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Training Tip: Sending you solo

It’s a life-changing event, the making of a memory, a tangible reward for the hard work you have invested in learning how to fly.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

So celebrated is the occasion of a student pilot’s first solo that a variety of traditions attach to the moment. There is the "shirt-tail ceremony,"  and, for those students fortunate to start flying when young, soloing on their fourteenth birthday in a glider, or at 16 in a powered aircraft, is a day to remember.

Your first solo is a major moment for another member of your team. For a flight instructor, sending a student pilot out solo is the culmination of some very specific training goals, and it also requires making judgments not possible to completely itemize on paper.

The way you demonstrate knowledge, treat your trainer, make on-the-spot decisions, respond to unexpected situations (for example, the need to go around), and maintain composure during practice flights all send the necessary signals that an instructor can sum up to a chief pilot or in the CFI’s own thoughts with the words,  “This student is ready.”

That’s a big deal when you consider the responsibility an instructor takes on by penning an endorsement in a logbook certifying that a student pilot “is proficient to make solo flights” in the training aircraft.

It is also one of the most gratifying privileges of flight instructing.

So when you sneak a peek over at that empty right seat, as many student pilots find a brief instant to do during their first solo, and really absorb the fact that you are in sole command of the aircraft, here’s something to keep in mind: The CFI has assessed your ability to take charge for some time before the day.

“My instructor has nerves of steel. When we are in a situation that needs correction, he sits calmly by and lets me troubleshoot. Those are lessons well burned into memory,” wrote a post-solo student pilot, adding that if he needed a little help, the CFI, rather than intervene, tends to “point at an instrument or out the window to give me a clue.”

The student pilot (who went on to pass the checkride this fall) described how his training has continued to pay dividends—in one instance empowering him to muster the skills to handle a landing in unexpectedly tricky winds.

“That was a real confidence builder,” he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Training and Safety, Training and Safety
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