Reflection on an Aviation Career Part II by Randy DeLong

High Performance Aviation

December 16, 2021

Part II

So, we left off previously with my first solo on February 8, 1978. I don’t remember if it was the weather or some other obstacle, but the next time I soloed was February 24, 1978. Needless to say, my instructor Jan, felt I might be a little rusty so we practiced crosswind landings, taxing positions for flight controls in wind, engine out procedures. After a little over an hour of this, he had me do 3 solo takeoffs and landings, then signed me off to solo out of KCZL (Calhoun, GA.,) to the practice area and back. I had a whole .6 hours of solo time. I had joined the ranks of Pilots. Eventually, I would end up accumulating over 23 solo hours before my check ride, I really loved flying solo, it was and is a time of solitude and is very relaxing. After soloing my times with Jan started getting more intense, he started holding me to tighter constraints on altitude, and recovery from stalls, we hit ground reference maneuvers, (S-turns, turns around a point, and so on) along with short, cross-wind, and soft field landings and under the hood time required by the FAR’s.

On March 14th, I got my first taste of night flight. We took the 150 down to Rome, GA., a mere 12 NM from Calhoun, GA., this was my first orientation in the dark. Again, this was new to me, but I loved flying at night even with the added dangers. We completed 6 take-offs and landings to a full stop and .7 hours of night flight time.

Randy DeLong


My next night flight was to Chattanooga, TN., (KCHA), total time from Calhoun to Chattanooga and back came to 1.8 hours with 3-night landings. This flight was memorable because we visited the tower, and this is where I could put a face to controllers and realized that they were people just like me and desired to help as much as they could. At this point I had 2.5 hours of night flight; this was the last night flying we did before my Private Pilot Check ride. The DPE noticed that I was .5 hours short on night flying and made me promise that I would make that up when I got back to Calhoun with my instructor, so we finished night flying requirements after I received my Private Pilot License, with no limitation.

On April 4, 1978, Jan checked me out in the 172, N5970R, the initial flight was .7 hours and mostly covered stalls and landings. Boy that 172 will float if you do not hold the proper airspeed over the numbers. We completed the checkout on April 12, and 17, with .4 hours of solo time for me.

After this, we started doing cross-country training in preparation for my solo cross-country flights. After a little over 4 hours of cross-country training, another 3 hours of instrument, VOR, ADF, and emergency’s, Jan thought it was time to prepare for my solo cross-country flights. Our first dual cross-country was from Calhoun, GA., (CZL) to Blairsville, GA., (DZJ), to Athens, GA., (AHN), and back to Calhoun. This was to be the same route that I would fly for my first solo cross-country.

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Total time for this cross-country was 3.6 hours, and everything went as planned, my solo cross-country would not fair this well, but what ensued is nothing less than what I learned about flying from this. So off I go on my first cross-country solo. The first leg to Blairsville went just as planned, I even had the ramp guy in Blairsville sign my log to prove I was there. The next leg to Athens is where everything started going off the rails. After leaving Blairsville, I picked up the 154-degree radial off the Harris (HRS) VOR, at this point, it got very convoluted, not sure if I used “TO” when I needed “FROM”, or started to pull the CDI needle instead of turning toward it, whatever the case I got off course, by the time I realized this, I was 72 KN miles east of my intended course. I started looking for an airport to land at so I could regroup. I found one and circled to see if it had a tower, but not seeing one, I entered the downwind for the runway favoring the windsock and landed without incident. Right at touch down a V-tail Bonanza flew right over the top of me, most probably going around because I landed in front of him. That was disconcerting, but what happened next was more so. As I taxied off the runway, standing right in front of me was a control tower. Not knowing where I was, or what the tower frequency was I called upon 121.9, knowing this was normally ground frequency.  What follows is my memory of the conversation.

ME: “Ground this is N5970R”.
TOWER: “N5970R go ahead”.
ME: “Request taxi to the ramp N5970R”
Looooooooong pause…….
TOWER: “N5970R, where are you?”
ME: “Taxi way Bravo 3 N5970R”.
TOWER: “N5970R Taxi via Bravo to the ramp”.
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And that was all that was said, apparently, they did not see me land, or if they did, they never said a word about it to me. After arriving at the FBO, I started looking for some indication of what airport I was at, disembarking from an airplane and asking where you are, well that would be too embarrassing. I finally found a sign and I figured out that I had landed at Greenville, South Carolina (GYH), like I said earlier, 72 miles off course. At this point, I should have called my instructor, but I just wanted to fix this problem. So, I plotted a course back to Calhoun again using VOR navigation, taxied out and departed again with no indication from the tower that there was a problem. Once in route, I started monitoring 122.8, and about 10 miles out of Jasper, GA., I heard my N number being called, turns out my instructor had gotten in the Cessna 150 with another pilot and was out looking for me. I sheepishly answered and he instructed me to Land at Jasper, after refueling he took over and flew the 172 back to Calhoun, I must admit that I was worn out at this time, mostly from the stress. The next flight Jan took me out, got me intentionally lost. Since this was before GPS, he taught me how to use 2 VOR radials, see where they crossed, and find my position. This lesson has stuck with me ever since and I can say that I have not been lost in the air since.  After this, I finished up my solo cross-country logging 16.2 hours of cross-country time.

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On the 19th of May 1978, I finally took my check ride in Dalton, GA., I passed, and flying has been a learning and enjoyable experience ever since.

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After graduating from high school, I decided to go to A&P school, there was a waiting period because of the number of students wanting to take the course. Over the next couple of years, I accumulated over 200 hours of flying, mostly in the Cessna 152, 172, and a few hours in a 210. In the next article, we will look at my time At Atlanta Area Tech, as I work towards acquiring my A&P license.

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