by Chris Findley, CFI
First solos are amazing. You will remember it for the rest of your life.
I remember mine. Cessna 172. Tail number 80397. July of 1988. I had been flying for 2 years and was anxious to turn 16 so I could solo. My parents were excited too and planned a post-solo party for me. It was a humid July afternoon and as usual I was worried about pop-up showers forming. None did. The wind was calm. This was it! My instructor told me to do three touch-and-gos on my own and I couldn’t wait to get in the air. It was amazing, especially for this 16 year-old kid from Mississippi. The landings went well and soon I was walking back to my friends and family as I hummed the theme from “Top Gun”.
On the day of the solo you will most likely start out with a discussion reviewing the material you have been learning as a part of your training, much of it will probably focus on procedures. Once in the plane your instructor will probably have you do a few touch & go’s and you may sense that the solo is near. You’ll be concentrating to make these landings some of your very best. As you make each landing, you may notice that your instructor is unusually quiet. My students often ask me if I’m ok when they don’t hear me in their headset. Generally in flying this is a good thing. As you get better, the instructor has less to say!
After a few landings your instructor will tell you to taxi to the ramp and may have you shut down the engine. Then he will take endorse your student pilot’s license and your logbook and you’ll know that the solo is finally here! With a smile and a handshake your instructor will tell you what he wants you to do, “Make 3 full-stop landings and then taxi back to the ramp.”
Some instructors then walk inside for a cup of coffee. Others, like me, will stand to the side of the runway with a handheld radio and watch your landings. They aren’t there to intimidate you, but to celebrate with you. It’s a big moment for your instructor also.
You’ll taxi out to the runway on your own for the first time! Out of the corner of your eye you’ll notice the vacant chair next to you and it will hit you- you’re going to fly by yourself!
On takeoff you will find that the airplane climbs really well with that right seat empty. Your trip around the patter will go quickly and you’ll be setting up for your first solo landing. Most students notice that much of their training will begin kicking in automatically. Your power settings, pitch attitudes, flap settings, and airspeeds will flow and soon you’ll be crossing the threshold, rounding out and entering the flare. The plane will seem to hang suspended over that runway for eternity, but soon the wheels will make contact and you’ll slow to a stop. You may find that you’ve been gripping the yoke a little more tighter or that you’re sweating a little more than normal. But the exhilaration you feel will be indescribable.
You’ll start your taxi back, perhaps give a quick wave to your instructor, and do it all over again.
You have just done what many people never have the experience of doing. Lots of people fly in airplanes. Only a relative few can say they actually have flown an airplane. Congratulations!