Stressful Solo Flight at KAPA

As some of you probably know, I am working on getting my private pilots license. I have around 50 hours and am preparing for my check ride coming up next month. Yesterday I decided to take my favorite C172 up for a solo flight to go work on some maneuvers. This was my fourth solo flight, but it would soon turn out to be the most stressful flight of my young flying career.

I took off runway 17L at Centennial (KAPA) with calm winds and headed out to the southwest near Chatfield Lake which is our practice area. After practicing my maneuvers for about 45 minutes, I decided it was time to head back, so I cued up the ATIS and that’s when the sweat started dripping. In time that I had been in the practice area, the wind at Centennial had gone from calm to 060@10G14. For a landing on 35L, that would put me at 10 knots of crosswind. A number I had never faced before, let alone solo. (My personal minimum [maximum i guess] was 6 knots). I called up Centennial tower, mentally preparing myself for what I was about to face. Centennial was very busy yesterday, I got vectored all around Centennial for what seemed like 20 minutes, the whole while contemplating whether on not I could truly make this landing. Finally after what felt like forever I got the call, “Cessna 123AB, fly straight east, join final for 35L, clear to land 35L, wind 060 at 11.” Go time, I came in and made a textbook approach, but suddenly, right when I was over the numbers, I got hit with a huge gust of wind. I went flying off centerline, my left wheel briefly smacked the pavement. Immediately I knew, power in, carb heat cold, flaps 20, go around. And I began mentally preparing myself yet again for the tough approach. Briefly I considered diverting to Colorado Spaceport (KCFO), but decided against it. I turned base, then final yet again. Dancing on the rudder pedals, I glided over the numbers and proceeded to make one of my best landings to date. I taxied off the runway at taxiway B12, threw my hands up in the air, and let out one of the biggest sighs of relief ever, my heart still pounding in my chest.

This is definitely an experience I won’t soon forget, and I know it will be the first of many stressful situations I will encounter as a pilot. So my question of the day for the other pilots of the IFC, do you remember your first very stressful flight? What was it and how did you deal with it?

Here is the FlightAware track from the flight if you are interested.

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Centennial is no joke! I also fly in and around a busy delta and the constant radio communication adds another layer of attention needed to maintain good situational awareness. Good luck with your PPL!

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That’s for sure!! I can’t think of a better place to learn though!

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I saw your plane do that go around. I was looking at the commercial and GA traffic! Nice job btw on your new achievement!

You complain about Meadow Lake’s density altitude, at least we don’t have the hustle and bustle of APA daily 🤣

Congrats though! Solo flights are certainly nerve-wracking by themselves and I’m glad to hear that you handled this well - the go around call was smart because you didn’t feel comfortable with the landing. At least you didn’t pop a tire :)

Once you get your PPL you should come down to KFLY! Would love to meet up with you and fly.

Good on you for not overshooting your base to final turn. KAPA with KDEN nearby seems to be a challenge for all pilots, kudos to you and best of luck in your training.

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Yes doing a flight, Cessna 172, I took off and all the bells and whistles were going off telling me my alternator went bad and I was trying to contact ATC but they kept on telling me to stand by. But after a little while I was able to tell them the problem and they got me in just fine


Surprisingly crosswind landings I have really never gotten nervous about.

Good call on the go-around. Those crosswinds can be quite nasty.

My most stressful flight was when I nearly got stuck in an unexpected/unforecasted IMC in the evening, as a private pilot (SoCal coastal fog can be very unpredictable sometimes).Thankfully I had to sense to not continue the same route - and made a straight up 180° turn. Had to take a long route all the way the cloud cover to get back safely, and it was dark by the time I landed. I’ve never been more thankful to reach the ground safe.

Nice moves! Flying in those conditions will be great practice for the future when you encounter more unexpected weather

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