It’s been close to 2 years since my previous post on the subject of aviation. I’ve done a great deal since then – I obtained my sport pilot license, I’m now working towards my private pilot license, my main instructor moved away so she could become a test pilot for an aircraft manufacturer (which I brag about at any given opportunity), and I stumbled into helping out with two different aircraft restorations via her father, who has since become a good friend and source of inspiration. That summary glosses over a lot of details of little importance to anyone who is not, well, me.
Last night I drove to the field to drop off some drawings and get some dimensions for one of the restorations we’re working on. I stopped by my flight school’s hangar to see if anything interesting was going on. It was a perfect evening, with almost zero wind, endless visibility, and a beautiful setting sun in a sky dotted with only a handful of clouds – the sort of sky pilots dream of. As it turned out, the school’s owner and chief instructor was doing a little flying with one of the kids who had been helping out at the hangar since I started my own training, and after they landed, he hopped out of the Cub and gave some instruction and encouragement to her. Yes, this was to be her first solo. She absolutely nailed her landings, leaving those of us on the ground wishing we could make our own approaches as cleanly.
One of my other instructors who was trained and then actually taught at the school (and is now a fresh new FO at a regional airline) even drove 2 hours to show up for the event. After my own first solo, I’d still tell people that I was just a ’student pilot’. However, one pilot that I admire chastised me for prepending the ’student’ moniker, admonishing that “there is no more binary distinction than those who have flown a plane by themselves, and those who have not”.
When she finally taxied back to the hangar, pictures were taken and scissors were deployed to remove her shirttails as per tradition – the rafters of the hangar are filled with the autographed fabric (mine included) of those who have made that leap across the divide. There’s a lot more training and studying to be sure – but I hope she now calls herself a ‘pilot’ instead of ’student pilot’. We’re all student pilots, after all – even my old instructor, the regional FO who now flies airline jets, will need to get checked out in the school’s Warrior before he can give an IFR refresher to one of the new instructors.
We all recounted our own first solo, how the plane becomes a rocketship without your instructor in front, and the fear and exhilaration that comes with flying an airplane all by yourself. It’s a really special occasion, and I think it’s only properly appreciated by others who have gone through that same experience. Flying is a very small brotherhood, but last night, we added one more to our ranks.