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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Close to solo!

I've got an accelerated individual I've been working with recently. He's from out of state and had to leave for a little bit to take care of things on the home front, but he's returning soon. I put together a list for him of what we've got left to do so he can have a good idea of how much longer he'll need to be up here with us, and then I realized that this makes a good post on what the near-solo, solo, and post-solo process looks like for a sport pilot. (The requirements for a private pilot are considerably more, and I'll go into more detail on them in the future. However, the private pilot candidate will have to do all this and more, so this will still make for productive reading for you.) I plan to devote an entire post (or several) just to the solo when I have more time.

So far, we've covered everything required in 61.87(c) and (d) and just started on getting the hang of takeoffs and landings when he had to leave. At this point, here is what is left:

Ground (.5 hours): Pre-solo aeronautical knowledge quiz
Once you take this, I will grade it and we will go over any answers you missed or any questions you have about it. (This isn't really a pass/fail type of quiz; its purpose is more to ensure that you have a basic level of knowledge necessary to safely putter around the pattern.) Then you will receive the first of 3 total endorsements you'll need before you solo. This one will be AC 61-65E #11. (You don't have to know what AC 61-65E is all about; you just need to know that you'll need an endorsement saying you passed the pre-solo quiz. Your instructor gets to deal with all the mumbo-jumbo involved.)

Dual (4-5 hours): Landings 
Once you give me 3-4 good, safe takeoffs and landings without me touching the controls, we move on to your solo. It could take less than 4 hours, or it could take more than 5. It all depends on your performance now. You will learn 3x as quickly once you're practicing solo, so I will sign you off the minute I think you're ready, but not a moment before you're safe enough. As I like to say, "My job is to put myself out of a job as quickly as possible." I make my money by producing good pilots who spread good words about me (thereby bringing me more business), not by milking the process out unnecessarily. I make more money with 25 satisfied students for 25 hours than with 10 disgruntled students for 50 hours, so what saves you money benefits me as well.

Ground (0 hours): Solo sign-off
You will get 2 more endorsements: AC 61-65E #12 and 13. These say that (1) we went over everything we were required to and (2) you've got the skills required to fly this little bird around the pattern without me.

Solo (0.5 hours): First solo! 
Three times around the pattern, taxi back and takeoff each time. I will be standing in the pilot's lounge watching. (The lounge at our airport has a good view of the runway.) I'll have a radio transmitter, but I'll only use it to say "good job" after each landing. In other words, it's all up to you! This will be a day you'll never, ever forget. I describe it as an absolutely unique blend of sheer exhilaration mixed with sheer terror: "Holy crap, I'm doing this all by myself (YAY!), but holy crap, I'm doing this all by myself (OMG!)" After shutdown, we take your picture and put it up on our Wall of Fame.

Solo (1 hour): Second solo 
Six times around the pattern, exiting the pattern and re-entering pattern every other one. I'll be watching from the lounge again.

Dual (1 hour): Practice area checkout 
Land at Sandusky (KSKY), Norwalk (5A1), and Wakeman (I64).

Ground (0.5 hours): PTS and sign-off
Practical Test Standards introduction and overview. You'll get endorsement #15, which permits you to land at the three additional airports you just went to, and which is why I had to take up space in the right seat right after you just soloed. The reason I waited until after you soloed to do this is because once you've soloed, I'm just along to be sure you can find the airports and to let you know about their particular quirks. Since you've soloed, you have shown that you should be able to enter the pattern and land without my assistance.

Solo (3 hours over two flights): Start teaching yourself
Practice maneuvers in practice area, fly some VFR-modified B patterns, but don't forget to enjoy flying around a little bit just for the fun of it—you've earned it! This is when learning to fly starts getting enjoyable. The flights up to this point have generally been fun more or less (after all, a bad day flying still beats a good day of anything else) but they've still just been in-flight homework assignments. Now the fun really begins! Until now, it has probably seemed like every time you started getting a handle on one thing, I throw another monkey in the wrench. However, at this point I'm running low on monkeys, so you're in control of your own destiny. You control the pace now. The more effort you put in, the sooner you'll get done, but you no longer have me watching over you and deciding for you what we're going to do that particular flight. Welcome to the first few steps of the rest of your flying life!

Ground (1 hour): Dual cross-country planning
Call (800) WX-BRIEF for a weather briefing, plan 2-hour cross-country flight we've already picked out. I leave it up to the individual to decide where they want to go. After all, it's their training, so they should get to see whatever it is they want to see.

Dual (3 hours): Dual X-C
Now fly what you just planned with me.

On your own time:
Plan solo cross-country flight. I usually use KLPR to KMNN to KVNW to KLPR for the initial solo X-C and then do something the pilot candidate wants to do if additional X-Cs are needed. (For the sport pilot, they're not; for the private pilot, they are.) KMNN has two runways, one 4000 and the other 5000 feet, so the pilot should have little problem picking a direction to land, and KVNW usually has very little traffic, is 4000 feet long, and has exactly one taxiway, making it practically impossible to get lost on.

Ground (1 hour): Solo cross-country planning review
I'll review your flight planning (remember, you planned this one yourself without me around), then you'll call Flight Service for weather. You'll then receive endorsements #16 and 17 if the weather is good enough to fly it. The first endorsement says I've shown you how to plan a cross-country and the second says I've reviewed your planning and it will get you there and back if you fly what you've planned.

Solo (2.5 hours): Solo X-C
Now fly it without me! Stop at each airport, taxi to the ramp, get out, walk around, relax and take in the scenery at the new airport for a bit, then proceed to the next airport and do it all over again. There's no rush—we allotted 5 hours for a 2.5 hour trip just so you can enjoy this day! Both of these airports are uncrowded and simple, so you will have no problem finding a place to park the plane and won't get lost getting to the ramp. My favorite flight ever was my first solo cross-country, so have fun getting somewhere you've never been before!

Solo (as necessary): Prepare for checkride 
Practice each maneuver until you can do each one twice as good as the PTS requires. For example, if the PTS says your altitude tolerances for a maneuver are within +/- 100 feet, practice until you can get it between +/- 50 feet. This gives you room for the typical "checkride cranial carb ice".

Ground (2-3 hours): Oral examination preparation

Dual (1.5 hours): Checkride readiness evaluation flight with me
You'll fly a mock checkride. I'll pretend I'm the examiner and have you do what he'll have you do. If you do well, this will be the last time you'll ever have to fly with me. If not, we'll try again. The FAA keeps track of how many students pass from each instructor (they know who it is because I have to sign your application), and they don't look kindly upon instructors whose students have a tendency of not doing well. Therefore, I won't push you on to the next step until I'm confident you'll do well for both of our sakes. Besides, even if you do need another ride with me, it will still cost you much less than having to take a second checkride.

Ground (1-2 hours): Oral examination preparation

Dual (1.5 hours): Checkride readiness evaluation flight with our Chief Instructor
He'll be even harder on you than the examiner will be, so if he says you're ready, you're definitely ready and the checkride will be anti-climactic. I like having him go up with a pilot candidate because it's good to have a second set of eyes to catch anything and keep me on my toes. Going up for an extra ride with him costs less than half of what a busted checkride would, so once again, we're trying to save you money.

Ground (1-2 hours): Review for oral examination 
We'll brush up on any weak spots in your knowledge and address any final questions you may have. You'll receive endorsement #26, which is your authorization to take the checkride. You'll then fill out your 8710 (your application for a certificate) on IACRA, the FAA's Internet-based form website. I'll review it, electronically sign it, and then you're ready for the big day.

Checkride! (1-3 hours oral, 1-1.5 hours flight is typical)
When you pass, your temporary certificate is printed right on the spot and you can begin flying immediately with all the privileges and responsibilities your new license confers. Go treat yourself to a victory flight!

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