First solo: Chris Norton

We recently asked pilots on our Facebook page to share the story of their first solos. Here’s Chris Norton’s story: Just like all the rest of you that soloed and lived to tell the tale, mine was one of the days I will remember for the rest of my life — which is slightly disturbing because they say you really remember things that are shocking or traumatizing.

I had been called the “Golden Child” of flight instruction since I was practically born in airplanes and grew up with a mother who was an A&P and a dad who was a corporate pilot. After just over 10 hours of instruction, for reasons unknown my instructor decided that I was going to solo. I had my “Bite Me” T-shirt on, I was bulletproof and raring to go…that is until he lovingly said “It was nice knowing you….give me three touch and goes” and shut the door on me.

Confidence was lost, nervousness set in, and I taxied my Cessna 172 out to the runway and stopped for my mag check. This task was much more difficult than in previous flights because my knees were shaking and it was difficult to hold the brakes. I managed to check the mags and go through the rest of the checklist, and I was ready to go. I called the tower for clearance and got “N737WQ cleared for takeoff runway 31, fly runway heading, we will call your crosswind…” Perfect timing, as most things go, a flight of F-16s was returning to the airport right as I was taking off.

But I had a great takeoff despite the shaking knees and nerves, followed everything I was taught holding speeds and flying the runway heading. I climbed to pattern altitude and leveled off, adjusted power settings, and waited for my crosswind call…and waited…and waited. Finally I was cleared for crosswind, turned, then made my downwind turn for the pattern and at this point couldn’t see the airport any longer. After an eternity (probably a minute or so) of flying a reverse course I finally had the airport in sight again.

Later I found out my instructor didn’t have a radio and was slightly concerned that I took off and flew out of sight. A call to the tower eased his mind to find out that, yes, I knew the touch and goes were to be done at THIS airport.

Finally I had three wonderful landings, I taxied back to the FBO and got out and kissed the ground! I had never had an accomplishment that I was as proud of as taking flight by myself. I had suffered with motion sickness my whole life, and I was finally signed off to be a pilot.

If you ever don’t think you can finish your license, stick with it, because when you do finish I promise it will be worth it. Now I am a 500-hour private pilot with SEL/MEL ratings. I fly on beautiful days when I want to, and I will remember that day forever.

Chris Norton, Springfield, Ill.

 Want to tell the story of your first solo? Send it to, put First solo in the subject line.

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