Capt. Frank J. Donohue (FedEx Express)


Originally printed in School and Schooled, by Capt. Frank J. Donohue (

In July 1981, in a Cessna 150 aircraft (tail number N961L), I commanded my first solo cross-country flight. I flew from Lakenheath Air Force Base to Nottingham, England.

Gulp—solo. Just me, myself and I.

Was I nervous? Not really. I felt prepared. The instruction had been excellent. As the lone pilot, I do everything. I’m the flight planner, dispatcher, weatherman, mechanic, lawyer, and pilot. I compute the flight plan, evaluate the aircraft performance based on weather, and check the atmospheric conditions, the weight and balance data, and the flight plan route. Nottingham Castle is in the woods— supposedly the castle in the Robin Hood movies—and that will be a good landmark on the way to Nottingham.

I file the flight plan with estimated time of departure and estimated time of arrival. In case I crash, my filed route will save rescuers time because they will have an idea of where to start looking. From the lawyer point of view, my flight instructor signs my flight log to verify I am competent to fly solo. I need all paperwork on hand at all times—my signed log book, student pilots’ license, airworthiness certificate, and lots of other paperwork—including the weight-balance certificate. As a mechanic, I do a pre-flight on the aircraft to make sure it is safe to fly, looking for anything out of line. Then it’s time to start the engine, contact ground control, get a taxi clearance, and taxi out. Before takeoff, I do an engine run up (to make sure the engine is operating correctly) and then call the tower for takeoff clearance. I’m on my way, with a keen eye out always looking for a place to land. With one engine, you are always looking for a place to land.

In Nottingham, I feel a bit of relief. But it’s not over yet. I repeat all the steps—flight plan, aircraft check, everything. I get fresh fuel, check the weather, and update the flight plan for the return flight. Back at Lakenheath, it’s difficult to get out of the cockpit. I am feeling so confident and proud my head has swelled up with a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Even though I had flown only a few thousand feet above the ground, I felt like I had the whole world in my hand. I was completely hooked on flying.

The author after his first solo flight.