Solo celebrations

How many people do you know who took flying lessons but never made it to first solo? Probably a great many. Solo is the first major step in what is a often a long journey to becoming a pilot.

The folks at Sporty’s Academy, in Batavia, Ohio, recognize this, and go all-out when a client hits that all-important milestone.

The academy is an offshoot of Sporty’s Pilot Shop. Just as the retail side of the house supplies aspiring pilots with just about every training aide and pilot supply they need, the academy provides the training.

IMG_0643“We solo about 50 people a year,” noted Eric Radtke, president and chief instructor. He estimates they’ve soloed between 1,300 and 1,500 people since the academy began in 1987.

At Sporty’s, the first solo celebration goes far beyond the traditional dousing the student with a bucket of water and the cutting of the shirt tale. For example, there is a building-wide alarm that rings when someone solos for what Radtke describes as an “all hands on deck offer of congratulations at the completion of the solo for all available employees to join in the celebration.”

Photos of the pilot and instructor are taken and posted via online, while press releases are sent to the pilot’s hometown newspaper.

The pilot’s newly cut shirt tail is displayed for a week or so, then framed for the pilot to take home. In addition, the pilot gets a first solo certificate.

The first solo is a milestone, as it can take six months and 70 hours or more, to earn a private pilot certificate, Radtke said.

“The journey is filled with ups and downs before you’re able to begin enjoying the fruits of your labor,” he said. “Today, a more reasonable approach, and an approach more likely to result in success, is to take on the solo first and then utilize the recreational or sport pilot as the gateway certificate.”

Pilot candidates pursuing these licenses learn how to control the aircraft, master simple navigation techniques, and safely take off and land on a nice afternoon, he said. Once certified, they can show a friend their house from the air, look at the mountains, view the city, or cruise over a beach — in other words, experience the simple pleasures of flight that likely attracted most of us to aviation in the first place.

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  1. Steve says

    In my sort of “old school” style of flight instructing, I try to get students to solo within 10 hours. This has proved to be successful for 10 of my students in the past year; however, only two have completed their Private Pilot training. The problem I face is getting students to complete, particularly the knowledge test.

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