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Thread: How long to solo for students

  1. #1

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    How long to solo for students

    A milestone for a student pilot is the day you solo. Why is that important, even if it is only a step along the path to being a private pilot, or sport pilot? Because it is concrete proof that you really can do this thing, its not a matter of anyone telling you that some day you'll be able to do it. If the plane takes off and flies around the pattern for 3 successful landing, and there's only one person in that plane, then they must be the pilot. Not a fully educated pilot or certified private pilot, but a person who actually flew the plane that day, and in normal situations is now going to be cleared to go on there own to practice again and maybe as nearby airports also. Things like cross country, imc, instrument navigation, night flying, congested class B airspace are then introduced as dual with the CFI, but the basic flying the airplane is learned. A lot of student pilots drop out of training, either lack of money or lack of confidence, etc,. a good solo helps reinforce the student.
    By the way Geoffrey Wellum, famous WWII ace writes of his first fighter solo when he was 18 years old and soon to go into combat, " A Spitfire has landed at Duxford with me inside of it, don't know much about that one."
    So how long to solo? I found an old issue of AOPA 2005, and it was 23% in 10 hours, 29% in by 15 hours and 21% in 20 and 25% over 20 hours.
    For me it was 12 hours to solo and 43 till the private check ride. I had enough time and money on my side, and was probably a B+ student for that point, made 98 on the written, had done spins, night flying,etc, but there was a lot I didn't know.
    Some CFIs try to wring ever last $ out of a student before solo, as if they had to be Bob Hoover to take a 172 around the pattern. They point out all the complicated airspace these days, Class B or TFRs ,etc. and GPS, etc, but it is a hollow claim for the most part, not much validity. A student pilot on their first solo is simply going to fly a few landings in a basic trainer like a 172 same as when I learned in the 70s, They are not going to land at LAX in fact its illegal for student to solo in Class B. The plane might be a little more complex these days, like a Diamondstar , but mostly not. They aren't soloing a T6.
    By the way AOPA, 20 years ago used to have real Pinch Hitter course, with real flying not just lectures and the students landed the planes on the 3nd day, not solo but only them on the controls. One lady even landed their Lear jet. You can imagine what that does for someones confidence and about 30% of students went on the be private pilots. Sadly some buereacreats stopped this feature of the program.
    Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 02-18-2019 at 09:40 AM.

  2. #2
    rwanttaja's Avatar
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    For me it was about ten hours to solo...but of course, the Earth spun faster back then. :-)

    IIRC, I had 72 hours when I went for my Private flight test...not (just) because I was slow, but because I had a lot of free flying hours coming. I soloed four months after my 16th birthday, and had about eight months to build time. Our CAP cadet squadron was located in the same town as the Wing headquarters, and senior members at work didn't want to do janitorial work. So they offered a free hour in the CAP Citabria for each week a cadet cleaned the headquarters. I had been doing the work for about two years, which gave me a hundred free flying hours. I'd received a 15-hour CAP flight scholarship to take me past solo (in a 150), then transitioned to the Citabria. With time, basically, free, and the airport just a 15-minute drive from school, I flew my [biblical beast of burden] off.

    The GOOD side of doing the janitorial work is that the Wing headquarters was located in the airport terminal, and the bathrooms weren't part of the CAP rooms. The BAD part was this was still in the smoking era, and I had to clean a lot of ash trays. The place had several which were basically just big sand buckets, which meant I had to use a spatula to sieve out the butts. Yuck.

    Eventually, turned the job over to another CAP buddy, and he built his hours as well. He's still working as a CFI/Charter pilot in Boise.

    Went into college a couple years later, and the college was just across the street from the airport. By that point, I'd gotten checked out in the O-1 Bird Dog (I think I was the only CAP Cadet ever to qualify in one) and no one else was flying it. So during breaks in classes, I'd dash across the street and take the Bird Dog out for a walk.

    BTW, the Citabria rented for $10/hour, and the Bird Dog for $13. Wet.

    Ron Wanttaja
    Last edited by rwanttaja; 02-18-2019 at 11:23 AM.

  3. #3

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    How long to solo? How long's a piece of string? Totally dependent on who you are. Your lifestyle, $resources, attitude, smarts, common sense, resourcefulness, hard flying skills, aptitude, health status, ability to understand and learn quickly, where you live, weather, time commitment, desire and how much flying for you is infectious. How you checkout against the foregoing will determine how quickly or how slowly you'll solo.

    I soloed in 8.9 hrs on my birthday. I always knew I was born to fly and love airplanes. My Private flight test was done with 40.9 hrs in the logbook.

    Some advice: At the start of your flight instruction, if you have all or most of the costs required and can devote at least 3 hours per week you will solo faster providing most of the other factors stated above are present.

  4. #4
    lnuss's Avatar
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    It took me about 9.5 hours (tach time in a Chief) to solo, never seeing pavement or an electrical system. I've had students solo in under 10 hours, but I've also had one that took over 30 hours. So it varies a LOT, depending on the student, how well the student and the CFI mesh, how often the student flies (more often == less time spent on review), as well as weather and other factors.

    Larry N.

  5. #5

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    I'm learning to fly at 31 while working a full-time job, my CFI suggested I was ready to solo on a windy day at 14 hours, but then the weather went bad, and my CFI took an airline job resulting in me not flying for 6 weeks and changing CFIs. I finally soloed at 20 hours.

    Now I am facing another week of bad weather @31 hours, but I am trying to do what I can to maintain momentum so I can sit my check ride next month.

  6. #6
    Mel's Avatar
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    I soloed in just under 10 hrs. in 1967. But the interesting thing is that on my "oral" part of the Private Pilot exam, the DPE asked me, "How many hours are required to take the Private Pilot check ride?" My answer was, of course, "40!". Then he asked, "How many hours do you have?" My answer, "40!" To which he replied, "Actually you don't have 40 hours. Someone made a mathematical error when adding up your time." My heart immediately hit the floor. He then asked, "Did you log your time coming over here this morning?" "No!" "How long did it take you?" "How much do I need?" "You need .3 hrs." "Yep, that's how long it took!" "That's what I figured. Let's go fly."
    Turned out to be a great day! I passed.
    Last edited by Mel; 02-19-2019 at 06:10 PM.

  7. #7

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    Nowadays I'm not instructing primary students but I have trained quite a few pilots. When people ask how long it takes to solo the answer starts with, "That depends". If the goal is to train someone to do three take offs and landings then for most it would only take a few hours, say 3 to 5 to be on the safe side. I would use a simple airplane like a Champ with no radios and only an airspeed indicator, altimeter and slip indicator at a local grass uncontrolled airstrip with little or no traffic. You wouldn't even need to train the student how to deal with emergencies. If anything happens, like a fire or engine failure, just turn toward the runway and land. Remember, the student will not leave the traffic pattern on the solo flight. Piece of cake. However, the goal in flight training is not to solo. The goal is to become a certified pilot. Most of the training takes place in planes like a Cessna 172 with a couple of radios, a transponder, lots of lights, and a 6 pack of flight instruments. The student must learn how to use all the equipment on the plane, deal with equipment failures and other emergencies, how to operate in and out of the airport environment as well as deal with ATC. That's why you see the first solo take place about the twelfth lesson in the training syllabus. If you keep your eye on the goal, becoming a certified pilot, then the first solo is just another step in the process at a point which will move the student along to the goal efficiently and safely.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by thisadviceisworthles View Post
    I'm learning to fly at 31 while working a full-time job, my CFI suggested I was ready to solo on a windy day at 14 hours, but then the weather went bad, and my CFI took an airline job resulting in me not flying for 6 weeks and changing CFIs. I finally soloed at 20 hours.

    Now I am facing another week of bad weather @31 hours, but I am trying to do what I can to maintain momentum so I can sit my check ride next month.
    Unfortunately all this is pretty typical during flight training. That's why the average student takes something like 60 hours to get a PP certificate rather than the 40 hours required by the FAR. Stick with it, keep your eye on the goal and you'll get there.

  9. #9

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    Tralika, I may have not mastered that complex Cessna, but believe it or not, when I soloed, a few decades back, old Ben Franklin had already done his experiment with electricity in the lightning storm, along with Edison and a few others and electricity. was not unknown. In fact the Cherokee 140 that I soloed in had a radio, a transponder, and lights as well as at least 6 instruments plus adf and vor just like the Cessna you may be used to. And I was able to take it around the pattern 3 times and land just as I had already done dozens of times before with the instructor in the plane. It wasn't any different with him standing beside the tower than sitting beside me in the seat. As for emergencies, well I had the same number as when dual which was none, and as for dealing with ATC, again I just called the tower same as all the previous flights. I took my private test after 43 hours, and that included flith into what now is class B, (TCA) as well as night flying and spin training. I cant imagine what else a student would need to spend an additional 40% more hours training to take a simple flight test which is only going to cover things you have already done dual with your CFI.

  10. #10
    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    I always tell people what does it matter? Nobody cares how much pre-solo dual you had in the long run.
    I don't even know the number in my case. OK, I just dug my first log book out... looks like 12.6 hours before the lesson I solo'd and probably a little in that because the lesson is like 1.6 and the solo time is only .7.

    All I can remember is dumping the instructor out on the taxiway with instructions for three full stops. That and the tower calling me as I was turning crosswind and asking "Doesn't it fly a lot better without that fat guy in the right seat?"

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