Proud papa watches son's first solo

July 3, 2008

The day I soloed in a 1979 Cessna 172N was a once in a lifetime personal event not to be forgotten.

It was a hot and humid Texas day on July 29, 1980. My instructor and I were practicing landings; after the third landing, we taxied out to the end of the runway. My instructor got out, and I sped off. No big deal, I thought, I’d just taxi, take off, and do exactly what I had been doing before. Still, no big deal.

When I became airborne, I reached down to roll in some trim and realized there was no instructor’s arm to hit. I took a few seconds before looking over to my right and finally realizing my instructor wasn’t there. It struck me like a hammer—I was alone. “What did I get myself into?” seemed to be my only thought. Despite the South Texas weather, and the sweat pouring off me, I managed to solo each of the three landings well.

I will never forget this moment...or the next one that occurred 26 years later.

Reverse everything. Make the backdrop a wet, cloudy, and cool western Kentucky day. Make it my 16-year-old son in the left seat, and put him in the last of his touch and goes. My son’s instructor got out of the plane and walked off the runway. No big deal. I watched my son taxi and take off, just the same as he’d been doing before. Still, no big deal. Once airborne, however, that hammer from 26 years ago snuck up behind me: He was all alone, nothing I could do as a parent, a guardian, a protector could help him. It was all up to him.

Three solo landings later, I was proud to stand there in the wet Kentucky rain and watch my son partake in one of his major lifetime events. And it’s one I’ll never forget.

Mike Sanders, AOPA 785485, lives in Grand Rivers, Ky.