May 31, 2018

One of the defining moments in most pilots’ lives, one they will never forget is their first solo flight. No matter what type of aircraft you are training in the very first solo is a rewarding and exhilarating experience.

Learning to fly might be a weekend hobby, intended career path or just something you have always wanted to do, whatever your reason, it is a skill that requires professional training and hands-on practice – lots of practice. Being in full control of an aircraft comes with a great level of responsibility and it is important to get it right.

What Is The First Solo?

Man In Solo AircraftThe first solo flight is an integral part of the training required for a Private Pilots Licence (PPL) in New Zealand. The first solo flight will consist of the pilot successfully completing take-off, a circuit pattern and a safe landing, without anyone else in the aircraft, in other words with no instructor on board.

Most pilots in training will reach the fly-solo portion of the PPL training within approximately 10 to 15 hours flight time. (For the purposes of this article we will focus on fixed wing aircraft training, however the process is very similar for helicopter flight training).

What Are The Requirements For Going Solo?

The legal requirements for flying solo are standard across New Zealand, they include the following;

  • You must be at least 16 years of age and hold a class 2 Medical Certificate.
  • You must have completed between 15 – 30 hours of dual flight training (with a qualified instructor).
  • You must also be proficient in speaking, reading and understanding the English language.

What To Expect

Sport Pilot Flying PlaneDuring initial flight training which will include straight and level flight, circuits, climbing and descending, takeoffs and landings your flight instructor will assess the level of skill and eventually decide when you are ready to attempt your first solo.

The first solo flight will require you to pilot the aircraft on your own, completing a full circuit. The instructor will usually do a few circuits with you prior to sending you up on your own to ensure the conditions are favourable, and you are comfortable in the aircraft on the day.

Be aware the aircraft will be slightly lighter than when you fly with an instructor, this may mean increased performance overall, meaning you are likely to take off faster, climb more rapidly and even require adjustments upon landing due to the difference in weight.

Before attempting your first solo flight your instructor will make sure you are fully prepared, including providing a full pre-flight briefing. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – these mistakes will help you learn to make decisions and take control of the situation.

Top Tips For Your First Solo Flight

  • Don’t panic! Your instructor would not send you up on your own if they didn’t think you were ready.
  • Tell the tower this is your first solo, they are likely to be more helpful and patient.
  • Be prepared, if you don’t think you are ready or there is something wrong on the day, if you aren’t feeling the best, don’t be afraid to postpone.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to ‘go-round’, all pilots will have landings where it is best practice to go-around and try again, it is always better to put safety first and get the approach right.
  • And remember a good pilot knows his aircraft, its limitations and how to handle its malfunctions.

Flight Training In New Zealand

Man In Aircraft CockpitIn New Zealand your PPL requires a minimum of 50 hours total flight time, this time consists of three main components; Dual flight training with an instructor, Solo flight training where you pilot the aircraft alone and Advanced Dual flight training with an instructor present (covering things like Instrument and Cross Country flight time, terrain awareness and more advanced handling skills). Pilots will complete at least 30 hours with an instructor on board and at least 15 hours flying solo.

In addition to the flight time, completing a PPL in NZ also  requires some theory components. A pass of at least 70% in the following papers is needed.

  • Aviation Law. Learning about Civil Aviation Rules and regulations in New Zealand.
  • Meteorology. How to interpret aviation weather reports and understand NZ’s weather patterns, cloud formations and weather conditions and their effect on the aircraft’s performance.
  • Aircraft Technical Knowledge. Learning about aircraft aerodynamics, electrical systems, engines, and flight instruments.
  • Navigation. How to use aeronautical maps and calculate flight times and fuel requirements.
  • Human Factors. Decision making skills, health and judgement calls.
  • Flight Radio (FRTO Rating). Learning the radio language used to communicate with the tower and other pilots.

An oral English exam may also be required if English is not your first language.

What Comes Next?

Once you have successfully completed your PPL you have the ability to take passengers with you on flights, you can book, plan and complete flights around New Zealand and get further ratings in different aircraft.

For those wishing to continue their flight training and make a career out of it, the next step is commercial pilot training towards a Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL). See here for more information on becoming a commercial pilot in New Zealand.

Interested in learning to fly? Want to sit your PPL or learn more about flying solo? The team at Southern Wings offer professional flight training for a wide range of both New Zealand and international students from their two handy locations in Auckland and Invercargill.

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