By Ryan Elliott
Many families share a love of aviation, and it has certainly been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, from tinkering with balsa hand-launch gliders to soloing in a Schleicher ASK 21 on my 14th birthday. Every pilot has their own aviation stories, and my first solo is one I will always remember, from nine months of training to a post-solo water dousing. Soloing, like everything worthwhile in life, requires effort and dedication.
In the words of German fighter ace Adolf Galland, “Flying is not just a sport or a job; flying is a true devotion and passion that fills a lifetime.” My flight training couldn’t have been put in better words. I spent nine months with dual instruction in a Mach 0.1 Glider Cockpit Simulator and in the glider I would solo. Most pilots wouldn’t use a sim for training, but instruction with its creator, CFI-Glider Russell Holtz, EAA 1084816, sure helped from a procedures standpoint. Spending winter in the sim was definitely helpful when I climbed back into the ASK 21 and had to do things like a pre takeoff check or radio call. The other half of my training was two weeks at Williams Soaring Center with another CFI-G in the glider I would solo, practicing everything from thermaling to rope breaks.
After nine months of training, the day finally came, and the stress hit me like a brick wall. I just couldn’t get my patterns right and was not performing like earlier. Who would’ve thought that a McDonald’s lunch could change everything? My dad (Sean Elliott, EAA 520528) and I went to get lunch, and all of a sudden the nerves retreated. I was flying like before and before long was nailing those patterns. I needed three good flights to solo, and I had three, but expected a fourth just to be safe. As I got into the glider for the fourth flight, I was all set when my instructor walked up, opened the rear canopy, and gave me the same old briefing of “give me a tow to three, release, enjoy, and I want a good pattern, okay?” “Okay.” Then my instructor closed the rear canopy, and off I went, on my own. I suppose I should have thought while up there of how great an accomplishment I was achieving, but that was the last thought in my mind. As soon as I got off tow the two thoughts in my mind were where is any traffic and where is my IP (initial point). I would save the celebration for the ground. And after landing, celebrate I did, getting congrats from everyone from the owners to the tow pilot. So what was it like to solo? Well, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life so far. I, of course, participated in all the standard traditions, from water dumping to shirt cutting. Soloing is something I will never forget and will always be proud of.