There’s a lot to learn before you fly an airplane by yourself for the first time. Every student pilot has questions. Here are answers to those most frequently asked.
- What does the term solo mean, and what is the significance of soloing?
- Where can I find the requirements that must be met before I can solo?
- Does everyone have to take a pre-solo written test?
- How will I know when I'm ready to solo?
- Are there any tips or suggestions I can use to help me prepare for my first solo?
What does the term solo mean, and what is the significance of soloing?
From a legal standpoint, Federal Aviation Regulation 61.87 says that the term "solo flight as used in this subpart means that flight time during which a student pilot is the sole occupant of the aircraft." A common industry definition says "solo is any flight time during which the pilot is the only occupant on board;" the difference is that the regulation specifies student but the term really applies to any certificated pilot. Definitions aside, your first solo flight is an important milestone in your training and a moment worthy of celebration. It's an experience you'll always remember as among the coolest things you've ever done.
Where can I find the requirements that must be met before I can solo?
There are many different flight maneuvers, 15 in all, that you must be able to perform competently before you can solo. Some of these basic maneuvers are stalls, steep turns, and slow flight. Your instructor must maintain a record that documents that these training maneuvers have been accomplished. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 61.87 includes a list of these maneuvers. You must be at least 16 years of age (you'll have to be 17 before you can earn a private pilot certificate). You must pass a medical exam and receive a student pilot/third class medical certificate from an aviation medical examiner. And you must pass a pre-solo written test (see below).
Does everyone have to take a pre-solo written test?
Yes. It is a requirement under the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR 61.87) to take a pre-solo written exam. Before soloing, a student must demonstrate that they understand the regulatory and operational information that is pertinent to the solo phase of their flight training. This test helps assure this by addressing information appropriate to the solo flight, including regulations, local airspace, procedures, and aircraft operations and limitations. The instructor is responsible for administering the test and reviewing incorrect answers with the student.
How will I know when I'm ready to solo?
As the final prerequisite, a student pilot and the certificated flight instructor must come together in a meeting of the minds. When the moment comes, trust your newly acquired skills, your judgment, and the judgment of your instructor. Remember that your instructor will know when you are ready, even if you are not sure. Draw on your training — and welcome to the community of flight!
Are there any tips or suggestions I can use to help me prepare for my first solo?
Yes, there are. There will be some anxiety and nervousness prior to your first solo. Your instructor will let you solo once you consistently demonstrate that you are ready. Just prior to solo, most instructors will silently observe your performance and decision-making during the flight. This “simulated” solo will give you an idea of what it will be like in the cockpit without constant instructor input. Take advantage of these flights to test your own decision-making skills. Here is an article with some points to remember before you take your first solo flight.