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Training Tip: Surveying solo safetyTraining Tip: Surveying solo safety

Student pilots’ solos and solo cross-country flights are the stuff memories are made of, but not always for the right reasons. 

Photo by Mike Fizer.

You can ensure that your solos produce only fond memories by avoiding a few common pitfalls of planning and execution.

  • Weather. Good weather, that is, weather well above visual flight rules minimums, is a no-brainer for soloing, but sometimes safety margins don’t get enough respect.  Haze, for example, is a famously fickle fair-weather phenomenon. When it’s present, respond quickly to any reduction of visibility below forecast values. As numerous soloing students have discovered en route, haze can thicken quickly, making navigation with reference to the surface difficult.
  • Judgment. Good judgment, like good weather, can’t be guaranteed, but it should be taught by example and demonstrated consistently before solo. When a student pilot rolled off the side of the runway after trying to complete a first solo landing rather than go around, the flight instructor who had authorized the flight noted in an Aviation Safety Reporting System report: “I as an instructor must be more vigilant to recognizing not just bad technique but bad judgement and attitudes that ultimately led to this accident.”
  • Aeronautical decision making. On an initial solo cross-country, a student pilot encountered unforecast low clouds ahead, then discovered that low clouds had also formed behind. Efforts to ascertain the aircraft’s position electronically proved futile. Having by then inadvertently penetrated Class B airspace, the student pilot wisely requested assistance from air traffic control for returning to the home base. This was the instructor’s ASRS reflection on the event: “Perhaps I should advise my student to turn around at the very first indication of low lying cloud cover to avoid this happening in the future.”
  • Fuel. Carry lots of fuel. Many problems a pilot may have to deal with unexpectedly—such as stronger headwinds, deviating for weather, or getting lost (known politely as becoming disoriented) take time to straighten out—and time in liquid form is called fuel. When a student pilot on a solo cross-country ran out of fuel and landed off-airport “within about six miles of home plate,” the authorizing instructor vowed to put added emphasis on “planning for contingencies.” The CFI also had a tip for how any student pilot or flight instructor can increase the safety margin of solo cross-country training flights: Be sure to call ahead to the destination to confirm fuel availability and hours of operation.
Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilot Training and Certification, Flight Instructor, Flight Training
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