulations! Most awesome moment in an aviation career.

Very individual Experience of a Lifetime

We had trained Circuits many times and I was finally able to land. Still, everything was a huge act of concentration but I know that I can do it and get back on the ground alive if my instructor falls out of the window.

This morning I had just flown my first navigation flight in very poor visibility. This flight was at the forefront of my mind. It started to create serious new concerns about totally getting lost somewhere in the South of the UK.

The circumstances, what goes through one’s mind in exactly these minutes before taking off, perceptions and feelings during the flight and the relief & happiness after landing must be very individual I am sure.

Additional memory space – ‘Dreality’

But from here something happened that must be the same for everyone. It took me a long time, almost up to the end of PPL(H), to let it properly sink in and give it the time it deserves, to find and build its own place in my personal memory.

Only then did I start to understand her words, and this must be the “awesome part of every aviator’s brain”

This flight was etched into my memory and created a new, additional memory space – ‘Dreality’.

During my first solo flight, I was never actually sure if I was just dreaming again. Since then, I can be in a very real situation and virtually dream this flight again, so detailed and identical that it feels more real than during the flight itself.

It has created a weird mash-up between dream & reality which includes every millisecond, movement, thought, view, sound, light etc. of this unique 3 minutes. Since then, subsequent solo situations get stored in this additional memory space in this specific and very pleasant way.

Flying is not just a dream and a cool feeling, it creates new brain power and an enhanced ability to dream in reality.


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PPL(H) – First Navigation Flight

PPL(H) – First Navigation Flight

It is not prohibited to fly in rain

This morning, the weather looks a bit better than the last few days but is still not really great. There is almost no wind but the clouds are hanging really low. However, the visibility is good enough to fly this navigation flight and the decision is made quickly. In one hour we leave.

During the last three mornings, I had been practicing planning navigation always based on this same flight. Each time, I found something I could really improve on and the speed at which I consulted the weather & wind reports to calculate the headings etc. had more than tripled since my first attempt. I knew all the danger areas to avoid, the frequencies we needed etc.

At 11am I inform the tower, we lift & hover taxi to the triangle and it starts to rain.

I am so focused on flying and familiarising myself with these new accessories – chart and kneeboard – that I don’t really care about the rain. I take off and climb out through the circuit but, as we leave the aerodrome, I ask my instructor if he is really sure that this weather is good enough?

“It is not prohibited to fly in rain – as long as the VFR on visibility are ok. Don’t you feel ok?” – “Oh no, I am fine, just wondered.”

Don’t look so long – Where are we now?

I fly towards the departing point of the first navigation leg in the hills besides Goodwood and as I want to have a look on the chart to compare the pictures – it already starts: “Don’t look for so long.” I had not even found my line on the chart yet.

I continue to scan the horizon and try to recognise anything, but it’s really difficult. The visibility to the ground is not bad, we are very low anyway, but all the rest is a structureless soup in an area with not more than fields and woods.

On my second attempt at looking at the chart, I have the impression that his remark, “Don’t look so long”, starts before I even start to look. After only 4 minutes of flight he asks, “Where are we now?”  I find him quite exhausting right now.

Navigating in poor visibility is mandatory

I am not sure if I have already missed the departing point in this visibility and over this area (woods & fields) as it all looks pretty much the same.

It is absolutely impossible for me to check the chart in that short a time (2-3 secs) and I realise that my “Departing Point” is not really smart. The smallest and last village, before it starts to reach the hillside, is too close to the aerodrome anyway, not a clear outstanding feature etc. It looked way better on the chart though.

Right now, my thought is that navigation is actually really difficult and I am on my way to getting lost during departure.

Even though I am quite concerned that this is just really not a very good start into this new kind of exercise, I can’t help but laugh as the whole situation has a very close similarity to my absurd virgin call on the radio.

Telling this to my instructor he just jokes back:  “Navigating  in poor visibility is mandatory – you will have completed this task straight from the beginning.”

Reading the Chart in the Air

From here, he helps a lot and we fly the full route. I don’t give up on finding our path on the chart but still had to listen to his remark “Don’t look so long” at least another 20 times during the flight. It’s actually a really funny and memorable flight. We joke a lot and see many small things you normally wouldn’t see in better visibility.

I realise how difficult navigation in poor visibility is. It goes through my mind that his visibility is not any better than mine and he hasn’t known the area for much longer than me. But, he always finds something to clearly identify where we are. So, it must be possible to learn somehow – I am definitely far away from this point.

My introduction to reading the chart whilst flying and why good planning is so important could not have been more figural. I never questioned the importance of planning again.

Added Note

During the next navigation flight and in subsequent flight planning this flight comes back again and again in different forms of funny jokes. Up until my PPL(H) we did 4 more navigation exercises in all different directions. Each time, they were combined with more workload – radio & airspaces, airports to transit, on the edge of London Heathrow air zone etc.

These were always by reading the chart, without any GPS navigation help, just as I am supposed to fly in all the exams (PPL & CPL). Again, the learning curve was amazing. I developed the awareness of being ahead of the situation every time & read the chart much more quickly than I expected after that first flight.

One more flight?

As we sit there during de-briefing, I am thinking about this flight (again hundreds of impressions, trying to imagine how I’ll fly alone, read the chart and not get lost etc.), the other instructor enters the classroom:

“Are you still ready to fly a bit more?” – before I even say anything, he continues “obviously you are ready and the conditions would be perfect for your first solo flight. This surprise is perfect, it comes completely out of the blue.


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PPL(H) – Practise Forced Landing – GO

PPL(H) – Practise Forced Landing – GO

The Briefing starts …

This Sunday morning, it’s a little cloudy with partially blue sky, we start the briefing for emergency engine failure.

Firstly, the instructor explains how we start the exercise. After we reach the altitude of 2,000 feet, he will take over the same checks that I would normally do for the autorotations and at some point surprise me with the command to start:

“Practice Forced Landing – GO”

It is basically the same as an autorotation, we had trained in this so many times by now.

But now, I would have to know where the wind is coming from. I don’t think that is a problem and I obviously turn into the wind and select the field on which I intend to land. For this, he explains the new check I will have to verbalise. This is called 5 x S’s

<< – Size – Shape – Surrounding – Slope – Surface >>

I memorise these words and visualise this procedure in my mind whilst we talk and start to walk around in the classroom. I have never done this before but I assume that the briefing is finished. I start to concentrate and I am absolutely ready to go. I pick up my jacket and all of a sudden realise that my instructor is still standing in front of the whiteboard and wonders what I’m doing.

“I got it – it’s fine – we can go.” – “But we are not finished yet” – “Ah … sorry.”

I sit down again and he continues.

“So, when you have settled the autorotation, selected and verbalised the field (5S), you make a mayday radio call.

… and almost turns into an argument

“What?” – I am sure he is joking and cannot take him seriously at all. I even start to joke, “Yeah of course, I do a mayday call, start pulling my jacket from beneath the seat and after landing I must not forget to lock the helicopter, correct?

At this point I have to mention that, during my paragliding times some years ago, I twice experienced an emergency that forced me to launch the secure parachute due to some missed aerobatic figures too close to the ground. This is not the same. Not at all.

Even though we had done enough autorotations in the last weeks to know that it is completely different, my instinct got embossed to turn over to 300% pure survival action in the remaining milliseconds. This radio call sounds extremely theoretical & academical, actually completelly ridiculous to me. I am close to getting seriously angry.

He keeps quiet, he always keeps quiet when my Swiss-French temperament goes hot for a minute, and continues the briefing. “So, the mayday call is …” – “Twice as long as any other radio call so far”, I think  – “After this, you should not forget to brief the passenger” – I am giggling inside myself – “And than you pretend to cut the Mixture, Magneto- and Master-Switch and the Fuel-Valve (behind his back …) by verbalising and touching them, known as Touch-Drills.

“Ok, good, shall we go now?” – “Have you already memorised everything?” – “Well, no, but I will focus on entering autorotations, turn into the wind properly and select and fly towards a suitable field. If this all works fine, I am happy.”

We compromise that, today, I will also try the mayday call but can skip the Pax-Brief & Touch-Drills.

Let’s fly & try

During this flight we did nothing else than climb and “Practice Forced Landing – GO”.

We went all over the place along the coast and we were all alone in the air on a totally quiet Sunday afternoon. Somewhere between the clouds, the green shining fields and an outstanding reflecting view over the sea.

It was sort of a 5-Star VIP Sofa-Elevator Lounge Sunday Afternoon over the South of the UK in a constant loop.

And, as we always come down quite low before recovering, I see many pictures and places such as the yacht marina of Chichester etc. for the first time in a magnificent way. I am sure that not many citizens had this privilege in their lifetime …

And really stunning: after 2-3 attempts I ask him, “What was this last part with the Touch-Drills”?


An absolutely amazing flight


– Gallery – 



After landing we are both absolutely happy. My hysteria about missing flying time whilst doing ridiculous exercises in the classroom this morning literally turned into history in one flight.

And, he says that I did it so well that we don’t have to practice more during the next flights before we start with perfecting and repeating all exercises.

 Oh no …. I knew I’ve should skip this Mayday-Call !!




Added Note

The workload & flow of this exercise can be rehearsed almost 80% on the ground. On command this routine must just start without thinking.

 << 5S, Mayday, Pax-Brief, TouchDrills >>

The real flying part – after entering and settling into the wind – and so estimating the gliding path and flight to the field must, of course, be practiced and it’s worth not to waste time on rehearsing the words in the air.

And, after all, there is enough time for everything, without stressing like hell which does not help anyway, if performed in a concentrated & straight forward manner.


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PPL(H) – Finally Landing

PPL(H) – Finally Landing

First landing

My first landing somewhere on the grass field in Goodwood, in rainy and pure visibilty conditions, is absolutely perfect straight from the first attempt and takes me exactly 5 seconds.

It is so perfect that both myself and my instructor are speechless for a second.

But, he thinks that this must have been pure beginner’s luck, I assume this myself as I am really surprised how easy landing is. As usual, he was right.

The last 10″ inches / 25cm

After this first lucky punch things turned around. It developed into the exercise that took me the longest to master in order to be ready for the first solo flight.

Somehow, I started to become a real master at ‘fiddling’ around for minutes at 10″ above the ground …

I usually started under good control and descended slowly from the 2ft hover. But, the closer I came to the ground, where you should have absolutely no yaw and no drift in any direction at all, I started by not being completely satisfied first time and so continously over-corrected myself afterwards.

I did this until I had to completely give up, get back into hover and restart from the beginning. Sometimes even worse, the instructor had to take control and first move us back to the initial position.

I am still not sure if I was simply not very talented, wanted to land too perfectly, or, if this is what everyone experienced.

But the final 10″ at landing started to really scratch a little on my own self-confidence.

The idea that I could actually get into hover, hover taxi to departure, take-off & fly a full circuit at some point – first circuits –   and get all the way back to parking, but then to crap on the remaining 10″ was quite annoying.

Heading Reference FAR AWAY

My major mistake was to constantly fall back into the habit of watching towards a heading reference too close, instead of a heading reference far away.

Once, I even managed to pick another hovering helicopter as a reference just because it was straight in front us …

As soon as my instructor noticed this, he asked me:

“What is your heading reference – this helicopter? – “Well … yes – it’s not very good I know, but …” –

“You can’t have a heading reference that moves! And he is too close anyway.” – “So where would you look then in this situation? – “Pick a tree over there” – “They are on the other side of the field” – “Yes – that’s perfect”.

I was really surprised, he really meant far away. From here, the learning curve went straight upwards.

Landing on Slopes

Landing on slopes is the next step and, once the helicopter partially touches the ground with one skid, any yaw or drift would end up in a rollover even more quickly.

The better the straight hovering and landing in the flat works, the easier the slopes. And, by that time I got the message that the heading reference can actually almost never be too far away.

In my case, perhaps because I did fiddle around on the last 10″ for so long and because, most importantly, my self-confidence had grown to such a point that they went acceptably from the beginning.


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