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‘We’ll be right on the money’‘We’ll be right on the money’

One Week Ready to Solo students on trackOne Week Ready to Solo students on track

Nik Oekerman (left) gets some instruction from Jeff Wolf in a Redbird simulator.

With one day left before their culminating flights, the One Week Ready to Solo participants were feeling the pressure April 24.

Nik Oekerman, Chris Graves, and Sherry Rosenkranz have made great strides in the intensive training program organized by Redbird Flight Simulations, but their self-critique on the last full day of training was harsher than any their instructors offered.

After a few simulator sessions, Oekerman headed out to Plant City Airport for a flight in Redbird’s diesel RedHawk refurbished Cessna 172. As he waited for the airplane to be available, he expressed frustration at his performance in the simulators, and took that time to think about something else for a while.

Was he backsliding? No, according to his instructor, Jeff Wolf of Paragon Flight: “It just got harder.”

While most of Oekerman’s landings had been in relatively calm winds, Wolf added crosswinds and gusts on April 24. He said Oekerman’s landings in those difficult circumstances had gotten much better by the end of the simulator sessions, and he was confident Oekerman would handle the airplane well in the actual conditions at Plant City, a 6-knot crosswind.

“We’ll be right on the money,” he said.

Jeppesen’s Craig Thighe, a designated pilot examiner who flew with Oekerman on April 23 and Graves on April 24, put their progress in perspective.

“Type A personality pilots, which is what all of us are, tend to be really hard on themselves,” said Thighe. Without benchmarks of their own, students often set up unrealistic expectations, he added, so he said they should aim to judge themselves on one question: “Am I doing better on today’s flight than yesterday’s flight?”

“Think about how far you’ve come,” Thighe urged Graves after an evaluation flight in the afternoon. While Graves rated his flight a “B minus,” Thighe said that he was impressed with Graves’ thoroughness, and that the landings were great.

Chris Graves' mother, who soloed when she was in her teens, came from Alaska to support her son.

A family affair

One participant in the One Week Ready to Solo project got support from a special guest during the week: Chris Graves’ mother, Susan, came from Alaska to be there for the experience.

Susan soloed a few times in the 1970s, and she said she knew immediately when her son told her about his opportunity that she wanted to come to watch. She and her brother came to cheer him on, and Susan even got a surprise flight in the RedHawk.

CFI Doris Gatewood took Susan for a flight while Chris went on an evaluation flight with designated pilot examiner Craig Thighe. She let Susan take off and perform maneuvers such as climbs, descents, and turns. She even talked to Chris on the radio, Gatewood said.

“It makes me want to do it again,” Susan said after the flight.

Sarah Deener

Sarah Deener

Managing Editor, 'AOPA Pilot' and 'Flight Training'
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Managing Editor Sarah Deener is an instrument-rated private pilot and has worked for AOPA since 2009.
Topics: Flight Training, Pilot Training and Certification, Sun n Fun

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