First & Solo are the only two words a pilot is ever allowed to write in their flight log in red ink†!
remembers their First Solo like it was yesterday
, and can give a blow by blow
, second by second description of it
, no matter how many years have passed and no matter how many hours they have flown since.
As both a rite of passage and a vital test, First Solo is the moment that everyone learning to fly both yearns for and fears. There is such a mystique built up about it, and yet as a test it has got to be, universally, one of the most thoroughly prepared for.
For a new pilot it's a clarifying moment. It's the first time you are, usually ever, alone in an aircraft - and you're in charge!
Constants in First Solo stories include:
- The plane climbs twice as fast without your flying instructor! This one just doesn't seem possible, it is actually usually true! Most training is done in small, two-person aircraft, like the famous Cessna 152, and the plane is generally at the edge of its weight limit with two aboard. With just one - it rockets into the sky!
- The circuit takes half the time! Again, this is related to the plane being lighter and going faster, but it's also true that you are desperately intent on not making any mistakes, checking and re-checking every move you make.
- The silence is deafening! Without the instructor's constant stream of constructive criticism, it seems awfully quiet and lonely up there!
- The plane doesn't want to land! I have seen First Solo pilots take over half the runway to get the plane onto terra firma - again because of the difference in weight, the plane just wants to keep gliding, and it takes real positive force to stick it down onto the tarmac!
Finally, First Solo is probably the first and last landing you make where everybody is watching you! Instructors generally announce what's going on over the tower frequency before they step out of the plane, and the whole airfield turns to see what kind of a mess you make of it. That can sound like pure morbid fascination, but the spirit behind it is, as I've tried to capture above, genuine empathy for a moment of magic.
† Everything else in an official log must be written in black ink or blue ink, so red ink really stands out! It's not officially allowed - it's just one of the myriad traditions of the flying game, so it's "overlooked".