So Low

Yes, that was indeed a play on the word solo.

Friends, two Saturdays ago I had it in my mind I would get to solo an airplane for the first time. My CFI had dropped hints that I was ready for my progress check (required before you are allowed to solo), the sun was out, the sky was blue, the winds were calm. I’m not going to say I was 100% certain it would happen that day, but let’s just say I wore a shirt I didn’t care about and packed my own scissors…just in case.

I sang in the car all the way up to the airport. I arrived thirty minutes early and when 9am struck, my manifest was filled out to perfection and my pre-flight was complete. According to my mental state (and perhaps not reality) my instructor was dropping lots of hints that today was the day.

We headed over to the run-up area and all was great until [insert large clanging noise and blood-curdling scream here] we checked the left mag and the RPM plummeted to the bottom of the scale. Nevermind that this was the plane we had last time that I asked my instructor to report needed maintenance since it had been acting funny on the downwind. He didn’t. He said, “it’s only 5 hours from it’s next major overhaul, it’ll be fine.”

Friends, it wasn’t fine.

By the time we taxied back to dispatch, reported the problem, requested another plane, filled out another manifest, conducted another pre-flight and gone back to the run-up area not only had we lost an hour, the weather conditions had deteriorated considerably. The skies were dark, the winds were variable, the clouds were low. My instructor said I needed to work on my landings so we would do touch-and-goes and stay in the pattern. Choking back tears that today was not the day, I flew the pattern. Again. For the hundred and fifty-first time. At least I could get some work done on cross-wind landings.

Then the situation changed entirely, while we were on the downwind leg the tower made an announcement I had never heard before. My instructor took over the radio and told me to bank left out of the pattern. They were changing runways on us. All eight of us that were flying the pattern, not to mention the helicopters below us and other traffic coming in to escape the weather rerouted from runway 31 to 02.

We were coming in for our final landing, just about to catch ground effect when a burst of wind swept us clear off of the runway. My right hand reached for the throttle and my left thumb tapped the mic to announce a go-around.

But I was too late.

My instructor had taken over the controls and landed the plane, informing me “see, you aren’t ready yet, you’ve got to learn to be aggressive with your ailerons in crosswinds.”

I drove home in tears that day convinced I would never get to solo.

The following lesson we practiced landings. Again. These were the best landings I’d ever had and still it wasn’t good enough.

The next lesson we flew in the pattern again and practiced landings. Again. I was finally getting comments like “that was perfect!” repeatedly. Inside I thought, “ok, so today is the day?!!!”

Negative. I finally told my CFI something I’m told students NEVER say out loud. I looked him in the eyes and said “I’m ready to solo, what do I need to do to make this happen?”

He agreed. He said he looked for three perfect landings in a row before clearing a student to solo and I had done that. The next step was a quiz.

I took the ten page quiz that asked me everything from what medical certificate a private pilot must hold to what to do if I found myself in inadvertent IMC to what airspace my home airport was.

The following lesson was ground school where we took two hours…excuse me, that didn’t have the proper emphasis…TWO WHOLE FLIPPING HOURS!!!!!!!!!!! to review my test answers, find that the vast majority of them were correct and discuss that I thoroughly knew my stuff and wasn’t having lucky guesses.

Did I solo after that?


The next step in the process is a progress check. Yes. It’s not enough that I am now having perfect landings with my instructor, flying the pattern perfectly, and passing my knowledge test with flying colors. No. Now I have to schedule (and of course pay dearly for) another flight lesson with a total stranger they call a “progress check instructor” and convince him I am able to solo a Cessna 152. Is he available before a week from now?


So now I’m doing ground school for cross-country flying and this Saturday, having not flown once in a week and a half, I will hop in the plane with a stranger and hope he agrees I can fly a plane by myself. We will do stalls and emergency procedures and fly the pattern a few times. Then will I solo?


No, then I will have my next lesson with my CFI where we will fly the pattern again and if he feels I’m having a good day and my landings are perfection, THEN. FINALLY. He will get out of the plane and let me solo….or so he says. I’m beginning to doubt it will ever happen.

I’m all for safety and making sure a student is really ready before you stick them 1,200 feet above the runway in an airplane by themselves, but this is just beginning to feel like overkill. I feel strangled by red tape instead of encouraged to progress. Amelia Earhart didn’t have to suffer this kind of bureaucracy!

Wish me luck…should I ever actually get there!


7 thoughts on “So Low

  1. Good luck. You’ll get there. I was *really* frustrated when I was training because my brother solo’d before me and with fewer hours. I felt like my instructor was torturing me. My brother IS a better pilot, though, so I think that was appropriate. I also had one near-mishap (sort of like your almost go-around), and I think that worried the CFI (he had to grab it and put the wheels back on the ground).

    It seemed to take forever. Once I was solo’d everything changed, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It will happen when it happens. Don’t rush into it just because you want to get it over. Cautions, warnings and red tape have all been written in blood. Let the process flow and trust that when your IP is ready, he is going to get out of the airplane and let you personally test the physics of flight and the law of gravity. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

    By the way, if Amelia Earhart survived the crash she still ended up dying alone on a deserted island. You will be much better pilot than her.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Rob. I agree, I shouldn’t be put up there before I’m ready. I think the most frustrating part for me is that I didn’t realize it would be so many more steps and so much more money just to get me there and my scholarship deadline fast approaches. I’m beginning to accept that I just might not meet these scholarship deadlines. But I will get there. Someday.


  3. I think what you’re experiencing is the effect of a) the legal profession on flight training, and b) a general decline in our ability to take risks.

    So Everything must be done, checked, double checked, rechecked, documented, signed, and confirmed by a third party. Sad, but that’s how just about everything is these days. It’s why capes come with warnings informing you that it does not actually allow you to fly.

    I should add that the pre-solo written test is required by FAA regulations. Everyone has to do that.

    If it makes you feel any better, from an instructors perspective, it is quite terrifying to solo a student pilot. I don’t care how good they are or how well they’ve been trained, the CFI is probably a lot more nervous than you will ever be when you are up there by yourself. Just remember, we want you to be successful, and we want you to solo. We are as frustrated by the hoops you have to jump through as you are. We could be putting all that time, effort, and energy into flight training rather than paperwork.

    We have all been where you are. Just keep in mind, pretty soon you will be where we are. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Just once, could everything go right? | The Bold Bluebonnet

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