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The good Doctor posted recently about his first solo. I'd like to congratulate him on a job well done.

After reading his post, I decided to tell my solo story.

October 18th, 2002. I headed to the airfield not knowing what to expect. My instructor had made it clear that I was ready to solo soon, but I had missed my last 3 scheduled dates with him due to poor weather. Maybe, I thought, today will be more practice. Make sure I still have it all together before he sends me off....

After pre-flight, we strapped in and took off on runway 24. My instructor suggested closed pattern to shoot some landings. All of them went smoothly, as we had calm winds that evening, and I had made countless landings over the course of the Summer to the point where i felt like I could fly them with my eyes closed. (note to students. not recomended.) . The sun was still a good hour from dropping behind the Western horizon. On my 4th landing, my instructor looked at his watch, then at me, and said "Ok, your going to drop me off on the ramp. You ready?"

even though I had been expecting it, it was still kind of a shock. Ready? Ready for what!? Where do you think your going?!?

But I was ready. I felt confident. I wasn't the least bit afraid. I had done this with my instructor over, and over again. Ready? yeah. Im ready.

As we pulled up and came to a stop near the fuel pumps, my CFI took his seat belts off.

"The plane is going to jump off the ground a bit more than usual on take off. I dont weigh much, but it makes a difference without me in here. Other than that, do what you have been doing. Most of all, have fun!!"

I watched as he closed the door and walked away without looking back.

"S$%t. im alone in here."

Then I began to taxi back to 24. With no other traffic in the pattern, I positioned myself at the end of the runway and stopped. Looking over towards the FBO, my instructor was nowhere to be seen. I half expected him to be waiting close by keeping a stern eye on me. He was, of course, but he was inside the FBO, within ear shot of the radio, in case I needed anything.

Throwing in full power, I started down the runway. Then an odd thing happened. I started....singing to myself.

Yup. I Dont recall what it was I was singing. i just remember singing. All the way through rotation and lift off. Singing. I was checking the panel, keeping an eye on airspeed, all the things id been taught to do, except I wasnt usually singing while doing them. Go figure.

Three landings later, my instructor came on the radio while I was downwind for 24. "Having fun?" he asked. I replied that I was having a ball, and could do this all day. having completed the mandatory 3 landings, I had officaly comp;eted my 1st solo. "Well, you better make this landing your last for today. We're losing the light..."

.."Roger, full stop this time"

I made my last landing and headed to the tie-down. i was suprised out how calm I was. i had thought many times about this day, and always pictured myself emerging from the cockpit like Maverick after that final battle scene in Top Gun. Instead, I was calm and cool, but sitting firmly on cloud nine.

By now, the sun was setting on a perfect October day. I headed into the FBO and was suprised to find not only my instructor, but my friend Joe, who was a partner in a Cherokee 235 with my Father. They congratulated me, shook my hand and told me my landings had looked great. My instructor nodded towards the picnic table nearby. I turned to look, and saw 3 cans of beer stacked up on top of each other. The three of us opened our cans and took a drink, the first of many rewards for taking my flying lessons this far. Joe and Ron (my CFI) toasted my solo, and I couldnt have been more proud of myself.

After half a can of beer, my CFI reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of scissors. "You know what happens now!" they proceeded in the ritual of cutting the back out of my T-shirt. A tradition among student and CFI's after a first solo flight. Some say this tradition is rooted in the old days of flight instruction, before radios, and before a CFI and student would sit side by side. It is said that to get the students attention is the "in-line" configuration, a CFI would tug on the shirt tails of his student seated directly in front of him. Once you solo, you no longer need the shirt tug. hence the removal of your shirt tails.

I remeber Ron tossing the back of my shirt behind the counter in the office. I didnt think anything of it at the time. My mind was still at pattern altitude, where I had just flown an aircraft, all by myself. In the months and years to come, I would wonder what happened to my shirt. Other peoples shirts were hanging in the office decorated with hand drawn pictures of airplanes, and CFI signatures. I didnt know what had happened to mine.

3 years later, long after I had completed my check-ride and become a Private Pilot, I was celebrating my birthday with my parents. My Father came into the kitchen, where I was standing with my Mother, holding a nicely wrapped present for me. A big square shaped package decorated with bright blue paper. I had no idea what it was.

My CFI, sneak that he is, had given my Dad the shirt long ago. My Dad had taken it to his friend, a framer, who had it framed on a black background behind glass, and secured it in a beautiful hard wood trim. There was the back of my shirt, curling up at the edges, frozen in time for me to keep forever. Underneath my CFI's drawing of our airplane and its tail number read:

"Neil: First Solo: 10/18/02"

It hangs in my living room today, my prize possesion. Like a moment frozen in time for me to remember again and again, it will hang on a wall in whatever corner of the world I find myself in. You never forget your first solo.

Congrats again, Doc.

Awesome Story Neil. Enjoyed every bit of it. Its a wonder you remember so much in detail. I hope I will too.

Post solo, I asked my instructor if he would cut the shirt tail. He said, at his old place of work they used to, but then he soloed a female aviator and thats when he stopped.

Pfff...doesnt stop 'em at my airport! lol.

Well told, Neil.....
You only do it once, so you'll remember it for the rest of your life.
What a wonderful gesture, giving your Dad the cut-off shirt like that.
Made me a little misty eyed!

Hey, Neil. How synchronistic to find your blog entry. I'm writing the story of my solo flight -- back in 1972 -- for a writing critique group I'm in. And yes, they cut off my shirttail (female pilot here). I was googling "shirttail" and "solo" trying to figure exactly what started that tradition.

My solo included a porpoise AFTER the CFI exited the craft. Scared the bejeezus out of me, but I hit the throttle and took her around again paying more attention the next time time and landing without the big bounce!

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