I had the sky to myself: my first solo at 16

Before I had my driver’s license, I was working towards my pilot’s license. With just a driver’s permit, I couldn’t drive to the airport by myself, but one of my supportive parents always set aside what they were doing and went with me.

This day was especially meaningful to me as both my parents had decided to come. Originally, my instructor, Dan, and I had discussed practicing landings at the Lawrenceburg airport, but a quick check of the weather revealed a direct crosswind at speeds we didn’t want to challenge so we decided to go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, instead.

Liftoff of Cessna
The moment of truth – no turning back now.

Barely inside of our weight and balance charts, Dan, my parents, and I loaded up and took off. Upon landing in Muscle Shoals, we dropped my mom and dad off at the terminal so Dan and I could practice without the extra weight. My takeoff was great and my landing was spectacular; “a greaser” as Dan would say.

“Two more like that,” said Dan, “and I’ll let you fly solo!”

My heart pounded. I knew I was close to my first solo, but now, with both parents right there with me? To say I was excited would have been a terrible understatement. Fueled by adrenaline, I made two more landings, each better than the first.

We taxied back to the terminal and asked the manager if my parents could stand out in the grass and take pictures of me, as I chased my lifelong dream into the sky! Permission was denied. A quick check of the weather in Lawrenceburg showed little change in the direction of the wind but a considerable drop in its speed. Once again, the four of us climbed into the little cockpit and took off. Landing in Lawrenceburg was a similar routine: mom and dad got out, Dan and I beat the pattern once for good measure, smooth takeoff, textbook pattern, “greaser” landing.

Dan gave me some final briefing, gathered his things, and climbed out. The only noise in the cockpit was the purr of the engine and Dan’s voice over the intercom as he checked his radio. I was alone.

First solo shirt tail
A day no pilot forgets – first solo.

Lining up for runway 35 I thought, “I’m a 16 year old kid who thinks he’s going to fly. Once I take off, I’m the only person in the world who can land this thing.” I carefully pushed the throttle all the way in and checked my RPMs. I watched as the needle on the airspeed indicator slowly crept up its small clock face: 20, 30, 50… At 60 knots, a little back pressure on my yoke and the nose came up, just enough that I couldn’t see the runway in front of me anymore – only the sky.

Glancing down out my left window, I saw my mom, dad and Dan, all wishing me luck. We (the plane and I) climbed to five hundred feet; high enough to make my first turn and I suddenly realized I was on top of the world. I had the sky to myself!

Just before reducing power for landing, I felt myself look over at the seat next to me, making sure I really was doing all this by myself. After a beautiful landing, Dan came on over the radio, “Nice landing,” he said.

I could hear his smile over the microphone. “Would you like to do two more?”

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Young Pilots Writer’s Challenge, where we hear from young pilots about learning to fly and the joys of aviation. If you or a young pilot you know has a story to tell, email us at: editor@airfactsjournal.com

2 Comments

  • Hey Keegan:

    Thank you for a great piece of writing! We are all, always, ‘chasing our lifelong dreams into the sky’. Perfectly said.

    Congratulations on your solo and….

    Welcome to the Club!

  • You’ll never stop wanting to be in the air, whether solo, or, as me, with another pilot. I finally got to chase my dream of flying at age 66, in 2014. It is pure delight!

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