The first solo flight is undoubtedly a moment that you will never forget. Even though you may have seen the earth from above many times before, the experience of reaching that perspective alone is different. And because it is literally a groundbreaking moment, you’ll want to do everything you can to make it positive and extra-special.
While the first solo is truly an extraordinary moment, don’t expect anything unexpected to happen. No good instructor will allow you to take to the skies alone unless you’re ready. Your first solo experience will most likely happen right at your home airport with your instructor watching from the ground. It’s a nice way to transition to flying alone since the environment is familiar and someone you know intimately is readily available. You will most likely be surprised at how straightforward the flight is.
But in case something unusual happens, it’s nice to be able to ask questions. Make sure that your instructor has a handheld radio and that you have determined a discreet frequency for communication. Test that the handheld works before you start the engine by dialing up the frequency on the ground and checking it with the panelmounted radios so that you can rest assured that you have a lifeline on the ground. I was very happy that I had this added support, though I didn’t use it. I felt confident enough completing my flight without questions and, in fact, my most intense memory of my fist solo was the silence (well, I was talking to ATC at Santa Monica airport, which is very busy, but it was nice not having my instructor constantly yapping in my ear).
The number of hours required to solo varies greatly from student to student. If you’re training in the countryside where no communication is required and you can practice maneuvers near the airport, you may be able to solo within less than 10 hours. However, if you’re flying in busy airspace where you need to know communications procedures well and you spend 20 minutes or more during each flight to get to a safe practice area, you could reach more than 30 hours before you get to fly alone.
There are many other variables that affect how long it takes you to get to this important milestone. You may have had long breaks in your training that prolonged the number of hours that allowed you to solo. Some instructors are more effective than others and some students simply have a knack for learning to fly. Don’t be tempted to compare how long it took you to solo with your friends. It’s not worth it. The most important thing is that you get there safely. Your instructor will know when you’re ready.
And don’t be tempted to share the moment with your friends and family. You don’t need to have an audience for this experience. Make it your own. The added stress of knowing your peers are watching is not worth it.
But you will want to share the event with your friends and family afterwards. My biggest regret with my solo flight is that I didn’t get any pictures. And while the experience is still fresh in my mind, it would have been nice to be able to look back at that moment. Make sure that your first solo gets recorded. Pictures are great and video is even better.
Some instructors commemorate the event by cutting the shirt off the back of their first solo student – a rite of passage that you can request if your instructor doesn’t do it spontaneously. You could use it as a fun memento to put on the wall at home or in your hangar once you buy your own airplane.
The first solo is one of the most special moments in your flying career and perhaps even your life. Give that moment the attention it deserves. Your adrenaline levels are bound to run high, but try to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.