Preparing for the First Solo

Definition | Required Exercises | Emergency Procedures | PSTAR | Radiotelephony Certificate | School-Specific Paperwork | Medical | Identification | Age | Student Pilot Permit | Skill Level | Conditions | How Long? | Stories

What is the First Solo

The "first solo" is the first time a student flies the airplane without the flight instructor, or anyone else, on board. Many people are surprised to learn that occurs before completion of training. Students attach a huge importance to their first solo, and many pilots remember it in sharp detail even after many years of other flying.  

There is no minimum instruction time requirement for a first solo in Canada. When you have completed all the pre-solo requirements, and your instructor feels you are ready, he or she will have you land, get out, and send you flying on your own. At most schools, the first solo is just one circuit: one take-off, about five minutes in the air, and then a landing. As the training continues, students go on longer solos, even to other airports.

Pre-Solo Requirements

Required Exercises

It's obvious that to fly solo, you must be able to take off and land, but you must also be able to cope with a number of specified situations. You must be able to avoid, recognize and recover from stalls, spins, and spiral dives. You must know how to execute an overshoot, a crosswind landing, and a runway change. And you must memorize and be able to demonstrate the correct procedures in the case of emergencies such as an engine failure, a fire or a communications failure. Your instructor will initial the front of your PTR as you complete each item.

Emergency Procedures

Memorizing the emergency procedures is part of the required exercises described above, but I am listing it as a separate item, because it is something you can do on your own. If you have not been given an emergency checklist for the airplane you fly (it may be on the back of the normal checklist), you can find the emergency procedures listed in the aircraft flight manual. Ask your instructor to explain anything you don't understand, then memorize them.  It is more important that you memorize the actions than the words. Some students practise them by sitting in the airplane on the ground with the engine turned off, and putting their hand on each required control in the sequence.


The PSTAR is a multiple choice written test of air law and basic procedures. Everything you need to prepare for it is on this website in Robyn's Improved PSTAR Study Guide.

Radiotelephone Operator's Certificate

If the airplanes you fly are radio-equipped, you will need to earn a Radiotelephone Operator's Certificate. To do this, study the guide from Industry Canada and then write the exam your school has for you. The exam is terrible and annoying, but you only need to get 70 percent on it. There are some questions on the exam that aren't covered by the study guide for the Aeronautical certificate, but are only present in the general guide. Look at the section on lead acid storge batteries near the end of this guide. If the Industry Canada site is unavailable, try this copy, from Smithers Secondary School.

Some schools do not administer the exam, and award the certificate based on instructor recommendation. Ask your instructor before you invest the study time.

School-Specific Paperwork

Your school may require you to complete some additional paperwork or exams in order for you to be covered on their insurance as a pilot.

Usually you will have to complete and sign a rental contract, agreeing to operate the aircraft only in accordance with the procedures and laws you have been taught, and to pay the deductable if you damage it. You will probably also write a small test, using the aircraft POH, to show you know how to find the important speeds, carry out emergency procedures, and calculate required take-off and landing distances.

Some schools have a local area  knowledge test, to ensure that you will remain clear of restricted areas and busy control zones, and know which frequencies to use.

Your flight instructor should be able to tell you what other paperwork you must complete before solo.


A pilot's medical certificate is possibly his or her most valuable possession. It's a small beige piece of paper certifying that he or she meets the physical standards required to be a flight crew member. You need to have one of your own before you fly solo, and you must have it with you every time you fly an airplane. The six digit number on your medical certificate is your Transport Canada file number, and will become your pilot licence number for all your licences in Canada.

Don't wait! Start the process of getting a medical right away.


You must show the school a valid (non-expired) passport OR Birth Certificate OR a Citizenship card that has a photograph of you. If you do not have any of the required documents you will have to obtain one. This Government of Canada webpage gives information on how to obtain one of these documents. A drivers licence is NOT enough.  


You must be fourteen years old to fly solo. Some students start flight training at twelve or thirteen, and then fly solo on their fourteenth birthdays. There is no maximum age. If you are under 18 you will need a letter of permission from your parents.

Student Pilot Permit

After all the exercises are complete and all the paperwork has been gathered, an authorized person can issue you with a student pilot permit. Your flight instructor knows where to find (or might be) an authorized person. All you have to do is check that your information is correct, and sign the permit, when it is ready. You must be carrying a student pilot permit with you on all solo flights.  

Skill Level

Your instructor will not get out until you personally are ready to fly solo. You wil be pilot in command for that flight, so you yourself must also agree that you are ready. Don't feel pressured. If you turn down the first opportunity, your flight instructor will work with you until you feel ready.  


Your instructor wants your first solo to be a safe, enjoyable experience, so even if you are ready to solo, you probably won't on a day when the weather could make you anxious or make aircraft control more challenging. If the circuit is extremely busy with traffic and the air traffic controllers are starting to scream at people and tear their hair, it may not be the best time to launch a student pilot. Don't worry, though: it WILL happen.

How Long Will It Take?

Everyone always wants to know this.  My best answer is "it depends."  For an amusing look at the factors affecting the time before you fly solo, have a look at the Dauntless Software Time to Solo Calculator. It's based on American requirements, so some of the questions are not applicable in Canada.

Delays in solos due to weather are common. I have personally seen student solos delayed by crosswinds, terrorist attacks,  illness, delayed medical, low clouds, an instructor who couldn't fly because he slammed his hand in the door of a Learjet, mechanical problems with the aircraft, fog, a lost birth certificate, and students who were otherwise ready to fly solo just having a bad day.  

First Solo Stories

I am working on a page with accounts of first solos. I'd love to hear yours.

Robyn's Flying Start Home  | Back to Flight Training Process

This page written 10 December 2002 by Robyn Stewart.  Last revised 9 August 2004.
Copyright 2003-2004 Flying Start Initiatives