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Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 21 July 2010 11:59 UK
A young pilot shares his experience of going solo at 17

Christopher Heasman
Christopher Heasman
Young solo pilot

Pilot and instructor
Time to go up... this time, alone

My decision to learn to fly came from nowhere - a birthday present that went a bit too far. It was either that or a certain parachute jump.

Since then, I've put in about an hour every two weeks and am, one day, hoping to get a career out of it.

That's not a bad outcome for a hobby.

Panic at 400ft

So it was on a late afternoon in May, a small, rather insignificant Cessna 152 landed at Newcastle airport.

It had completed its third and final circuit before it would have to carry a certain hapless pilot on his first solo flight.

Admittedly, prior to my first solo flight - in which my instructor assessed whether I was actually ready to make that progression into the world of solo flight - didn't go without fault.

More specifically, it was the door to the aircraft that swung open at about 400 feet, that prompted a flurry of panic and cries of "I have control, I have control!" from my poor instructor.

Disregarding that minor flaw, the rest of the flight went without a hitch.

My instructor, without warning, set the aircraft down just off the runway, gave me a few words of encouragement and duly ran off - presumably to enjoy a cup of coffee and watch, laughing, from the flying school clubhouse.

Flying gives life a very different perspective

So there I was - left alone in a small aeroplane just off the runway of an international airport, expected to take off, pilot, and land it with no help or support.

Understandably, I was somewhat nervous.

It did not help that I ended up waiting around 15 minutes to get clearance to take off.

But, once I did, those nerves wore off.

Everything I had been taught fitted into place and I understood why the first solo is the one flight no pilot ever forgets.


Learning to fly is unique.

At the least, it's a fantastic conversation starter.

It also offers a hugely exciting, stimulating, yet terrifying (as anyone who has attempted a crosswind landing will tell you) experience.

It may seem off-putting - indeed, if you're afraid of flying, this probably isn't the hobby for you.

The cost isn't exactly appealing either.

But the people you meet, the sense of accomplishment (especially after that first solo) you attain and the feeling you get from serenely flying an aeroplane over the sea on a pleasant day, makes it an experience like no other.



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