Saturday, May 28, 2005


Why Haven't I Soloed Yet?

The most-frequently-asked questions I get from people reading my blog are "Have you soloed yet?," "When are you going to solo?," and "Have you soloed yet?" The answers are "Not yet," "I don't know," and "Still not yet."

At this point, I have about 42 hours of logged dual instruction time. A lot of people get to solo with much less time than this. People training at uncontrolled airfields typically get to solo after 10-20 hours. At controlled airports, it takes a little more time because a student has to deal with the radio work, busy traffic patterns, and more complicated airport operations, but 20-30 hours to solo seems typical. So why is it taking me so long?

I'm tempted to answer "Because I suck," but I don't think that's true. Here are the real reasons:

While my 42 hours without soloing may be a little atypical, it's not extraordinary. Philip Greenspun is a smart guy, and didn't solo until 34 hours. The online aviation forums I browse are full of people who will admit to soloing after 40+ hours. This isn't a race, and I find it odd that some people brag about the fact that they soloed with minimal training.

When I read postings from people who just completed their first solo after 10 hours or less, I wonder how proficient they really are. Section 61.87 of the Federal Aviation Regulations lists a whole bunch of training requirements that a student pilot must meet before being allowed to solo, and I don't think they can be fully covered in just 10 hours. I suspect these students' instructors sign them off for solo as soon as they are capable of simply taking off and landing safely. I'm certainly capable of doing that, but that's not enough for my instructors.

I really am pretty close now. I'm confident that I'm ready to solo. I think my instructor just needs to see me fly for a couple of hours without doing anything stupid. It may be my next lesson, it may be a week from now, it may be two weeks from now. I'm not worried about it; it will happen when it happens, and I'm not in a hurry. I know when my instructor says I'm ready, I'll really be ready.

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I agree that it doesn't matter how early a pilot solos, any more than it matters how early a child walks or talks -- some late walkers turn into great athletes, and some late talkers (like me) go on to get PhDs.

I've never heard of a difference in solo time between controlled and uncontrolled airports -- they're both equally complicated (in different ways), and it's just a matter of which one you're familiar with.

I haven't read all the comments on your other postings, but I think instructors don't generally worry about advanced topics like simulated instrument flight or tracking VORs before first solo. That training might or might not be a good idea, but it's highly unconventional and is adding a lot of extra pre-solo hours to your logbook (for better or worse).
Yes, my school's pre-solo requirements do seem like a lot in comparison to those of other schools. Their stated reasoning is that they want to get most of the "instruction" out of the way before solo, so that after solo all I'll need to do with the instructor is the cross-country stuff, while I practice all the maneuvers on my own. The total number of hours to get the ready for the checkride will end up being the same.

Of course, the skeptical cynic in me wonders whether this could be a way to maximize the amount of money they wring out of me. But I trust them.
There's definitely a difference in time to solo between controlled and uncontrolled airports, and between airports where there is a very nearby practice area and ones where there is more transit time to the practice area.

Now that this question has raised its head, I can say what I've been biting my tongue against all this time: the training Kris is doing is completely unstructured. He's being asked to do a bit of this, a bit of that, almost randomly with no apparent regard to proficiency at related building block items.

If Kris really sucked, then what does he suck at? If he can't fly an airplane straight and level, then he should be describing lesson after lesson of straight and level practice until he finally came to recognize the correct attitude of the airplane. If he sucked at turning, he should be doing gentle turns. If he can't slow down without losing heading and altitude, he should be practicing that.

I think Kris is getting dicked around someting fierce. If the part 141 curriculum is so great, and the med cert really did have to be issued before it could officially commence, why didn't his instructor start working through it unofficially before the med cert issue, and then dash back through it pro-forma after the issue?

Kris is obviously intelligent, able to understand the relationship between power and pitch and to follow directions. If someone takes over 40 hours to solo one begins to suspect he is clumsy, terrified, forgetful of instruction, prone to sudden irrational manoevers, or has a very poor instructor.

I think I'll hit the Anonymous button now. Kris will know who I am from the IP address.
P.S. Stop doing take-offs and landings in your flight simulator program. The difference in technique screws up real airplane landings.
I can't be sure that I'm not being dicked around, but the training is not completely unstructured. For each lesson, there is a specific set of goals for new material and review of old material.
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