Reader question: in what year did you first solo and what was the airplane?

Each shirt tail has a story to tell…

The first solo – a red letter day in the life of a pilot. You take to the skies with no pesky instructor in the right seat and a stomach full of butterflies. For most of us, that event is permanently etched in our memory. We can remember the airplane, hear the radio calls, and feel the relief and excitement when it was over.

So this month we want to know what year you completed your first solo, and what the airplane was. Whether it was two weeks ago or two decades ago, it’s worth celebrating so add a comment below.

166 Comments

    • Glad to see we are born ‘twin pilots’. My glider pilot logbook shows my first two solo flights being on July 19 & 20, 1969 at Saint Hubert aerodrome (EBSH, Belgium) summer training camp, the same month Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I went on afterward in Canada to get my powered airplane commercial license, twin IFR.

  • I soloed on my sixteenth birthday, November 18, 1971. The airplane was a 1959 C-150, N7176X – a well-worn trainer. The most prominent event during those three takeoffs and landings was the direction from the tower after I had called on the downwind leg for my first touch-and-go: “Cessna 76Xray, roger. Continue.” I had never heard them use that phrase before, and I was perplexed as to whether or not the tower controller wanted me to ‘continue around the pattern’ or ‘continue my downwind leg’, and I was too afraid to ask them. Silly… I chose the former. It was correct. I learned. But it was scary without Mr. Hillman there to tell me what to do…

  • 1954, Piper PA-12, age 16, Warren Michigan (airport now gone). 4100 hrs later, last flight in May 2016 in Aeronca 7AC.

    William Joss

  • May, 1976 from Lakefront Airport, New Orleans in an “almost new” 1968 150. At the time, I was 16 years old and on that day I was Captain Kirk in command of my own “Enterprise.” Pattern altitude in that Jurassic period was 800 feet, but it felt more like 80,000 as I ventured aloft and touched the sky. Before I was cognizant of what had transpired, my three t/o’s and landings were complete and it was back to the grindstone to finish the rating. At 42.5 hours TT and as the Earth completed it’s 17th trip around the sun since my birth, my license was inked.

  • It was a military-livery, sliding canopy cockpit Grumman American TR-2 (known by some as the Yankee). My CFI was a former military fighter pilot named Lt. Colonel Robert McDaniel. I was 16 and begging to solo, but Bob held me back until he was sure I was ready, which was two weeks after my 17th birthday.
    On the day of the solo, he smiled as he hopped out of the Grumman and said, “Welcome to the party, little lady!”
    The three take off and landings took place on an old 2,400 taxiway, because it was oriented into the wind that day.
    Later they cut off my shirt tail off and hung it on the flight-school wall. For a young girl from a two-stoplight mining town, it was the best day of my life.

  • July 2003 at KRHV in N1806G, a late ‘60s Citabria 7ECA trainer that’s was rebuilt so many times, the data plate was probably the only original part left. I had turned 30 the year before and as learning to fly was on my bucket list, decided to go forward with it. Last flight was this past Sunday night from Truckee (KTRK) to San Jose (KRHV) in our Cirrus SR22 with family on board.

  • 1959 in a J3 Cub at Moody Wooddale airport in Illinois. Pattern altitude was 300 ft. due to being 3 miles west of O’hare.

  • July 17, 1968, Montgomery, Alabama, 16th Birthday. Bob Hudgens, owner of Montgomery Aviation (South East Piper Distributor), allowed and arranged for me to solo all of his airplanes except the Navajo. 17 in total, everything from a J3 to Aztec. Thanks to Mr. Hudgens, 18,000 hours and a 39 year airline career later.

  • 1972 – two weeks after my 16th birthday (rained out on my birthday). J3 Cub from the Penn Yan Flying Club In Upstate NY

  • September 1976, Cessna 150. The instructor would not stop yelling thru three t/o’s and landings with him in the plane, then told me to pull to the side to drop him off. He signed my certificate and I was on my own. It was so quiet!

  • 7 Jan 1958 – in Centralia, Ontario commanding (!) a DHC – 1 Chipmunk Serial 18061.

    Last trip was four days ago. Next trip is in four hours – 80 miles away for lunch…

  • February 1962 – Air Force Pilot Training – Cessna T-37 twin engine jet that was the aircraft type that I made my first flight as a student pilot.

  • September 19, 1970 18 years old in a Cessna 182, XB TEJ
    Near Mexico City.
    15 000: hours later
    13 000 in al kind of corporate jets from Learjets to a beautiful Falcon 900 ex. Easy

  • February 26, 1969 at a stage field near Ft. Wolters, TX in a US Army TH-55A helicopter. My IP was Donovan Harvey. Later, in September 1971 in a AA-1A at 3M Airport, Bristol, PA.

  • 3/21/69. Cessna 150. Parks-Bistate Airport IL. Still remember seeing/hearing the empty seat belt buckle on the right seat during TO roll.

  • 16 Jun 1960 in PA-18 Super Cub, 135 hp, N3999 in Clarksville, TX from the instructor’s ag strip after 5 hrs dual. I weighed 140 lbs and after my instructor got out I remember the ground run was really short. I’m fortunate to have had some great flying experiences and I am still flying and still enjoying it just as much.

  • 12/10/1966 at LK Elmo, MN in a $9.00 an hr. Cessna 150. Had to scrape together my pennies back then. Last flight in 2015. 🙁

  • February 1967, Creswell, OR in a J-3 operated by Piercy Cline; Instructor was Bob Morris. I picked beans all summer to make the $150 it took to solo. Also had to talk my Dad into taking lessons so I would have a ride to the airport; didn’t have a driver’s license.

  • November 27, 1964, in a 95 horsepower J-3 Cub from the Petersburg, Virginia airport with Noel “Pappy” Ellis, instructor. I weighed 115 pounds, so the Cub went up like an elevator. When I reached pattern altitude, I could look almost straight down and see Pappy standing on the runway. I now weigh 170 pounds and fly my 0-520 powered C-182 and Super Decathlon.

  • 1989 in a Cherokee 140. Training has been on a 30 year hiatus since then but will be starting again once I get my medical squared away. (Not as easy now that I’m 64, they’ve got me jumping through hoops.) Gee, can I do a second First Solo ??

      • Officially, 11/27/1954 in a Cessna 120 at a small gravel airstrip called Lakeair, no longer in existence, near Seattle. Actually, I had soloed three years earlier in a Aeronca 7AC at Shelton, WA (KSHN) off the logbook. But that is another story.

  • October 22, 1975 – Ohio University Airport, Albany, Ohio – Steve Scott, CFI for Ohio University – N900U – Cessna 150M – 9.7 hours – The advantage of a college program is that you fly every other day and you retain skills, resulting in your PPL in a college quarter. A structured program, good facilities, new aircraft, and competent instructors result in a solid progression.

  • October 9th, 1958, in a 1946 Aeronca Champ 7AC, at Abilene, KS Municipal Airport. Guy Pritchard was my instructor. Found out years later that I was one of his first two or three students. $4.00/hr wet and $7.00 dual. Just about a days pay back then for an hour of dual. I was 19 and had a total of 7.5 hours when I soloed. It was a gentler time…

  • First solo July 17, 1965
    Piper J3-C65, N35142
    At Joe Phillips Airport, Michigan City, Indiana
    Soloed by Joe Phillips himself!

  • Soloed March 16, 1962 in a Cessna 172, age 17 at Lee Bird Field, North Platte, NE., with 8 hours instruction. Instructor was my dad, Patrick Clinch. Flew until 1969. Got back into flying in 2010. Purchased a 1966 Cessna 172 in 2012. Still flying.

  • First solo in a fastback CE 150 N3058J at KSPI. Debbie Hutson was my CFI at Capitol Aviation. Three touch and goes. Runway 30.
    Debbie said to hold the mike so it just touched my upper lip She said to say, “Springfield Ground Cessna 3058 Juliette on Capitol ramp requesting taxi instructions.”
    Te controller came back with the numbers, this was before ATIS. He said, “Cessna 3058 JUNK taxi to runway 3 zero….”
    He knew the worn out old 150. To start you pulled a T handle to engage the starter.
    It was a lot of fun.
    Getting the CFI and ATP and a jet type rating was also a lot of fun work.

  • Soloed in July 1989 in a Cessna 152 at Fox Field in Lancaster, California. Took lessons at Barnes Aviation, founded by Pancho Barnes.

  • 1983, and it was a C152 – at Roxboro, NC. I learned to fly at Raleigh-Durham airport (Raleigh Flying Service), during the time it was a “Hub” for American Airlines. It was like learning how to drive on an LA freeway….I am not intimidated by large towered airports!

  • April 1973 on the morning of my 16th birthday at Wellington Kansas (KEGT). 3 TOs and Landings in a 1968 Cessna 150 and I had a new solo endorsement to go with the total of 4.3 hours of instruction in my shiny logbook. I tested my new priviledges by booking the 150 for later the same day sans instructor, and sure enough, they let me rent it 🙂

  • March,1955. In Piper J-3, after 7.5 hours, from Aretz Airport (now gone). Member of Black and Gold Flight Club, from Purdue.

  • It was in 1965 Oceanside, CA in a Piper Tri Pacer. About half way through my 4th one hour lesson my instructor who’s name was Bogie told me to taxi over by the hanger that there was something he needed to check on. As he exited the plane he said you go ahead and take it around the pattern by yourself your good to go. As I touched down for the third time he called on the radio and said I should stop showing off and come into the FBO. Suddenly the gal that worked the counter came at me with a big pair of scissors and removed the back of my new western shirt and proceeded to write my name and the date on it and hung it from the ceiling.

  • January 20, 1990- C152, Brampton Flying Club,
    Brampton, Ontario, Canada
    I remember the circuit was busy that afternoon and it seemed to take forever to get an opening to takeoff. As I flew downwind I resolved to forget that day.

  • After 28 years (albeit with some interruptions) of flying gliders I eventually switched to powered aircraft, thus my ‘first solo’ was perhaps not that impressive as when starting from point zero.
    Cessna 172
    1992
    Episcopy, Cyprus

  • 1982. Morristown Airport (NJ)/MMU. Cessna 152. Remember every aspect of the flight the wicked hangover that followed the next day. Incredible!

  • May 15 1970 Cessna 150 N22648 Pikeville Ky age 16/Had total engine failure on second climb out landed back at airport which was located in a very narrow valley.

  • September 1, 2001
    Piper Tomahawk N25915
    Watsonville, CA

    I had all intentions of soloing on my 16th birthday, but the winds and fog were not my friend. My instructor and I tried multiple airports in the area but it was no use, all our work and buildup could not match mother nature. I take a great lesson from that, one that should I ever get the point of instructing I will most certainly use, NEVER BUILDUP A SOLO OR CHECKRIDE DAY AS A COMMUNAL SPECIAL EVENT. Don’t get me wrong a first solo or a checkride is a very special day and one that should be celebrated but that celebration should be away from the airport and not a party that everyone is waiting on. If a solo happens on a 16th birthday great, that is fantastic, but a missed solo on a special day is devastating.
    I ended up soloing a few days later 9/1/2001, just 10 days before 9/11. On the day of my solo it was a Young Eagles day and at one point that day I was number 3 of 4 on final. Thankfully things calmed down a bit and I had a very memorable first solo. I came in a little fast but with the lighter airplane it really floated and then I bounced 3-4 times but I was having a hard time seeing in the bounce so I ended up “going around” (really it was more of a touch and go). The next approach was much more stabilized and I pretty well greased it on. I think the steam and pressure must have been almost visible when the instructor opened the door after that flight, but I must have had the biggest grin as well. A special day I will never forget.

  • First solo was in Corpus Christi Texas 11/28/1954 in a Cub coupe (J4). Dropped out of flying during college and didn’t get back into flying until1975 then dropped out in 1990. In Jan 2017 passed physical and am now flying a Cessna 172 and enjoying a lot of $100 hamburgers.

  • Sometime in Fall of 1969, still in USAF at Red Bluff, CA. Much more than living the childhood dream of getting to be near an airplane once in a while by actually flying one, by myself, yet. A 1968 C-150. Still more than the dream: 43 year career, owning up to 7 rental planes at a time, ATP-type in Learjet, 19 years in KingAirs. Now actually living the original dream: retired and doing airplane-nut stuff – http://www.thefriggin.com.

  • Summer of 1958 at age 16 after 6hrs & 15 minutes of instruction at Rome, GA.
    Checked out at 13 hrs in my Dad’s 1946 Funk B-85C ( I still have it and fly it regularly).
    Sold my Cessna 185 last year and am completing an RV-10 Kit.

  • 2006 at Atlanta PDK, GA in a fairly late-model AMD Alarus. Very few people know about this airplane (I searched this webpage and no one else mentioned it!) but it was a great two-seat trainer. I was the first student my newbie instructor had taken to solo (and later, to PPL) so it was a learning experience for both of us. I’ll never forget how nice the Tower folks were during the experience…they provided plenty of coaching and encouragement.

  • After scattering an hour in a Champ and 4 1/2 in a T-Craft from several “disinterested” G.I. Bill flt instructors over 7 1/2 months, total pay for my line boy job at Bolton, MA airport, whose demise went along with the tail end of the G.I. Bill flt training boom in the 50’s. Having just turned 16, Boss said, in essence, “solo or go home,” on Dec 5 1950, in Talorcraft BC-12D N5224 M. Terrified on taxi out, but euphoric upon making a nice landing. Spring ’52, PPL in a Champ on Skis, and finally obtaining my automobile license, now 17yrs, I bought an unloved 1938 J-2 Taylor Cub, unlicensed, for $150.
    Lots of charter flying, 900 plus hrs dual given, 7 1/2 yrs at 3 CAA/FAA control towers, led to just squeaking in under TWA’s max age of thirty for flt crew employment. 27 wonderful yrs in Connie’s, B-707’s, and retirement as Int’l Captain on the L-1011. Fast forward 62 yrs to June 23, 2012, for my last landing in another 1936 J-2 Cub, N16667. Turning 85 nx month, still an aviation junkie totally immersed in things with wings, 21,700 hrs in the books. Bob Trumpolt

    • Thank you for your contribution to the pilot community, Robert. Guys like you, the things you’ve seen, and the stories you can tell are irreplaceable in our little corner of the universe!

  • 1958, Brizee-Harmon Airport in Pittsford, NY. , Piper PA-11. 7 Years later the airport became a housing development.

  • Marvin Koursh

    June 6, 1948, J-3 Cub N35848, Holman Field, Downtown St. Paul Airport. No radios.
    Like many others, had no driver’s license and had to depend on others for transportation to and from the airport.

  • First flight was in 1943 in a Piper Pacer (on my father’s lap) at what would become Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County Airport. A little later, in 1956, I soloed an Aeronca 7AC at Jack Coates’ airstrip 3 1/2 miles West of Oberlin,Ohio.

  • Soloed in May of 1972 in a push-button-start Cessna 150 at the (long ago defunct) Shaw AFB Aero Club. One of my instructors had flown in WWII and my main instructor had flown early jets in the 50s and 60s. Spins were part of the syllabus back then and were tons of fun.

  • July 17, 1987 at Princeton NJ (39N). C152 N4717B, 15.6 hours in the log (141 school, Cessna Pilot Center curriculum…the old ‘Red Book’ that Jeppesen produced).

    Fast forward to today: 1800+ hrs, Commercial, CFI-IA, 800 dual given.

  • August 1988, I had just turned 18, in a Pegasus XL s.e. flexwing microlight, flying from a farmer’s field near the village of Worth, Kent, UK. I still remember turning downwind and flying over a train, realizing that while that train was heading in one direction I had the freedom to go anywhere I wanted, with the choices all mine to make. Every day I can fly is a day above all others.

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