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Your First Solo and the FAA

Your first solo was the challenge of a lifetime, but was it legal?Your first solo was the challenge of a lifetime, but was it legal? On the day of your first solo, you want your complete attention to focus on the job at hand -- getting around the pattern safely while flying alone. That’s why you might miss some of the key ingredients that make your first solo a legal solo.

Problem: The anticipation and excitement that leads up to a first solo can make it easy to forget that there are a number of details that must be looked after before this epic flight begins. Sometimes, the documentation is not complete.

The Federal Aviation Regulations (61.87) provides a list for single-engine airplanes of some 33 different maneuvers, procedures, or knowledge areas among 15 categories that a student pilot must 'demonstrate satisfactory proficiency' in prior to solo. Each of these 33 items must be logged. Although it’s up for interpretation, I read it that each item must be written individually in the student's logbook before a first solo flight can take place.

From the FAA's point of view, if it is not documented – it never happened. Translation: If the 33 items have not been completed and documented, then you are breaking the law on your first solo flight ... not the best way to get started!

Solution: Use a good flight syllabus that complies with the regs. The following are the 15 categories (and all 33 items) required to solo. If you haven’t already soloed, check yourself with this list before you do.

  1. Proper preflight procedures, including preflight planning and preparation, powerplant operations, and aircraft systems;
  2. Taxiing or surface operations, including (engine) run-ps;
  3. Takeoffs and landings, including normal and crosswind;
  4. Straight and level flight, and turns in both directions;
  5. Climbs and climbing turns;
  6. Airport traffic pattern, including entry and departure procedures;
  7. Collision avoidance, windshear avoidance, and wake turbulence avoidance;
  8. Descents, with and without turns, using high and low drag configurations;
  9. Flight at various speeds from cruise to slow flight;
  10. Stall entries from various flight attitudes and power combinations with recovery initiated at the first indication of a stall and recovery from full stalls;
  11. Emergency procedures and equipment malfunctions;
  12. Ground reference maneuvers;
  13. Approaches to a landing area with simulated engine malfunctions;
  14. Slips to land; and
  15. Go-arounds (rejected landing)
If you have already soloed -- go back to your logbook and see if you had everything done. Was your first solo legal?

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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