It was a year ago in a few days (April 17th) that my instructor first sent me up alone in a Cessna 152. I had more hours than most students do on their first solos, due to waiting on my medical, but I guess that just means I could make the landing prettier. It was one of my better landings up to that point, after all.
Most people don’t know when their first solo is going to happen. Instructors don’t want to put pressure on them. I had it explained early on, in my first lesson, how the first solo is the big deal, big special day thing. My thoughts on lessons had been mostly concerned about how I was going to pay for it, and not so much wondering about what the training would be like, other than it would be awesome, so it hadn’t occurred to me. Of course I was like, oh, yeah, I guess that would be a big deal. But past that, there wasn’t much talk about it. I’ve talked to some of the other girls about their first solos, and they all say the same thing. They were doing circuits with a senior instructor, instructor has them come back to the ramp, hops out and sends them off to fly their one circuit for their first solo. They’re surprised, unprepared, a little flustered, but they don’t have time to get nervous, so okay, we’re doing this.
Anyway, most people don’t know the day it’s going to happen, but for me, I was only waiting on one thing, and that was my medical. For the newcomers, my Aspergers diagnosis was a thing to fuss about, and I was starting to think maybe I wouldn’t be able to get a class 1 medical after all. I’d been on the phone with Transport Canada several times trying to get an update on whether or not my medical would be approved, and finally heard back that it had, and was in the mail. Which usually takes a day, so it might come that day. I emailed my instructor that it was in the mail, and she said, well, maybe we can get your student license together tomorrow, and I replied, oh no, I’m waiting at the door for the mailman, he usually comes early. And he did come before I had to leave for my lesson, and he was indeed carrying my medical certificate. And I was looking at the weather, and the winds and clouds were co-operating. There was nothing left to wait on, as long as my instructor decided I was ready, so I while I told myself it wouldn’t necessarily be today, I was driving out to the airport knowing pretty much what the plan for the lesson would be, provided I was up to the task. And the rest is history.
After that was the first point when I dared call myself a pilot, even in my head. Before that, I was going to become a pilot. I don’t know if there’s rules for when you’re allowed to call yourself a pilot, but if you ask me, that point where you can get a plane into the air and back on the ground safely without the safety net of an instructor, that’s should be when. It’s not like being a writer where if you write, you’re a writer, and there’s a million other writers out there that will happily pat you on the head and say you don’t have to be making a living at it, or be published, or even ever share your work with anyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re shit at it, if you put words on a page, you’re a writer. For pilots, it’s a little different. Can you fly this puppy or not? Yes or no? You can stick anyone behind the controls of an aeroplane and let them get the hang of climbing and banking – it’s not that hard to keep the wings level, really. But if someone goes around saying they’re a pilot after some pilot let them have the controls for a few minutes, we’re all going to go “aw, isn’t that cute.”
Any idiot can get a plane into the air. A pilot can get it back on the ground. (And still be able to use it later.)