Other times, we rise to become some of the finest ambassadors on Earth.
Such was the case May 15 at AOPA headquarters on the Frederick Municipal Airport in central Maryland. One of my students, Kristen Seaman, completed her first solo, and the tower controllers, pilots, and other flight instructors couldn’t have been better. Kristen included the magic words “initial solo” in her calls to the ground and tower controllers. The tower controller cleared her for takeoff, keeping an eye on her to make sure the Baron departing right behind her wouldn’t overtake the slower Cessna 172. When she greased her first landing, the controller enthusiastically congratulated her on a job well done. After two more landings, she taxied back for a celebration on AOPA’s ramp. A fellow instructor applauded as she taxied by, and a pilot who had heard the radio calls as he approached the airport stopped by to congratulate her after he tied down his aircraft. He commended her on joining an elite group of those who have soloed and encouraged her on the next steps in training and the rewards of becoming a private pilot.
I couldn’t have been prouder, well of my student, of course, but of the aviation community to see how many went out of their way to make her first solo even more enjoyable and memorable.
Just think, with that kind of community and encouragement from all pilots, instructors, and controllers—all the time—across the United States, it should be a cinch to make a dent in the student pilot dropout rate. We need to be careful, take a few deep breaths, and restrain ourselves when the curmudgeonly side tries to creep out, and go out of our way to be friendly to those trying to join the ranks of the 500,000-plus aviators in the U.S.