Today was the day of my big student solo cross-country. The longest leg of this cross-country was the first one, about 150 miles from Xenia, Ohio to Charleston, West Virginia. Up to that point I had done all of my cross-countries strictly by pilotage. (For you non-student pilots, that would mean keeping a detailed navigation log of several visual checkpoints, calculating ground speeds, and computing wind correction angles.) About 50 miles into the trip I found myself 15o and 10 miles off course. Fortunately I had read of a navigation radio called a VOR. From my present position I flew directly to the Henderson VOR, and then to Charleston. Pilotage and dead reckoning are valuable skills, but I sure was glad I had studied about VORs.
I called Charleston Approach from 40 miles out to tell them I was a student pilot landing at Charleston. They informed me that the clouds were scattered, and I should not have any problem making a normal descent to landing. I was a bit leery because I saw a layer of clouds forming underneath me, but I pressed on. Ten miles away from Charleston, the clouds had almost completely closed in underneath me. I managed to find a couple holes and dropped between the clouds, and made an uneventful landing.
That day was my first lesson about what pilot-in-command meant. In spite of what the approach controller said, I should have exercised that authority and descended below the clouds before they closed in underneath me.