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I took my first flight lesson when I was 15 at Brown Field (KSDM) near San Diego,  April 8, 1971. I was turned loose on my first solo flight right after my 16th birthday that year. It was also on the same day I had earned my drivers license. To this day I can hear what the instructor said after signing me off to solo.

"Let me out of this plane before you kill me."

True story! Maybe things have changed but in those days all the flight instructors in San Diego were a bunch of retired crusty Navy pilots and at 10 hours total time you were set free, like it or not! I didn't know anyone who flew so I wasn't even aware of the "First Solo" thing nor had any idea it was coming. When the instructor had me exit between the runways and got out of the plane I didn't know what was happening and he had to explain it to me.

After my three trips around the pattern I turned off 26R, got permission to cross 26L and taxied back to Flying J Aviation like I always did, I tied the Cessna 150 down, got a coke and went upstairs into the office. "Where's Bob", the receptionist asked? I guess I forget to pick him up. Looking out the 2nd story window we could see Bob about 1/2 mile away heading for the office. I found out weeks later the tower gave him a light gun signal to run across an active runway and return to the FBO more than a mile away. Everyone in the office found that story pretty amusing, except for Bob.

After my solo I drove the family Kingswood Estate wagon home (my first solo in that too) and proudly showed my mom that my shirt tail had been cut off. At first she thought I had been hit by a propeller. I explained I had soloed and cutting off the shirt tail was tradition. I was promptly sent to Sears to replace the shirt with my own money. So much for my big day!

If you're unfamiliar with the shirt tail custom, it is thought that it stems from early days in aviation, when pilots wore a scarf with which to clean their goggles. Student pilots, however, were obligated to use their own shirt tails to clean their goggles. When a student became a pilot, the shirt tail was cut and handed to him to symbolize that he, too, was now entitled to wear the scarf of a pilot.

Another piece of aviation lore says that in early tandem trainers, it was so noisy that the instructors would get their student's attention by yanking on his shirt tail. After the student would solo, the shirt tail would be cut as the instructor no longer needed to jerk on the shirt tail.

In April 1975 I entered the USAF and their Air Traffic Controllers school. In December of that year I was Assigned to the Altus AFB RAPCON in Oklahoma. I promptly found the local airport (KAXS) and Altus Flying Service. I started working on my Commercial Pilots license and Instrument rating. I also earned my Multi-Engine rating on September 6, 1978

After my Air Force time I was hired by the FAA as an Air Traffic Controller and assigned to Fresno CA. I co-owned a Warrior while there but sold my share after PATCO and the Air Traffic Controllers strike on August 3, 1981.  After that I didn't fly much until 2004 when I jumped back in with both feet getting current then buying the plane I have now.

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Last Updated
September 06, 2009

Copyright 2006
Frank Holbert
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