The Thing About A First Solo

I already did a post about my own first solo, but a comment on another post got me thinking about it again. In my first post, it had just happened, and I was excited and it was all about me. Now, in my last post I mentioned, a few weeks ago I got to be in the circuit with a young man going on his first solo, and it’s just interesting to be on the other side, watching someone else do it.

A pilot’s first solo is a big deal – it’s the first time they take the plane up alone. There’s something a little bit sacred about that moment. It’s a moment a pilot will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s like a graduation day, or a birthday. Only there’s some things that make it different.

One of the things about the first solo is when it happens, it’s not necessarily planned ahead. The day you’re ready might not be the day the weather is calm enough for you to handle it, or you’re having a rough day and aren’t flying well, and the instructor decides it’s not the right day. But because they never know until you go flying that day, whether this is going to be the day, that means they don’t tell you ahead of time that this is going to be the day. No one wants to put pressure on you, so there’s not a lot of fanfare.

And since you can’t plan it, your friends and family don’t come out to see you do it. The witnesses are your instructor watching from the ground, ATC watching from the tower (if applicable) and anyone in the circuit with you.

So in that way, to be a witness to someone doing their first solo, it’s kind of less like attending a graduation, and more like being in the right place at the right time and getting to see a foal born. Or being online checking the eagle cam while the eggs are hatching, or spotting loons doing a mating dance, or catching a baby’s first steps. It’s a special moment you don’t see every day, and if you ever get to see it happen, it’s only because you happened to be in the right place at the right time. And normal people will never be in that place. The only people who will see it will be other pilots, and ATC. I got to see something that few other people will see, and witness a moment in a stranger’s life that I know he will remember. He may even remember for the rest of his life, that someone said “congratulations” over the radio when he got down. He’ll never know who it was, but that’s okay.

At a time like that, it’s neat to be able to be there, and with so few witnesses, to acknowledge that “Yeah, I saw what you did there. Good job.” He’ll get it from his instructor, but sometimes the words of random stranger – it’s funny how that can mean so much sometimes.

And that all makes me think of other things that I get to experience as a pilot, that no one who doesn’t pilot an aircraft ever will. I didn’t realize what a cool thing it would be, but taking passengers up with me is really fun. Getting to share this world with them, being the pilot is just so different than going for a plane ride. And lots of things I’ll get to see, like a water bomber flying by, or sharing the same airspace as the Winnipeg traffic helicopter. And one of the most special things in the world, I swear, is taking someone flying for their first time. No one gets to do that but a pilot.

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4 responses to “The Thing About A First Solo

  1. It’s interesting that taking passengers up should be ‘one of the most special things in the world’. I’m sure there must be a sense of justifiable pride in being able to offer something like this to other people – inviting them in to an environment where they should (hopefully) have some fun and enjoy themselves and also where they have to show a significant amount of faith in you; after all every passenger puts their life in your hands.

    I wonder also whether taking passengers up, in the way I assume you are doing it, is akin to a writer telling a story. I wouldn’t want to overstress the analogy but writers do take their readers on a journey; we have to make sure we don’t ‘lose’ them on the way, and we have to use all of our skills to keep the equivalent of the plane airborne.

    I’d guess the analogy breaks down for a seasoned pilot who is just ferrying passengers backand forth on a regular commercial trip, but maybe for you at the moment every flight is a story you are telling your passengers.

    A

    • Well, specifically, taking them flying for their first time, but you might be onto something with the flight telling a story thing. Though, if anything, I would say you’ve got it the wrong way around. We tell stories to take people along on an adventure in our minds. Taking someone flying is taking them on an adventure for real.

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