How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

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How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby RigaRunner » Wed Jan 25, 2012 7:57 pm

I was struck the other night when, at a dinner, a number of fifty- and sixty-year-old pilots happened to mention that they did their first solo at seven hours, or nine hours.

As for me, I solo-ed about five years ago at about 30 hours. I don't know any pilot who got their license in the last five years who solo-ed in less than 20 hours.

So the question: Has something changed? Is flying more difficult than it used to be?

Then I read a recent article about the "barefoot bandit" in the Los Angeles Times, where he reminded readers how he flew airplanes with no training at all. And he flew them at night, in clouds, and for long distances. Now, to be sure, he did not always land them well, but he seemed to display quite a bit of flying skill for someone who never had a single lesson from a flight school.

I simply put this question forward as a topic for the podcast: are we demanding too much of student pilots? Could we get more pilots in the air and flying in less time? Are flight schools over-training? Has the American penchant for safety and perfection beyond reason pushed us beyond what is really necessary?

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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby Sven » Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:32 pm

I have no way to back this up, but I've heard that it takes older pilots longer to solo than younger pilots. At my airport, I see a lot of over 30's taking lessons and very few younger pilots. Maybe that has something to do with it? Flying has become so expensive that maybe it's harder for younger folks to get into flying. Just a theory.

I ran into Ken Griffey Jr. in the Jeppesen tent at Sploshkosh in 2010. He talked about the crazy high number of hours he had before soloing. He may have not even soloed by then. I can't remember. I might make a fool of myself but I think it was over 100 hours. He may also have been joking. We don't hang out much together so I didn't know if he was kidding or not. But I remember thinking, "Either you're joking, your really bad, or you don't care how long it takes." I soloed in 7.1 hours when I was 18. Renting a 152 was $17 an hour.

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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby champguy » Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:35 am

A long time ago, we were young and foolish, flew simple docile planes, and thought a little risk was all part of the fun.
We are older now, the planes are faster, more complicated, and stall more suddenly. Hitting the ground hurts. It took me a long time to solo, and I don't want to bend an airplane, or bruise my bones.
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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby PropFan » Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:32 pm

That was then; this is now. It seems that the paths to solo and to the private pilot license have been pretty well standardized for several decades. I cannot think of anything in that standard curriculum that I would want to cull out in order to solo or to get my private pilot certificate any sooner. I certainly did not feel over-qualified when I soloed or when the DPE signed my logbook. The bell curve puts solo at about 15-20 hours, and the private pilot check ride at 60-65 hours. I soloed at 17 hours and could have soloed a little sooner but for uncooperative winds. Passed my check ride at 65 hours, again following some uncooperative weather. So, like so much else in my life, I appear to be average. Everyone's mileage varies, though, so no worries. (And, yes, at 57 I do have to admit with great reluctance that I am a little slower on the uptake than I used to be.)

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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby plutocrat03 » Fri Jan 27, 2012 9:36 pm

Back in the day, I soloed in 8 hrs, PPL in 40.5 (30 hrs in one month), cross countries with dual VORs. Huge advantage to fly nearly daily for a month.

I don't get what is more complicated these days. The PPL does not require anything else now than before.

I would consider that the increased costs are stretching the time between training flights has a lot to do with extended training hours.

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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby squawk7500 » Mon Feb 06, 2012 5:59 pm

I got my license in 2008. I soloed in the fall of 2007 after 4 or 5 hours. I recieved my PPL at 35 hours. I attribute much of this to my thirst for aviation knowledge and the correct application of Microsoft Flight sim. On my first flight I landed the airplane with my instructor hovering the controls (as he wasn't what to make of me).

I also got my license in the course of about 6 months in 35 hours - so it wasn't as though I was flying regularly...especially during the winter months in Muskegon Michigan.
Last edited by squawk7500 on Tue May 01, 2012 3:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby Keys » Mon Feb 06, 2012 9:49 pm

I just had to chime in on this one. I began instruction in October of 1964 and soloed after 12 hours. Four months later, on Feb 18, 1965, I got my PPL at 44 hours. Now things were a bit different then. Flying was the easy part, but the darn written was the problem for me. Also, the wind was an issue in the heart of Kansas, and instructors seemed to work a little longer until a calm day coincided with a lesson before a student got to solo.

What were some of the differences then?
1. Some airplanes were without an AI or a DGs
2. One radio and one VOR if you were lucky. Does a VHT-3 ring a bell to anyone?
3. No GPS
4. No tower - we made a long cross country to a towered field for that experience.
5. No night requirements
6. The FAR manual that was less than .25" thick
7. To take the written examination, the student had to make an appointment at the local Flight Service Station. No computer, it was all out of a book with copies of charts to look at. I don't think John and Martha were teaching their schools yet at that time either. After the test, there was about two-weeks before the score came back from the FAA. To me the written was the most frustrating part of aviation, and I didn't think I would ever get my license because of it.

Years later, I worked up to my commercial, Instrument, and multi-engine. And last year, I took out some savings and got my CFI. Now, I am working on my MEI and II.

Some of the students are older now and some of the instructors are younger than the seasoned instructor that I had. Most of the planes today are faster and more complicated with glass panels than the ones that I learned in. I think it does take longer to learn all of the bells and whistles of the plane equipped with a glass panel, but even at my age they seem very intuitive. Concerning stalls; however, I have flow a lot of aircraft over the years, and while aircraft have different stall characteristics, I would not say they stall more suddenly today. Whether I am flying a Cessna 140 or a twin engine Baron, there is still the light feeling and mushiness of the controls and the beginning of a buffet before the stall. Maybe it is that we don't spend enough time teaching slow flight and the ability to recognize the onset of a stall. We should be able to feel the stall approaching from what the aircraft is telling us without a light or horn to warn us.

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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby koehn » Tue May 01, 2012 1:39 pm

It's still possible, but as Higdon mentioned on the podcast you need to fly often. I did my PPL in 40 hours (solo in 14) in 2010 and just finished my instrument rating in 40 hours. I'm not a great stick (instructors have told me that I'm about average), but I spend a lot of time studying the books and analyzing my performance so that I know what to do better the next time I fly.

The thing that helped me the most in my PPL was recording the cockpit audio and reviewing it after the flight. Half the stuff my instructor told me didn't sink in because I was so task saturated.

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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby pbuckner » Thu May 03, 2012 9:14 pm

One other factor to consider is your home airport. I got my PPL at KOAK (class C) where we need to fly 30+ minutes each way just to get to the practice area. That gave me lots of hours traversing the San Francisco Bay prior to doing stalls or turns-around-a-point. Learning on a small strip in Nebraska would have been faster (and cheaper), though I got lots of Class Bravo and radio practice!

My grandfather, on the other hand, soloed in 4 hours @ Key West in 1918.


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Re: How long to solo? How long to PP/SEL?

Postby bruceh » Sat May 05, 2012 12:44 am

I haven't flown in about 21 years (ironically the same amount of years as my oldest kid). I found my log book and after dusting it off it shows that I solo'ed at 17 hours and got the PPL at 44 hours. This was at Long Beach, CA which is a rather busy airport in the LA basin.
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