Pilot Achievements: First Solos and Shirttails

Pilot Achievements: First Solos and Shirttails

I was walking through our FBO and saw a person sitting at a flight planning desk. He was missing a large portion of the back of his t-shirt. I immediately smiled and approached this stranger, “Hey, did you solo today? Congratulations! What an awesome accomplishment!”

A huge smile spread across his face, “Yep, I soloed about an hour ago. Thanks! It feels great.”

No longer strangers, I introduced myself and asked to hear all about the fun details of the big event and his flight training thus far.Cutting a shirttail after first solo

The exact meaning of the solo shirttail tradition has some variation to it when you ask around, but the general story is that back during the days of WWI, when there were no headsets and intercoms and pilots sat tandem (student sat in front and the instructor sat behind), the instructor would yank on the shirt tail of the student pilot to communicate whether to turn right or left and climb or descend. Then, to symbolize that the pilot was ready to fly on his own and when the instructor didn’t need to pull on the shirt tail anymore for instruction, he’d cut it off.

As a community, we know what an incredible accomplishment it is to solo. Flight training is no easy task. A student pilot goes through ups and downs and triumphs and Attributes of the optimal flight training experiencefrustrations throughout the entire process. And with everything in life, it sure does feel good when you can get a pat on the back to know you’re doing well. AOPA’s research on the optimal flight training experience emphasizes the importance of recognizing student achievements and milestones and lists it as one of 47 key attributes that help retain a student in flight training instead of quitting halfway through. The research explains that “students attach importance to having their accomplishments recognized by others.” Celebrating a customers’ achievements help break the flight training journey down into manageable goals and segments and reinforces that progress is being made to get them to their ultimate goal, a pilot certificate or new rating.

Today, in many flight schools, you see decorated shirt tails hanging on office walls and bulletin boards. In today’s digital world, you’ll find flight schools celebrating new customers and achievements as part of their social media community, on a webpage, or in a newsletter.  These are all great indicators of a flight school that is supportive, fosters community, and makes their customers feel that they are a part of something special. It is important to keep these traditions and celebrations alive, so that we can continue to create pilots who know they are a part of a unique and welcoming community and that the blood, sweat, tears, and avgas is all worth it and will foster a lifelong passion for aviation and flying.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet folks that are running excellent flight schools and when you ask them how they celebrate their customers’ milestones (not just solo), the ideas are always fun and special. I share a list of my favorites in this blog post, 5 Unique Ways to Celebrate Your Customers.  We would love to know how others celebrate milestones and achievements; take the poll below and tell us how you celebrate and recognize the customers at your school. Are you following some great old traditions or are you creating new ones?

How do you celebrate customer achievements and milestones? Select all that apply.
Cut Shirttail for First Solo
Certificate of Achievement
Newsletter, Website, or Social Media Post
Recognition at Safety Meeting or Fly Out
Please Specify:


Redbird GIFT
Redbird GIFT