I'm certain most everyone who aspires to be an aviator faces their first solo cross-country flight with a mixed bag full of emotions...excitement, anticipation, apprehension and--regardless of the amount or quality of training--mortal fear.

My earlier flights had passed without incident. Still, I found it hard to believe that I was going to actually fly away from the confines of my local airport northeast of Atlanta--all by myself. So, on the afternoon of May 20, 1971, the adrenaline was pumping, and I faced the prospect of "going it alone" with sweaty palms, tight muscles and a somewhat dry throat.

I had discussed the details of the upcoming adventure with my flight instructor the night before. He had signed-off my logbook, authorizing me to make the flight, but asked that I call him for an approval of the weather and other flight conditions just before taking off.

"Bama," as he preferred to be called, had taken up flying to escape the doldrums of a desk job and an engineer's slide rule. A typical engineer, he saw everything in black or white, there were no shades of gray. He was particular, precise and demanding. Either the airplane was centered on the white stripe that marked the middle of the runway, or it wasn't. On course, or off course. This guy didn't allow for any margin of error in his flying, or that of his students. As far as he was concerned, "close" only counted in horseshoes, hand grenades and dancing. In flying, close didn't count at all.

On this particular day, I secretly wished that he would say that I wasn't ready. Or that the aircraft was in the shop; or that the weather wasn't good enough for a student's first solo cross-country flight--anything. However, my 26 or so pre-solo hours, along with another five or so practicing maneuvers over the training area--plus ten hours of cross-country instruction --should have had me more than prepared.

The little two-place Cessna 150 aircraft I would fly had just completed a 100-hour inspection, and the weather was good following the passage of a late spring cold front that was now far out of the way, stretching northeast to southwest across the Carolina’s and the southeast Georgia coast.

©Copyright 2002 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.