Your first solo flight, while short, is a significant step in your journey to becoming a pilot. It will be the first time you fly while relying on your own skill and abilities, without any help. Everyone (myself included) remembers their first solo. Today I’ll talk you through your first solo, giving details of what you can expect, how to prepare, and what to do once you've completed this amazing feat.
Your First Solo Flight | a Brief Overview
The step that gets most folks' attention is the solo flight. It's usually just a few takeoffs and landings at your home airport, but it's significant in that it's the first time you fly by yourself
The day has arrived! You are finally going to become a real pilot.
Once your instructor endorses your logbook and your student certificate for a solo flight, you can legally fly by yourself!
If you thought 'becoming a pilot' was all about having an FAA-approved license in your hand, it's time to think again.
This is the real deal.
Want proof? In your logbook, you'll be writing your flight time in the section entitled 'PIC'. That stands for 'Pilot-in-Command', with your name underneath.
Here's a quick fact for you.
Every pilot in the world has had to fly their first solo, probably in an aircraft very similar to yours. By completing your first solo flight, you'll effectively be sharing an experience with the following people:
- Chelsea Sullenberger
- Charles A. Lindbergh
- Amelia Earhart
- Chuck Yeager
- Neil Armstrong
- Louis Bleriot
- Howard Hughes
- The Wright Brothers!
Look where it took them!
Some view their first solo with trepidation, others with enthusiasm, but to gain that coveted license, you will have to do it! The above famous pilots all did, and I guarantee you they were nervous at the time.
Your first solo will be over before you know it, and you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. Let's take a look at everything you'll need to know.
Is the First Solo Flight Scary?
Scary probably isn't the right word.
'Daunting' would be better. It wouldn't be normal if there wasn't a little bit of apprehension approaching the big day. After all, you are about to fly an airplane on your own for the very first time.
If you have nerves, don't worry. Everybody did! (Ourselves included).
But here's the thing.
Your first solo needn't be scary. You won't be seeing or doing anything that you haven't done countless times before.
Annalynn's First Solo! (Video)
Here are some great reasons to approach your first solo flight with confidence:
Your instructor won't let you go solo until you are ready
While it is you who will be aloft, your instructor's license and livelihood depend on your success. They won't sign you off until they can be 100% confident that you'll get the most out of it.
Don't forget, to date, your instructor will have seen every minute of your flying. They'll have experience knowing when someone is ready.
Different instructors have different approaches…
Some instructors will give you training in additional flight maneuvers, ground-reference maneuvers, and airport operations to get to the point of soloing.
Some give you rudimentary training in these skills, let you solo, and then bring you back down for additional dual (with instructor) training.
Others teach as many of these skills as you're willing to learn before turning you loose with your first solo.
The approach will be up to your instructor, but any worth their salt will work with you to decide which style will suit you best.
You'll have had lots of practice
There shouldn't be anything new in your first solo flight. It is literally doing exactly the same things as you have done previously… Except the airplane is a little lighter because your instructor isn't sat next to you.
You'll be flying in good weather
Nobody ever flies their first solo on a marginal weather day. Unless the conditions are perfect, you'll be better off on terra firma.
You'll be prepared in advance
It is doubtful that your first solo will come as a surprise. As a result, you'll have plenty of time to prepare in advance. Be sure to check the tips below on the things you need to think about.
Everyone will be looking out for you
Your instructor will be watching, the control tower will be watching, and even your friends or family might be watching.
Everyone realizes how big a deal your first solo flight is. And you'll have all the support you need.
My First Solo (Video)
When Can a Pilot Fly Solo?
According to the FAA, you will need to satisfy a few requirements to fly solo. You must:
- Be over the age of 16
- Have demonstrated an acceptable level of aeronautical knowledge, including:
- Airspace rules and procedures
- Limitations and characteristics of your specific aircraft
- Passing a written theory test
- Have received tuition in the required maneuvers and procedures such as: -
- Have a signed endorsement in your logbook approving you for solo flight
The above list is not exhaustive. If it seems like a lot, the good news is that the vast majority of the above will have already been covered in your flight training. If you want to know more about your first solo flight requirements, including section 61.87, here is a great resource.
What Do You Do on Your First Solo Flight?
Nobody expects you to navigate the continents on your first solo. In fact, you'll find that it is normally a very brief affair.
A takeoff, a quick trip around the circuit, and a (hopefully nice) landing are about the limit as to what you will do.
Your first solo is designed to allow you to build confidence and get over that first initial 'hump' without anything extra to concentrate on.
When it comes to complex navigation, dead reckoning, and recovery from unusual attitudes, that is all something that you can look forward to in the future.
How to Prepare for Your First Solo Flight | 7 Great Tips
Prior preparation makes almost any task easier, and flying is no different. You'll free up spare 'brain capacity' to concentrate on the bigger picture by preparing in advance. Here are some great ways you can prepare for your first solo:
- Get a Good Night's Sleep
When was the last time anybody did anything well by being tired?
While it might be on your mind, one of the best things you can do to ensure success is to get a good night's sleep. Go to bed early, and wake up feeling refreshed, ready to seize the day and fly the aircraft well.
- Rehearse Your Drills
There is plenty of preparation you can do on the ground before flying your first solo.
And the good news?
You don't need to be anywhere near an aircraft to do it. Here are things that can be practiced and remembered in the comfort of your own home:
- Checklists and responses
- Technical limitations, such as speeds and settings
- Radio responses and discipline
- Emergency procedures and memory items (a poster of the cockpit switches works wonders when practicing these)
- Think about how you’d deal with problems
- Air traffic control procedures and calls to air traffic
- Arrive Early
If you rush, there is a bigger chance you will miss something vital. It is far better to arrive nice and early, get all of your planning and preparation squared away, and then you can relax and wait for the big event.
- Proper Pre-Flight Preparation
While you should be well versed in pre-flight preparation, if there was a time to truly shine, it is now.
That logbook will have your name as the pilot-in-command, so own it!
When I talk about pre-flight preparation, here are some things that you will really need to consider:
- Check the weather, including the forecasts
- Check the notices to airmen (NOTAM)
- Do a thorough pre-flight inspection of your aircraft
- Ensure the aircraft is fully fueled, also check the oil
- Review the procedures specific to the traffic pattern at your field.
- Think ahead and see if there is anything that could potentially trip you up
Remember, it is better to think about things while you are safe on the ground than to try and recall something under pressure in the air.
- Inform ATC
While they are safely on the ground, ATC can be a great asset when it comes to flying your first solo.
They are normally pretty sympathetic (and know this will be a special day for you), so they will be slightly less demanding. They can actually be quite a help and delay traffic to let you get your solo finished and make the environment in the airspace around the field as trouble-free as possible.
- Try and Relax
Easy to say. But nobody ever performs well under pressure, especially self-induced pressure.
Give yourself a break.
Everyone feels nervous just before their first solo.
But here's the thing.
They don't feel nervous after it and can't wait to fly again. Master your trepidation, try and relax, and have confidence in your own ability.
- Keep it Routine
A word to the wise.
Just because your instructor isn't there doesn't mean it is time to try that one thing you have always wondered about.
Your instructor has released you for solo to perform a basic detail. And while you are on the cusp of becoming a 'real' pilot, you haven't yet got 'all the tools in your bag' to deal with every situation.
Don't sabotage your own efforts by trying to do something 'clever' or 'fancy'. Flying an aircraft on your own for the first time is thrilling enough without any added 'spice'.
Flying is all about routine and procedure. Make sure that your first solo adheres to this principle.
Natalie Makes Her First Solo Flight on Her 16th Birthday (Video)
What to Expect After Your First Solo?
Congratulations all around!
Just because you are back on the ground doesn't mean the experience is over!
There are still a few things that you'll want to do following your first solo. Here's some great advice:
Fill in your Logbook
This is going to be the first time you've ever commanded an aircraft. Make sure you've got a record of it! You'll never forget your first solo, be sure to have it there for you to look back on fondly.
Thank your Instructor
First solo's are nearly as rewarding for instructors as they are for students. For your instructor, your solo flight also has significance because it's your first payoff for the effort you both have been putting into your learning to fly
By going solo (and landing safely), you've demonstrated to your instructor that they, too, are capable of great things. Be sure to thank them (the guys at my club used to like a beer or two along with a verbal thanks)
Take a Picture
Whether you intend to fly for pleasure or go on to bigger things, you will want a lasting memory of this day. Be sure to arrange for someone to take a good picture of you as soon as you land!
On a more serious note, something was missing on your first solo. What was it?
Oh, yes! The instructor!
You may be used to be being told what you did right and wrong, but when flying solo, it is all up to you! The best way to improve your skills is to self-debrief shortly after the flight.
What went well, what went not-so-well? And how can you improve so your next flight is better?
Plan Your Next Flight!
Don't stop now. You are on a roll!
While your first solo flight is a significant milestone, now isn't the time to get complacent. There's still a lot more work to do! Keep this well-earned momentum going, and watch your flight training take off!
The step that gets most folks' attention is the solo flight. It's usually just a few takeoffs and landings at your home airport, but it's significant in that it's the first time you fly by yourself. Once your instructor endorses your logbook and your student certificate for a solo flight, you can legally fly by yourself — as long as you don't do anything you're not endorsed for, such as fly into controlled airspace or fly a cross-country trip yet.
Your first solo flight is an unforgettable experience. If you know what it is all about, follow the procedures that you've evidently become so adept at, and prepare in advance, there is nothing to fear and everything to enjoy! Are you approaching your first solo? How do you feel? Why not let us know in the comments?
Your airplane could sound different to you on your first solo flight. What you hear is the silence of not hearing your instructor "nagging" at you. It's a wonderful silence, so enjoy it while you can!