The February “Since You Asked” poll: 55 hours, no solo

Whenever I hear about people who log 30 or more hours just to get to solo, it hurts my heart a little. Flying isn’t cheap, and the more time that Hobbs meter racks up, the more a student must be looking at his or her bank balance and starting to wonder, Why am I doing this again?

Rod Machado has noted a trend in which student solos seem to be taking longer, and it’s not always attributable to the usual reasons. In his February 2013 “Since You Asked” (“Forever to Solo”), a student pilot whose frustration practically leaks out onto the page asked for advice.

 He had 55 hours (the previous 30 to 40 had been spent in the traffic pattern). He said his landings were “pretty much always the same.” He said he tended to flare a bit low, but had never had any landings that were dangerous. “Whenever I mention the fact that I have an excessive amount of presolo hours and I am running out of money to any of the CFIs, my concerns are immediately dismissed. I’ve been told that counting hours is bad and that everyone learns at their own pace. If I press the issue, the CFIs usually get mad.” He walked away from the flight school and wondered if he’d done the right thing.

We asked digital subscribers to put themselves in this student’s shoes. What would you have done?

  • 51 percent would talk to the chief flight instructor.
  • 31 percent would ask another CFI to fly with them and get his or her opinion on their landings.
  • 13 percent would do as the student eventually did—walk away and find another flight school.
  • 4 percent would have done something else entirely.

Of course, we’re only hearing the student’s side, and Rod knows that. In his response, he proposed several possible explanations for why this student has spent such a long time in the pattern, and number one was “[Y]ou might be the problem.”

Assuming there was nothing wrong with the student’s ability to learn at a normal pace, Rod also threw out some other possiblities: The CFI didn’t know how to teach him how to land; or the CFI didn’t know it’s possible to solo someone with normal landing skills in a simple airplane in under 20 hours of flight time; or the CFI doesn’t understand the purpose of the solo.

What would you have done? If this was your experience in private pilot or sport pilot training, what did you do?—Jill W. Tallman

“Since You Asked” polls appear monthly in the digital edition of Flight Training. If you’d like to switch your magazine from paper to digital at no additional charge, go here or call Member Services 800-USA-AOPA weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.

  • Byron

    Soloing for me was a huge confidence booster in my flight training. I think waiting this long is killing anyone’s future as a pilot. Is the CFI milking this person and putting money in the bank? Is there a limit where you just tell someone maybe flying isn’t for them if they haven’t solod yet?

  • Jim K

    I had a similar experience. In my case the lessons were when it was generally windy (afternoons to fit CFI schedule) but twice I had days with calm winds – once he didn’t show (miscomunication) and the second he showed too late to work much in before someone else had the plane. With 30hrs in an Archer & no solo, I nearly quit but decided to check out a different location with a C172 thinking the high wing might make the difference. After just over 2 hrs in the 172, the instructor stepped out of the plane and I soloed. I don’t think it was a case of my landings being much different – just a different perspective by the CFI.
    That was Dec. (started in Aug) and I’ve since done the short solo and should complete my night hours tonight and the long solo waiting for a good day. The winter weather stopped flying completely for 3 weeks straight (used the time to do the written test) so I feel my progress is near normal now.

  • Faisal Arief

    My flying school has the limitation up to 20 hrs for pre-solo student to accomplished their 1st Solo flight, after 20 hrs they haven’t shown any progress to accomplish that, although has been switched 2 to 3 other CFI + Chief Instructor, my flying school not hesitate to say “flying isn’t for you”.

  • Christopher

    I think the CFI/Flight School needs to seriously look at their program. It could be the student, but if his landings are pretty much always the same and the instructor isn’t making changes, then there’s a massive problem. The guy’s spent like $11,000 and hasn’t even soloed? I agree with the instructor, to the point, that counting hours isn’t the best plan, but at 55 hours he should be looking at his checkride soon, not wondering when he’s going to solo. I think he made the right decsion in walking away…and CFI that just dismisses a student’s concerns shouldn’t have the ticket.

  • jtallman

    Jim K., I’m glad you are back on track! Keep us posted on your progress! –Jill

  • David

    55 hours and no solo. That is ridiculous. Every school or CFI should have a target number of hours whereby a student should be able to execute the initial solo. Thee will be exceptions to this principal such as a student who must suspend training for business or military travel, etc. Also, training should be conducted on some sort of regular frequency to preclude regression of learning due to disuse (FOI). I wish I had more details about this case, but on the face of it, something is wrong here.

    When I taught students in the A.F., T-38 student pilots solo’d in approximately 8-10 hours approximately. T-37 student pilots solo’d in about the same number of hours also. Why should a C-172 or PA28-140 student take much more than that?

  • Jim Dulin

    Since becoming a CFI in 1974, I have never subjected any student to more than ten hours of dual flight without sold. My students averaged about seven hours. The idea that they need to know everything before solo is owner and lawyer based and has nothing to do with aviation safety. The idea that you need perfect conditions to practice takeoff and landings with a pre-solo student is owner and lawyer based and has nothing to do with aviation safety. They will fly in less than perfect conditions and need to quit worrying about winds early. What is happening in aviation today, with safety as the lame excuse, is immoral.

  • Bill Gibbens

    I’m from the old school, I soloed a champ. I think one should first train in a simple light airplane where one can feel the forces on the plane more clearly. I’m not suggesting everyone start in a tail dragger. After so much time in a modern trainer it would be counterproductive to go to a tail dragger but perhaps a simple C-150?

  • Tim S.

    Learning to fly is such an exciting, thrilling, and encouraging experience. This gentleman at this point, is neither of these. It is the role of a CFI to teach, but also inspire. Inspiration is key to confidence, and confidence does not necessarily come from repetition. Solo flight is a necessary confidence builder, and a competent CFI should never let a student go this long!

  • Steve Marcozzi

    Travelling in our state (KY) for work, I sometimes encounter students in this same situation. My answer to them is the same; “get another opinion immediately and consider changing instructors”. I’m one of many who learned to fly in the 70’s when the average time to solo was about 10-11 hrs. I refuse to believe today’s students have so little talent that they should be plowing a left close groove around an airport for 30hrs. To fleece students like this is clear-cut fraud in my opinion.

  • http://aopa robert duverger

    when the student said when pressed the instructor got MAD, that would have done it for me, he made the right decision to go elsewhere.

  • John Pollock

    I agree with Jim D, I too soled in 7 hours and I see to it that my students are ready in the plus or minus 10 hour range also. If not, something is wrong. If it is a student problem, an instructor should see that very early in the training and advise the student accordingly.

    But what I have found is that in the high percentage of the time, it is the instructor who is at fault, usually the ones with the least experience.

    Over my career I’ve had about 17 checkrides for certificates and for the most part with a different instructor each time. Those who were very experienced I noticed I learned quickly and spent minimum time to gaining that certificate.

    Instructors I had that were just starting out, I had problems with, and yes, I had to change flight schools once or twice to get out of that rut.

    It is very difficult for a student who is just getting into aviation to know whether or not they are being taken for a ride until as you say they essentially run out of money and haven’t soled yet.

    Perhaps we should educate the students at the start just what the training and hours consists of to reach that goal.

    My first instructor did, telling me I should solo in about 7 hours, do touch and goes for the next 5, then 10 hours cross country dual, followed by 10 hrs solo cross country, then the last 5 hours preparing for the exam.

    He kept to that and so did I getting my private in 40 hours.

    I tell my students that up front also, and I see to it that they get there as told.

  • http://aopa Chad Knutson

    I’ve been a CFII and MEI since 2005. I have done all my instructing independly with people in flying clubs and aircraft owners. When teaching private pilot on an average I have had students solo between 7 and 12 hours of dual and I have taught people in there 60s. I go through the pts standards and all the manuevers on the ground and on the first lesson we do all the manuevers. About the third lesson we practice takeoffs and landing untill they solo. We do a lot of touch and go’s to get more landings in in less time. I do not expect a student to have the manuevers to pts standards by the time they solo. I expect them to handle emergencies and be able to land the aircraft. They can practice the manuevers when they are flying solo to get them to pts standards.
    55 hours is rediculis. It’s just some kid cfi whos building time.

  • Ed Hotchkiss

    I spent a long time to solo. It wasn’t for lack of studying. First the information in the pilot kit, then FAA materials. My instructor became stumped. I had to examine and think about the problem. The details I figured out I have so far only found in one book. I think the existing literature is terribly lacking in this phase of flight.

  • John J

    Unbelievable to think that I got my ticket in 41 hours. This is a sad case. I sure hope the person finds another school and finishes their training!

  • Alex R.

    I would very appreciate if somebody could suggest any CFI with the same attitude mentioned above (pre-solo time should take around 10 hours) in NYC area. Thank you!

  • http://aopa dan o’connor

    I started my flight training at 63 and was apprehensive from the start. I kept thinking my flight instructor would throw me out of the plane if I didn’t do better. I have more than 4 million miles of commercial passenger experience and have probably been on 500+ small plane flights, but nothing really prepared me for actually flying the plane. I spent 70 hours getting a LSA license during two 3 three week sessions six months apart. I am glad that I invested in the time and had a great CFI. Without his support I probaly wouldn’t of received a license. He also pointed me in the right direction about purchasing a plane and I just recently purchased a RANS-19. There is no such thing as too much instruction!

  • karl kettler

    If one can’t solo in ten (10) hours its time to re-evaluate one’s flying desires or check around for another instructor-and fast before you waste your precious $$$!

  • Mike W

    I would have to agree the time is excessive. I am learning on a complex Piper Arrow, started my training in Dec but due to weather had as many as three weeks between training sessions only 3 hrs in Jan-Feb, and still soloed in 14 hrs. Seems this CFI and school are milking him for cash.

  • Randy W

    I have about 65 hours and have not really soloed. My 2nd CFI of 4, soloed me about 20 hours. Had a horrible landing by myself on 2nd solo flight involved a pretty bad porpoise. Now on 4th CFI do to others leaving school and still lacking the confidence to fly by myself. Very doubtful after 15K if I will continue much longer. Same problem all the time either flare to soon for resulting in a balloon or to late for flat hard landing. I have about 187 landings logged, don’t feel like I am going to get this down. Suspect I am another one of those statistics that we all read about…started went broke never finished.

  • Jordan Hubbard

    I disagree with many of the generalizations largely because they are just that – generalizations. I’m taking primary flight instruction in a taildragger, at a rather busy home airport (often as many as 5 aircraft in the pattern for a single runway at any one time), and in one of the busiest airspaces in the US. Solo after 7 hours? Heck, it took me 7 hours just to figure out how to take off in a light cross wind without veering all over the runway! I’m at 22 hours and perfectly content not to have solo’d yet, though I’m sure that’s not too far off. I also don’t mind taking a couple of hours here or there to just go sight-seeing – who said that flight instruction has to be all business and no pleasure? That seems to miss a fundamental point in what, for many of us, is a recreational activity in which money is not the primary concern.

  • Mike

    In my opinion, he was being taken for a shameful ride.
    If the student just was not capable at this point either the instructor was doing a poor job of teaching or the instructor should have been upfront long before this point that flying wasn’t for him… either way the instructor was a problem.
    I’ve seen many students go through training, the longest its taken for any to solo in my recollection is about 25 hrs., most solo in less than 20 hrs., and many in less than 15.
    Unfortunately there are some lousy instructors in the industry, and there are some who will milk a students wallet. I agree with Jim Dulin’s comment that the problem is too often lawyer and/or flight school owners based. Not an easy problem to eliminate, but the industry should try harder because it is immoral and in the end hurts the entire aviation industry. All students don’t know what they don’t know, and by the time they do figure out these type of tactics they have a very bad taste in their mouths.

  • Leon Adelstone

    In my opinion, any CFI who has more than 50% of his students exceed 20 hours before solo, should loose his Certification.

    No one does more to limit the number of new pilots, than CFI’s and FBO’s who try to “Milk” their students of every last dime before solo, or before having them properly prepared for their check ride.

  • Buck Rogers

    Sure, blame it on the CFI. Don’t blame the student who doesn’t study and do the assigned homework. Don’t blame the airport environment when you’re number 9 for takeoff with 8 in the pattern. Don’t consider the 4 mile extended downwind each lap around. Don’t consider that the student takes over a year to hand in their presolo written despite reminders at every post flight briefing. Don’t consider that some folks can only fly once a week but still have the dream and preserverance to keep doing it.

    You people are ridiculous with your generalizations.

  • Lee Newcomb

    I am one of those people who have a lot of hours and just haven’t soloed.
    I am 60 years old and have one of the most qualified instructors. I have had to stretch my training out because I can only afford two classes a month. My CFI: Mike Townsend should get an award for his patience. At my age life or the weather gets in the way. I realize that sometimes ego replaces common sense but it could be the CFI actually cares about a student. I will never quit flying because I have wanted to my entire life. Flying is expensive and so is anything worth doing in this world.7v5l

  • jtallman

    You have a great attitude, Lee! Hang in there. —Jill

  • Susan Simmons

    The student absolutely did the right thing in walking away from his CFI when he hadn’t soloed in 55 hours. They were an obvious mis-match. I just hope he found a better instructor for himself & didn’t give up on his dream of flying.

    Now if this student subsequently went on to serially try 5 different instructors & NONE of them would let him solo, I’d say it’s highly likely he’s not cut out for flying. And shame on the CFI who didn’t give that opinion. That said, remember that even Albert Einstein’s own parents reportedly consulted a doctor because Albert was comparatively slower to learn to talk.

    Most pilots will never become excellent pilots, but they will be ‘good-enough’ pilots. Good enough to fly the airplane, get the job done, be safe, & do no harm.

    Although I didn’t solo until 8 days before my 60th birthday with over 40 hours & didn’t get my private pilot certificate until almost 100 hours, it doesn’t matter so much now. Here I am at age 65 with over 1,200 hours flying a tailwheel Citabria, a complex/high performance Trinidad, a Pilatus PC-12/47E to 30,000′, & a Diamond motor glider (yep, I got my glider rating 2 yrs after my PPL). Now working on my multiengine rating.

    In many cases it boils down to determination, perseverance, & grit.

  • Lu Mbeks

    I am having similar experience. I have over 50 hours of dual with no solo yet. Im training at a Chicago Based flight school ( Palwaukee) . Im on my 3 CFI, cfi 1, and 2 both left due to economic reasons. I was about to do my stage 2 check ride which was necessary before i soloed. I didnt do well on a power on stall test and the check pilot decided to cancel the rest of the check ride until i can do the power on stalls perfectly. That was 4 months ago! Ever since ive been doing pattern work and stall practice. Now im being told that my current instructurs is passing me on to another instructor. Everytime i ask when i will get to solo , instructor says that i have to polishup landings and stalls. Getting frustrated and wondering if flying is for me, even though instructor says im almost there.
    Seriously considering moving to another school

  • steven appleby

    im at 30 hours right now and i still havent soloed. im starting to think this isnt for me, im flying using my gi bill and im starting to think that my flight school is milking me for the money. i have trouble paying attention to stuff but i wanna get a pilots license so i can fly to places. i just think they are losing confidence in me. it sucks because this is the only thing i have left, im 25 and havent done much with my life and all the only thing ive done for the last 10 years is party….

  • Myrah

    I’m in the same situation right now with more than 50hrs no solo yet…
    I’m starting to fear if this is what i really want, maybe flying isn’t for me… I got a feeling my instructor is lossing confidence on me and now im starting to doubt myself. I’ve spent more money already and i dont know if i could continue training or just witdrew and go home do something else instead of flying..! #Undecided

  • jtallman

    Myrah, I think it’s time you and your CFI had a talk (on the ground) about it. Maybe go up with another CFI just once–sometimes what’s apparent to one person isn’t that apparent to another. At any rate, I sympathize with your frustration and I hope you find an answer! ~ Jill

  • Myrah

    Thanks Jill..

  • Nelson

    In reading this I get a bit dissappointed. I have approximately 15 hours of dual and I feel I am still a bit from soloing. Could I today and be safe, yes, do I want to, probably not. I am one of those that prefers that I KNOW I am capable and safe in my own head before I attempt something that puts myself and others at risk.
    55 hours, yes that is excessive IMHO. Several instructors as well? I would have to analyze if flying was for me. Take the ego out. Remember it’s not just you. You have the responsibilty of safety for those below and around.
    Buy a simulator like a Saitek, I have one and it is quite realistic, not perfect but good. This could save a lot of flight time.
    My instructor keeps mentioning solo and I have completed the solo quiz so I am guessing he’s about to step out of the cockpit any time now. Looking forward to it.

  • jas

    I haven’t seen one comment above about “incremental improvement”… I am a 63 year old student with about 27 hours pre-solo… Home base is 50 feet wide and 2700 feet long, and def a cross wind alley… Although I feel quite certain I could land safely on a 100 foot wide runway 5000 feet long, I do not feel competent to solo at home base. But here is the key, folks… I’m getting better at it, albeit slowly… and have been since the first time… So if the subject student is making progress, then forget the number of hours. If you have the time, money, and desire, then stick with it. If your last landing was no better than your first, then you have a problem – it’s either you or your instructor, or both. Figure it out and move on… one way or the other…