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The Student ExperienceThe Student Experience

What It's Like to Learn to FlyWhat It's Like to Learn to Fly

The Student Experience

What it’s like to learn to fly

Have you wondered what it’s like to learn to fly? For most of us it’s an enjoyable, emotional experience filled with challenges and plateaus. We joined Mark Wilkinson in a five-part look at his experiences in earning a private pilot certificate. If you don’t yet have a pilot certificate, we hope you’ll find this series to be inspirational; if you do, we think you’ll find it nostalgic. Each article addresses one of the five phases of flight training.

Pre-Solo Solo Maneuvers Cross Country Checkride

Struggling to solo

The quest for consistent landings

Alone at last

Reflections on a long-awaited first solo

Putting the basics to work

Stalls, steep turns, circles around an island

Long day’s journey

The unforgettable first solo cross-country

A dream realized

‘Congratulations, you’re a pilot’

The sun was dipping slowly beyond the horizon as I turned downwind for the fifty-eighth landing of my short flying career. At the midfield point, I radioed the tower asking for a full stop, which was promptly granted. Abeam the numbers the mental checklist went into action: ...
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It’s every pilot’s most memorable and challenging flight: the first solo. That dreaded yet eagerly anticipated moment when the trusted instructor pops open his door with the engine still running, jumps out, and sends you on your way with a pat on the back.
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Stalls. Early in my training the word itself carried enough power to make my knees shake with equal parts of fear and curious anticipation. On a discovery flight, three months before beginning training, I’d asked the instructor how a stall felt, and his response about the thrills and rushes of the maneuver enticed and worried me at the same time.
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Groton-New London Airport, spared from mountains of black cumulus clouds to the west, was revealed from the mist enveloping the Connecticut coast. The sight of the field slowly opening itself up to me, runway after runway — then taxiways, ramps, buildings, and the tower — was nothing short of majestic.
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The big day had finally arrived.
I sat nervously as I waited for the examiner, frantically reviewing V-speeds, procedures, and systems in my head. They seemed to mix together into one giant and confusing maelstrom that now prevented me from thinking at all.
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For more information on the pre-solo stage of your flight training, visit the Pre-Solo resources page. For more information on the solo stage of your flight training, visit the Solo resources page. For more information on the maneuvering stage of your flight training, visit the Maneuvers resources page. For more information on the cross country stage of your flight training, visit the Cross Country resources page. To prepare for your checkride, visit the Flight Test Preparation resources page.