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Tales of the (shirt)tailsTales of the (shirt)tails

Your solo shirttail stories

Our recent mentions of aviation's shirttail-trimming tradition after a student's first solo flight (see "Preflight: The Shirttail Tradition," April 2005 AOPA Flight Training, and "Preflight: The Tradition Lives," June 2005 AOPA Flight Training) struck an appreciative chord with you, our readers. Here are some of your words and pictures, only a few of which could be published in the magazine.

A great tradition


"My flight school, Attitude Aviation at Lawrence County Airpark in Chesapeake, Ohio, is still mutilating innocent shirttails," said James Stacy. "I think it is a great tradition and I hope it is around for a long time to come.

"I enjoy walking into a flight school and seeing the shirttails pinned to the walls," he added. "My first solo was on October 24, 2004, and the shirttail is hanging on the wall in my CFI's office. The rest of the shirt was airbrushed, framed and giving to me as a Christmas present from my sister."

No better decoration for a flight school

Shirttails Shirttails Shirttails

Nan Funkhouser earned her pilot certificate in July 2004 at Gardner Flight School in Gardner, Kansas. Flight instructor Micki Shetterly "is an artist with a shirttail, as well as with an airplane," said Funkhouser, who was inspired by her dad to learn to fly at age 51 after seeing him fly a Stearman on his 80th birthday -- for the first time since 1942. "He was a World War II B-24 pilot in the South Pacific Theater who ended up with many flying medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross accompanied by a letter of commendation from Admiral Nimitz," she said. "His four children never knew of these accomplishments until the last 10 years.

"You can imagine how thrilling it was to wear my shirt with 'Bill's Daughter' on the front and half of the back missing. He immediately knew what I had accomplished when I turned around to show him, and I can tell you it was one thrilling moment!

"The reference to 'Chew' on my shirttail is in regard to the fact that I finally developed enough skill to be able to fly and chew gum at the same time." The airport office walls at Gardner are full of shirttails, she added. "I can't think of any better decor for a flight school."

The tradition lives on


Flight instructor Jerry Griggs soloed his daughter, Janice Griggs, and her best friend, Andrea Hattan, in the autumn of 2004. Each comes from a flying family. "Both girls soloed in my 1937 Aeronca K -- Andrea on October 20, 2004, which was on her sixteenth birthday, and Janice on October 19, about two weeks after her sixteenth birthday," he wrote. "As you can see, the shirttail cutting tradition is alive and well here. Both girls are thrilled to have soloed an old taildragger."

Griggs soloed the young ladies at Lake Waltanna Airport near Wichita, Kansas, a residential airport where he's lived since about 1991. "It is a grass, lighted runway with about a dozen airplanes based here. There are also about 60 houses. About 20 pilots live in the neighborhood."

"I soloed August 27, 1990, and still have my tails and I can recall to this day the feelings of accomplishment and exhilaration just by holding it in my hands," said CFI David Tenhundfeld, who teaches at The Flight School of Gwinnett in Atlanta. "My shirttail was very basic -- black Sharpie on a white T-shirt.

"I carry on this tradition as a CFI here. However, we have a very talented artist by the name of Rebecca Black who adds a lot of color and flair to the basic scribblings we artistically challenged CFIs come up with." Black personalizes each illustration, reflecting the airplane and runway used, as well as the weather of the day and other details. "I am enclosing some pictures of her art. Let's keep this tradition alive and well!"

An artist with shirttails

Shirttails Shirttails


High-tech cut-out

"Here are the shirttails that are currently decorating the walls of my small office," said David Robinson, a flight instructor for the Middle Tennessee State University flight program. "The top two are my normal, more traditional shirttails. The three on the bottom were sheared off of three of my students from this past fall."

He said that MTSU got a grant from NASA to train initial flight students, with no flight time whatsoever, in glass-cockpit trainers. "Their first flights ever were at the helm of a Diamond DA40 with the Garmin G-1000 system, of which we have five. The grant was part of the NASA SATS (small aircraft transportation system) project. In correlation with the NASA project, we also were given the green light by the FAA to train the students for a private/instrument certificate. These students then take one checkride to get a private certificate with instrument rating.

"That last semester I was really busy flying. It was a wonderful experience, but a little dilemma came about when they got to the point of soloing," Robinson continued. "All four of my students soloed within a week or two of each other. I was just too busy to decorate four t-shirts the way I like to do it. I like to make it personalized and look good so they will keep it and maybe frame it. I want it to be a memorial of one of the most memorable occasions in our pilot lives."

The solution came from a friend who makes his own t-shirts. "I asked him if it would be possible to print a picture on a cut-out t-shirt. He said it was not only possible, but easy. So one night we took some digital photographs that I had taken of my students' solo flights and ironed them onto their shirttails. I think it was fitting that we made a high-tech solution for my high-tech flight students. They loved them."


Proud pilot with a nice solo shirt

Mack J. Vaksman trained at Eagle One Aviation, located at Greene County Airport in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. "My solo shirt is really nice," he said. "I'm very proud to say that on January 31, 2005, I became certificated as a private pilot."



VIP witness

CFI Catherine Cavagnaro soloed her friend and student, Karen Singer, at Sewanee, Tennessee, last fall. "Our friend, Carolyn Williams, was kind enough to decorate Karen's shirt for us," Cavagnaro said. "Her solo was witnessed by her pilot husband, Mike Singer, and Bill Kershner."


A continuing reminder

Seth Levinstein, a CFI who resides in New York City, lost his shirttail when he soloed at Bayport Aerodrome on Long Island in May 1999.

"I had achieved my dream of solo flight and had made my three takeoffs and landings, each one getting easier. I taxied back as everyone watched outside the FBO. Shut her down and stepped out with a smile that didn't leave my face for hours. I felt like a star walking down the red carpet. There I was waiting for the pat on the back or the comfort of a big hug, yet I knew what was in store for me next -- the ceremonial snip. Scissors in hand, they pulled the back of my shirt and started cutting (thankfully not an expensive shirt). Mr. Frank D'Angelone, the owner of D'Angelone Aviation, wrote out those lovely words of accomplishment on that damp piece of cotton and pinned it on the wall with all the other Hall of Famers, where it stayed until I was eventually deemed a private pilot.

"I now work as an instructor at a major flight school where the tradition has been modified to a ceremonial ringing of a bell at the doorway. I always wanted the opportunity to pull a pair of scissors and cut a square of fabric from an unsuspecting student. To this day, I still carry my shirttail in my flight bag as a reminder to keep me humbled."