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Solo to ISP

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This flight, a precursor to solo flights that would actually count as a cross-country (by being to a destination over 50 miles away), was simple in planning but pretty difficult in execution. ISP is only about 15 miles away, which means that things happen very fast when flying between them. My instructor told me that, if I can pull this off (depart Class D airspace and immediately set up for entry and landing in Class C airspace), actual cross-country flights will be a piece of cake. I think he’s right.

What It Means

When I arrived at the flight school, my instructor met me there, but we didn’t spend much time together. We went over the flight plan, and he gave me some pointers, signed my logbook, shook my hand, and headed back home. It made the walk out to the plane even more exhilarating: not only was he not with me, he wasn’t even at the airport anymore. I was even more excited and terrified than I was for my first solo flight. I had keys to an airplane in my pocket, enough knowledge and skill to safely use those keys, and an instructor who had enough faith in me to leave me to it.

The Plan

I went over and over, in my head, both my plan and the advice he had given me. I knew things would happen pretty quickly once I got in the air so I practiced a few of the radio calls to myself. The sequence of events would be:

  1. Call Republic Ground for taxi clearance to the runway
  2. Call Republic Tower at the runway for takeoff clearance and an eastbound departure
  3. Once I was off the ground, as soon as I could squeeze a word in between the other arrivals and departures, request an early frequency change (You are supposed to continue monitoring the Tower frequency while flying through the Class D airspace, in case the controller needs to move you or someone else for spacing. You can ask for an early frequency change while still in the airspace, and if the controller sees that there is no one in his airspace between you and your route out of the airspace, he will approve your request.)
  4. Switch to New York Approach, who controls the outer ring of controlled airspace at ISP, along with the surrounding area and approach paths to JFK and LGA. I needed to request the early change because the edge of the FRG airspace is only a few miles (and a few minute’s flight time) from the edge of the ISP airspace. You must have radio communication with the controller before entering either airspace.
  5. Try to squeeze a word in edgewise with New York Approach: “New York Approach, Cessna 757AD”
  6. Wait for their response, then spit this out as quickly and clearly as possible: IPAD (Identification, Position, Altitude, Destination) – “Cessna7AD is 3 miles east of Farmingdale at 3,500 inbound for touch-and-goes at Islip”
  7. Receive a transponder code and instructions from New York Approach
  8. Follow their instructions “make right downwind for Runway 24” and struggle to input the transponder code in the crappy transponder whose LCD screen isn’t backlit soitsimpossibletoseeandwhosebuttonsarefinickyanddontworkrighthalfthetimeAAAARRRGGGHHH…Whoops, sorry.


WHEW. All of that happened within a few minutes. I luckily got a word in and was cleared into the Islip airspace. I let the tower know I would like a couple of touch-and-goes and the controller helped squeeze me in between a few Southwest 737 departures. Islip has scheduled service to a few destinations in Florida for the snowbirds. One of the 737 pilots jokingly also requested touch-and-goes, I guess he missed his flight training days!



I made a couple of good landings, and then headed back to FRG, fairly pleased with myself. After I landed and parked, it really hit home again: my instructor wasn’t there. From start up to shut down, I had done everything on my own, just like I will once I get my license. I cleaned up and tied down the airplane, filled out my logbook, and headed off to the train, beaming all the way.

When people write about why they fly, they lean heavily on one word: freedom. This was my first taste of that freedom, and it was delicious. I used the airplane to actually go somewhere, with no one else around. Everything was up to me. I could begin the flight, end the flight, turn around, change altitudes; the totality of the three dimensions was mine to use. The tethers that restricted me: my instructor’s directives, the destination chosen for me, will soon be broken by a little card in my wallet. I will have made a pass at the infinite and made it rationally mine.

From Robert Frost’s “Kitty Hawk”

Though our kiting ships
Prove but flying chips
From the science shop
And when motors stop
They may have to drop
Short of anywhere,
Though our leap in air
Prove as vain a hop
As the hop from grass
Of a grasshopper,
Don’t discount our powers;
We have made a pass
At the infinite,
Made it, as it were,
Rationally ours,
To the remote
Swirl of neon-lit
Particle afloat.