First Solo - A Students Perspective

First Solo - A Students Perspective

The first solo. A student pilot will likely know these words in the context of Exercise 19 in the PPL student pilot training textbooks. They will definitely know them in the context of a culmination of many hours of ground school, countless hours of self-study, thousands of bucks spent, written exams passed, and the bucketloads of patience you need to get to the point where your instructors give you the vote of confidence in your skills and abilities to fly a plane independently, competently, and above all, safely.

May 31st, 2024. A day I will never forget. As a PPL student, I recognized the significance of the first solo. Still, nothing quite prepares you for the satisfaction, excitement, pure joy, and responsibility you will feel on that day with your freshly printed Student Pilot Permit in tow.

When I arrived at flight school that morning, I was expecting to do circuits with the CFI so he could (hopefully) give me the green light to solo the next lesson. I knew something weird was going on when he asked me for my ID and asked me to come upstairs to the office. After a few minutes, the school owner handed me my Student Pilot Permit and explained the associated restrictions and conditions. I was going solo that morning.

Sheesh. Was I ready? Was I mentally prepared? I guess I was. To be fair, I had been battling bad weather recently and whenever I did fly, my instructor told me that I was ready to solo for at least a couple of weeks, so I knew it was coming.

I did four circuits with the CFI. We landed, parked, and then he said, “Okay, so I’m happy for you to go solo today.” He gave me a couple of tips, and away he walked. This was it. Canopy closed and secure. I was about to fly a plane – by myself. I was still buzzing after every lesson from flying a plane, period, and that was with an instructor next to me, let alone by myself! No longer would I have my instructor a few centimetres away to guide me through a borderline unstable approach because of 15-knot gusts or the occasional reminder to “watch your airspeed”.

Bring it on.

“Runup checks complete,” I heard myself say. “Clear left. Clear right”, as I looked up and down the runway flight path for traffic.

Then, my first solo radio call. “Foothills traffic. Foxtrot, Zulu, Romeo, Echo. Lining up 2-5 for immediate departure, staying in the circuit. This is my first solo, so you might want to leave the area”.

Okay, I didn’t quite say that last bit – but I did warn traffic in the zone that this was my first solo. I saw it suggested online recently and thought it was a neat idea so that other traffic is aware in case you inadvertently make some error, and in the hope they’d give me some grace if I did.

“Good luck on your solo!” someone in the ether uttered back.

“Thank you”.

I rolled out of the run-up bay and lined up. “Foothills traffic. Foxtrot, Zulu, Romeo, Echo. On the roll 2-5”.

Boom. And I was accelerating. “Power set. Airspeed alive. Gauges green. Rotate”, I said out loud, thankfully not over the radio this time as I once did.

I remember one of my instructors telling me that because the plane is lighter without an instructor, I’ll take off quicker. Thankfully, I remembered that and was prepared for it.

And I was away. It wasn’t until after my downwind checks a minute or so later that it dawned on me what I was doing. After making the downwind call, I recall having a moment to myself, surrounded by the big, beautiful Alberta blue skies in smooth, calm air, with no one on the radio and no traffic in the vicinity. I felt a welling up of emotion. Wow – a 25-year dream in the making is being realized, I thought. I remember thinking I would never have this moment of flying solo for the first time ever again. This truly was a momentous moment – it was everything experienced aviators tell you it will be and more. All 7 precious minutes!

Before I knew it, I was making the radio call for final, and the runway was ahead of me. The ASI was reading 65 knots as it should have been, and I was lined up perfectly with the centreline. Just like for take-off, the same instructor had told me to be prepared to approach hot, with excess speed, because of the lighter weight. I was ready to counter that if it happened. I passed over the piano keys, still on centreline, and just at the last few seconds, as I began to flare, a small gust blew me off centre! But it didn’t matter; I had almost completed my very first solo and landed safely, even if off-centre.

“Foothills traffic. Foxtrot, Zulu, Romeo, Echo. Down and clear on Alpha”, I said over the radio. I was off the runway, on taxiway Alpha, performing my after-landing checklist.

“Congrats!” someone over the airwaves said.

“Thank you”.

As I was parking, I saw the President of the school and CFI waiting by the apron with a big orange bucket. After the engine shut down and I opened the canopy, the President walked by the plane with a smile and simply said, “Traditions, traditions.” In all the excitement, I had forgotten what happens after the end of a first solo. But I knew. Aviation tradition states that a student pilot will get soaked with cold water after the first solo. I received 30 photos later that day from the CFI of the whole drenching. All I have to say is, thank goodness it wasn’t winter!

Back at the office, I was filling in the logbooks. People were coming up to me, wishing me congratulations, asking me how it was. I had no idea instructors had been taking photos and a video of my taxi and take-off. This, for me, was just another example of the mighty comradery within the aviation community. The support and encouragement is remarkable. For sure, my first solo and, in fact, my whole aviation journey would not be possible if it were not for the support and encouragement of my wife, my mentor, family, friends, instructors, school staff, and fellow students.

One major milestone in my journey is now complete. I know there are some student pilots who question whether they should continue training before they go solo. I get it – circuits are hard, and the content is hard and never-ending. You’re pretty tired on most days. If that is you and you’re reading this, don’t do anything hasty. You didn’t get this far in your training to throw in the towel. Think of the goals you set yourself at the start. Stick with it. I promise you, at the end of your first solo, you’ll be glad you did.

Is there anything that I would change about the day? Well, in hindsight, I would have had a change of clothes with me.

Peter Vlahos
Student Pilot

To hold a Private Pilot License you need to be 17 years old.

To hold a Commercial Pilot License you need to be 18 years old.

To hold an Airline Transport License you need to be 21 years old.


No, solo means solo. Besides, even if you could, you just got rid of your instructor, you don’t need someone else talking your ear off while you are trying to land.

You can choose to do your flight training at any flight school you wish. By doing this you only have to drive to the airport for your flight lessons. Take advantage of Level Flight’s virtual flight deck and you can “hangar fly” from home too!

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