All posts tagged 'solo'

FIRST SOLO FLYING

The moment a student pilot soars into the air alone for the first time is a leap of faith – for both the student and the instructor.

The date was July 31, 1997.

It was the date of my first solo. I was 21 years old. And I was petrified.

Okay, maybe not petrified. But my palms were sweating. My heart was pounding.

Flying Solo for the first timeSee, we aviation enthusiasts like to imagine ourselves as those old pilot stereotypes:  the barnstorming stick jockeys who are afraid of nothing – who duel it out with the Red Baron, defending our homeland. Then, when our plane gets shot up, we bail out, and ride our parachute down to where we happen to land just outside our favorite diner. Just in time for breakfast, we pack up our parachute, trudge into the diner – to the awe of everyone inside – and order bacon, eggs and grits.

“Coffee’s cold again,” we would grumble. “Heck, this wasn’t even worth getting shot down for! And I don’t even eat grits!”

That wasn’t me. I put my first solo off.

I was a fair weather pilot. I was the guy who was constantly checking the winds – and if they weren’t straight down the runway, there was no way I was going alone.  What? There’s another plane in the pattern? Better wait till he’s gone. Don’t wanna go while it’s crazy up there!

ME:  And look! See that little cumulous cloud off in the distance? Looks grim! Probably means a storm’s coming!

INSTRUCTOR:  That’s a smokestack.

ME: Who cares? They both have lifting motion!

Okay, again, I exaggerate. But no matter how many touch-and-go’s I did, the thought of me taking off without my instructor in the right seat set me on edge.

But that week I decided that, come what may, I was going to do it. I was going to fly my first solo.

Part of it was a girl. The girl I liked at the time was dating someone else – but she would have found out if I chickened out, and I wasn’t about to let THAT happen.

But mostly, it was because I wanted to fly. My aviation career had hit a wall – and there was no way I was ever going to get over that wall and get my license if I wouldn’t solo an airplane.

So two days earlier, I went to see a wise old doctor to get my third-class medical. Like countless student pilots before me, I walked up to a kind receptionist who basically handed me a plastic cup, pointed to the restroom and said, “You know what to do.” 

Unlike student pilots nowadays, I walked out of the doctor’s office that day with my medical in my hand. It was a pre-9/11 world. We didn’t have to wait weeks for our paperwork.

That Thursday evening, when I walked into the Devonair Flight School on historic Bowman Field (KLOU), I had butterflies in my stomach. I told the folks there that I hoped tonight would be the night that I would solo.

“Your flight instructor called,” one of the guys said. “He said he’s sorry, but something came up and he won’t be able to make it tonight.”

At first I felt relief. I had an excuse. God obviously didn’t want me to fly today. Well, better luck next time.

But deep down, I also felt disappointment. I was ready. I had spent all day psyching myself up for this.

“I will solo you!”

The voice came from the chief pilot, a Norwegian, who had subbed in as my instructor on a couple of occasions. I’ll call him Dan.

“I dunno, Dan,” I stumbled. “I should probably wait until—“

“No!” Dan replied. “I will solo you tonight. Go pre-flight the plane.”

Dan and I went up and did a few touch and go’s in N9105, a Cessna 172 trainer. It was a hot summer evening, and Runway 6 – a 4,300 foot runway – was the active. I did the touch-and-go’s one after the other, and to my growing irritation, Dan wasn’t paying any attention. As I glided in for touchdown, he didn’t seem to even be looking out the window.

I wanted to yell, “If you’re going to sign me off to fly this thing alone, will you at least pay attention to see if I can land properly????”

(He was of course. Paying attention, I mean. I hadn’t yet caught on to that old instructor trick of feigned distraction and faking indifference during the most critical moments of flight, in order to build the confidence of the student.)

Finally, he had me taxi back to the hold short line, where he grabbed my logbook and signed it.

“You will solo now,” he said.

“What?” I said. “I don’t think so. You haven’t even been paying attention. I should probably wait for—“

“You are ready,” Dan replied. “You should solo right now.”

“I dunno Dan,” I said.

Dan sighed. Then he opened the door of the airplane, turned, and to my surprise, hit the transmit button.

“Bowman Tower, Cessna November Niner-One-Zero-Five is ready at Six.”

Then he smiled.

“Bye!”

In a moment, he shut the door and was gone.

I was shocked, half nervous, half grinning at the audacity and hilariousness of my situation. Then the controller answered back in my headset:

“Cessna November Niner-One-Zero-Five, Bowman Tower, cleared for takeoff, left turn approved.”

I had two choices at that point. I could decline the clearance and taxi back to the flight school in shame and defeat, or I could say a prayer, taxi onto the runway centerline, throttle up and come-what-may.

I chose the latter. And as soon as the wheels left  the pavement, my hours of training kicked in. On my first landing, I was dumbfounded – I had just landed an airplane by myself! By the second landing, I had a big, stupid grin on my face. On the third landing, I was Luke Skywalker tearing my X-wing through the trenches, getting ready to blow up the Death Star.

When it was over, I taxied back to the flight school in triumph. A few minutes later, I learned that my Dad had shown up at the school on an errand. He didn’t know for sure that I would be soloing that evening, but when he heard my voice crackling over the flight school’s handheld radio, he sat down on one of the airport benches to watch me land. He told me later that my wheels “kissed the ground.”

My dad passed away a few years later. That night will always be one of my favorite memories of him.

My first time - Flying SoloOvercoming my fear of soloing was a huge accomplishment for me. I would go on to make more solo flights, eventually to the practice area, then on to do several long solo cross-countries, before getting my license.

Like me, there may be lots of other students standing on the edge of the abyss, wondering whether you’re ready for your solo. Here is my advice:

  • Make sure you meet the legal requirements for soloing student pilots, outlined in 14 CFR § 61.87.
  • Trust your instructor. He or she knows what they’re doing. If they think you’re ready, you’re ready.
  • Trust yourself. You have the training and the ability, or your instructor wouldn’t have signed that logbook endorsement.
  • Fun. Take time to look out the window. Enjoy the view. Notice the seat empty seat next to you. And when you land, be sure to take plenty of pictures (but NOT UNTIL YOU LAND!)

 

Study hard. Learn the procedures. Then when you’re instructor says you’re ready, take the plunge.

If I can do it, you can do it.

How about your first Solo, tell us about it?  Help a new pilot understand it happens to all of us:) 

Confessions of a Student Pilot

Over the past 5 years I have more than earned my right to be called a student pilot. Between when I was 12 years old and now I have attended 3 different flight schools, passed my FAA Written Exam twice, and been lightheartedly made fun of by CFIs for rookie mistakes countless times. It’s been said that it’s about the journey, not the destination, and this rings incredibly true in the world of aviation. I have learned more about life and passion through aerospace than I ever learned in my standard high school curriculum. I have been taught discipline, self-control, dedication, logical thinking... All through my experiences in chasing my dream of becoming a pilot.

I hope to help other student pilots remember why they are doing this. It can be such a challenge to continue training when you feel you are stuck in a rut, or you will never achieve the dream that we all chase after. I have compiled a few observations or "confessions," if you will, that have stuck out to me during my journey. A few come with stories, a few are simply food for thought. Here are my confessions of a student pilot.

Keep your training consistent. This may seem obvious, but it keeps many student pilots from advancing quickly enough to reach their full potential. It is far better to wait and save up enough money for a flight lesson every week or so than to attend your flight school sporadically. For the first 3 years of my training I could only afford one lesson every month (between allowance and babysitting money that wasn’t too bad!) If I could go back and do it again, I would have saved up for a year or so and had lessons sequentially in just a couple months. In having to wait, I kept relearning the same concepts every month and was nowhere near reaching my full potential.

Don’t be scared to be assertive. On June 19th, 2013 I was on a routine flight with my instructor, going around the traffic pattern at Capital City airport. As my instructor continually pointed out, I was spending too much time with my eyes glued to the instrument panel and not enough time looking outside. As I turned for my downwind leg, he held a sheet of paper over the instrument panel to stop my nervous eyes from glancing inside too much. I huffed a bit, then began making a call to other traffic that I was on downwind. "Capital City traffic, Cessna -" my heart sank. I hadn’t memorized our tail number yet and the sheet of paper was obscuring my view of it. Without skipping a beat, I forcefully moved (read: slapped) my instructor’s hand out of the way, read the tail number off, and finished my radio call. I immediately felt bad and apologized for what I had done, but I had never seen my instructor so thrilled. "That’s what I’m talking about! THAT was a pilot in command move. If you know what you need to do, don’t ask my permission." The very next day I was endorsed and did my first solo flight. Which is the perfect segway into my next point...

Your solo IS as big of a deal as everyone says. Let’s say you have comprehended enough knowledge to safely takeoff and land an aircraft, and your instructor has enough faith in your abilities to let you do it completely by yourself. Congratulations, it’s time to fly solo! The whole ordeal in and of itself isn’t a big change from your previous lessons, as you have probably done exactly the same routine of taking off and landing many times before your instructor steps out. The real value and importance of a solo isn’t in the fact that there is one less passenger, it is that YOU are now the pilot in command. According to Federal Aviation Regulation 91.3, "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft." You are now the CEO head honcho in charge of all aspects of safely executing your current flight mission. The boost of confidence that a student pilot gains after safely landing their first solo flight is astronomical. Celebrate this accomplishment and truly think about what it means to now be the pilot in command.

Networking is everything. I am a first-generation pilot. Nobody in my family has any ties to aviation, besides a strange obsession with warbirds my father and grandfather share. When I first started my flight training I felt like a very tiny fish in a very huge pond. All that I knew was that becoming a pilot was extremely expensive, difficult, and overwhelming... but that I absolutely could not live my life without doing it. I had not met a single female pilot in my first two years of training, but I knew they had to be out there. I began doing google searches, talking to family friends, and subscribed to seven different flight magazines in an attempt to gain an understanding of the general aviation community as a whole. Through a family friend I came in contact with a female UPS pilot, and she introduced me to the Ninety-Nines. From there I learned about Women in Aviation, AOPA, EAA, NBAA, all of these crazy acronyms which represented different organizations in the aviation community. I have met tons of interesting people who have taken a genuine interest in my future as a pilot, and I have learned so much about the different pathways that are available to me in the aerospace industry. Having a good network to support you is incredibly important for an aspiring pilot.

Do not give up. The most important "confession" I have for fellow student pilots is to not give up, no matter how difficult it becomes. Keep trying. Stay motivated. There have been times in my training where I have been completely overwhelmed and felt very unsure as to whether or not I would actually achieve my dreams. When this happens, I like to take a step back and evaluate what really draws me to aviation in the first place. I watch episodes of The Aviators, or read aviation literature and really soak in the pure beauty and freedom that a pilot can obtain. The challenge is half the fun, however daunting it may seem. I encourage all student pilots to really think about what keeps them going and to cling to it until they finally reach the day of achieving their ultimate goals.

End of content

No more pages to load