First & Solo are the only two words a pilot is ever allowed to write in their flight log in red ink!

Every pilot 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".

I just completed my first solo in a Cessna 172, yet another step in my epic adventure of learning how to fly.

A lot of people (as well as the government) believe that undue stress is put upon the First Solo flight of any new student. Yes, it may be the first time you are let free, and the first time you have to make all of the decisions yourself - but by perpetuating the "it's so important" philosophy just makes it that much more stressful, ultimately making people afraid of it; even becoming so distracted by the fact that they are alone as to start making mistakes and even get into an accident.

That's what "the book" says about the first solo. I think it's BS. First solo is the greatest thing ever!! WOO WOOO WOOOO!

I climbed into the aircraft at 8AM on an overcast, drizzling day (which happens to be today), and did three Circuits with my instructor. Out of sheer luck (or maybe an incredible overnight gaining of skill) all three of my landings were nearly perfect and gentle and smooth. Just before my instructor hopped out of the aircraft, he informed the tower that "the guy in this airplane has never flown before so keep your eye on him." Great. Now everyone's watching me.

During my previous take-offs I had been climbing away from the runway at about 900 feet per minute, which is generally pretty good considering it was a wet day with low atmospheric pressure outside. A Cessna 172 would, in my little experience, generally climb out around 500 or 600 feet per minute. When flying on my own, that jumped up to 1,800 feet per minute! I was at circuit altitude (1000 feet) before I had even crossed the far end of the runway! (mind you, the runway *is* a mile long)

I like to imagine that circuits normally take me about 8 minutes with my instructor. I haven't ever timed it, so I'm uncertain, but I do know for a fact that I did 3 circuits in "bad" weather with heavy air traffic at about 6 minutes each. I was going so fast that the Air Traffic Controller had to extend my downwind leg by 6 nautical miles at one point! I've never been extended much more than 2! And boy, that ground was whizzing by fast... It may have been the weather, but it felt like I was lower to the ground, too. Hmm.

I normally have a problem with landing, too. Just last week I nearly set off the Emergency Location Transmitter by hitting the ground so hard. It's because the landing process (steep approach, flare, touchdown) happens so quickly that I don't have much time to react. I'm slowly getting the hang of it... But today, all by myself, the plane seemed to float down the runway for about 10 seconds during my flare. It's a good thing it's a long runway! I slowly lost altitude (maybe half a foot per second?) until I touched down, smooth as a... smooth... thing... that's smooth. Yeah! WOO!

And gee whiz, there was noone to talk to! Usually my instructor yammers on with tips and hints and what I should do and when I should do it, and because I'm listening so intently to him it's almost like I'm following orders instead of flying an airplane. Plus, I'm not listening to the control tower; I've tuned them out. But today was different. I actually said out loud, "This looks like a good place to start my descent, eh?*" ... Of course, there was no response. I do a quick maneuver I like to call "slap my forehead" and made the call myself. Now that I had been listening to the radio, I didn't miss a single call (a very good thing) and I had better awareness as to what was going on around me.

As I stepped out of the aircraft, my instructor and one of the Flying Club employees came outside and presented me with a nice (cheezy) certificate and took my giddy, gerbil-faced picture next to the plane. Here's my certificate:

Victoria Flying Club

FIRST SOLO

PROCLAMATION

Let it be known that on
18 SEPTEMBER, 2003
ANDY MOORE
without disruption of air traffic, this fearless, forthright, indomitable and courageous individual did venture into the wild blue yonder in a flying machine. Furthermore, this skilful individual did safely land said flying machine at Victoria International Airport incurring no significant damage to self or machine. Thus completing a first solo flight Aircraft type: CESSNA 172
Aircraft Registration:
C-GZXP
Instructor:
JASON WARE
Signature:
*scribble*

So, just as Kalen's writeup above states,
  • The plane climbs twice as fast without your flying instructor,
  • The circuit takes half the time,
  • The silence is deafening, and
  • The plane doesn't want to land.
Now to whip out my red pen and make that entry into my logbook...

*: Yes, I am Canadian, eh?

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