J.K. takes us through what it feels like and the requirements to complete the first major milestone in a pilot’s career: The solo.
Any pilot’s first solo is a highlight moment in their careers, whether it be civilian or military. You can ask any aviator and they will probably be able to tell you the date, weather, tail number and what they were wearing on the day they slipped the surly bonds of earth for the first time by themselves. An honest pilot may tell you how scared he/she actually was.
As far as the USAF goes, a student must make it through the first two blocks of training (about 12 flights). Not every student makes it this far, but most do. The requirements to achieve an initial solo in the T-6 are safety-based. The student must be able to takeoff and land without breaking themselves (mentally) or the aircraft. Satisfactorily performing a simulated engine-out landing is also desired.
As a previous T-6 instructor, I wasn’t looking for ‘greaser’ landings, but the ability to call a go-around when things didn’t look so good (without my input). Additionally, I wanted the warm fuzzy feeling that the student wasn’t going to run themselves into another airplane.
When the big day finally happens, a student can look forward to a half-hour checkout flight to make sure their skills were up-to-par for the day. All that is required is 3 touch-and-go landings to safe level of performance. Once the half-hour checkout it over, the instructor and student taxi back to parking and the instructor hops out. Usually the instructor will give the student a little ‘pep talk’, which for me went something like this:
“Just do what you’ve done to make it this far, and make safe decisions. Don’t do anything dumb, dangerous or different. Also, if you crash and die it’s my a**. If you kill yourself, I’ll find you in the afterlife and punch you in the face.”
This speech has a 100% success rate thus far (knock on wood).
After the pep talk, the student is officially on his own. Most solos go by fairly uneventfully under the watchful eyes of a Runway Supervisory Unit, which is just a few instructors sitting in a mini-control tower whom monitor student takeoffs and landings, and intervene on the radio when necessary. The student can expect to solo for about a half-hour before they return to their humble beginnings on terra firma.
After landing, the student is usually chased, apprehended, then forcibly thrown in the ‘solo tank’ by their classmates. The tank is filled with 2-3 week old water which is almost always at an above or below average temperature.
It’s always better to solo in the summer! If a student manages to make it back to his flight room without being apprehended, he can count on his bros/bro-ettes providing him with a few cold beverages of his choice.
I’ve had five initial solos in five different airframes in my career: one in the civilian world and four in the military airframes I’ve flown. The two that I can remember most vividly are my initial civilian solo (thanks Rob!!) and my initial solo in pilot training (thanks Dave!!). My most recent initial solo was one for the photo albums, but it all started in the Cessna 172 and the T-6A!
Top photo: A Beechcraft T-6 Texan II Courtesy of jetwashaviationphotos.com