Conquering fear of flying solo

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I started flying about a year ago, and I'm currently a few weeks
away from getting my instrument rating. The only thing holding me
back is a few hours of cross country time. One problem that I am
battling with myself is a completely irrational fear of flying
solo. As a private pilot, I have obviously flow many hours already
solo. I have even take a trip of about 400nm by myself several
months ago. With all that, though, I have never grown comfortable
flying solo, and it's something that I want to do. Everytime I book
a plane to go somewhere for the weekend now, I end up psyching
myself out before I take the flight. I think what I am
uncomfortable with is the idea that if I get nervous or
uncomfortable while I'm by myself (which has happened on occasion) I
have no one with me to back me up. My instuctor has told me that
I'm an excellent pilot and have absolutely no reason to worry, but I
guess I just naturally over-think things. It took me 5 years to get
up the guts just to take lessons!!

Anyway, I'm curious if there is anyone else out there who has had
the same problem and how they overcame it? I love to fly, and I
want to grow to use my license as I dreamed to....solo!

-- Chris Van Dervort, January 12, 2009


You said that you only had 100 hours of flight time when you posted this. If you weren't afraid of flying solo with 100 hours of flight time, I'd be worried about your intelligence! You'll get more comfortable with experience. In the meantime, there is no shame in flying with a copilot. Remember that airline captains are required to have two copilots: the first officer in the adjacent seat and the dispatcher on the ground (in radio contact, at least in theory). It is always good to have a second set of eyes on the challenge of flying. If you do have to fly solo, a simple way of adding a copilot is to request VFR advisories from ATC. They will double-check your navigation and help insure that you're not doing anything too crazy.

-- Philip Greenspun, March 5, 2009

Chris, don't fret too much over solo flying. If you're going on a trip where you feel uncomfortable certainly there ought to be a willing and capable "co-pilot" for you to take along. If it's IMC, take an instrument rated pilot or CFI.

Oddly, with my first job I was most concerned about single pilot flying. Scared to death in fact. I went from a C172 to single pilot in a King Air 300 practically overnight. I did make mistakes, but learned tremendously from them. I suspect you're not in a fairly complex plane like a turbojet/prop, but probably something more like a single engine or twin piston. You probably know your plane well but lack the confidence to operate it comfortably within the ATC sphere without anxiety over making bad decisions. Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist? Be honest. I do and I denied it for a long time.

Before I get too long-winded, back to the "co-pilot". In my training, Flight Safety (I'm sure the other vendors as well) will provide an "on-command co-pilot". Essentially, what that means is they will put one of their instructors in the right seat while you train, but that person won't say or do anything unless commanded by the PIC. Perhaps you could negotiate a similar arrangement with a few fellow aviators (not discounting safety of course) and work on building your confidence flying by yourself--or better yet, work on CRM in a crew environment. You'll be surprised at how quickly your confidence builds and you'll be zipping along cheerfully worried more about the score of the ball game than the next curve ball ATC is going to throw you.

-- Jason Hackney, January 12, 2009

Thanks for the reply, Jason. I am in a C-172 right now...I only have about 100 hours under my belt. I am certainly a perfectionist, but I have no anxieties with regard to ATC. I don't have a "radio-phobia" and I certainly don't think twice about getting an explanation if I don't understand an instruction. I think my worries arise out of the fact that once you're up on your own, the only person to rely on for a safe trip and to get down is yourself. There's no pulling over to "think about it" or "take a moment to calm down" in a hairy situation in the air.

-- Chris Van Dervort, January 12, 2009

You probably need to fly more often. I have often suffered from the same concerns as you expressed, and the one thing that always made me more confident was to do alot of flying, and I don't mean a few hours at a time every month or so, but a few hours every couple of days. Your confidence will soar.

-- Mark Dalton, January 12, 2009

google "Rod Muchado, fear of flying" and he had interesting ideas on fears regarding flying also NLP (neuro linguistic programing) and hypnotism has helped my fears as well

-- Craig Jaces, January 26, 2009

I guess I do not have a response to this question but wish to make an addition. Am getting ready for my private pilot solo in the traffic pattern. I enjoy flying and feel confident with my instructor. Whenever I imagine my first solo, I have all of these bad thoughts about what might happen. The fear of not having that extra safety net in the cockpit I fear will make me forget what I have learned and cause me to panic. Any thoughts or ideas? Currently I fly about two times a week and have about 34 hours.

-- C Covell, May 2, 2010

Chris, you are not alone. I find that many pilots out there are not honest enough to admit when they have been scared, and others simply have not experienced what you have. I too find it difficult to fly alone. It drives me insane... How have you progressed with this - has anything changed? Can you email your response to as well?

-- Dave Adams, August 3, 2010

Let me correct that email address...

-- Dave Adams, September 30, 2010

My fear of flying the Cessna 172M.... I list the plane/model here with a note about something I read the other day. This aircraft has NEVER had a reported in-flight �breakup�. The plane, this plane model, is tough and I believe very forgiving. I now do my best to remember this all the time as I fly, and as I prepare to fly. I do this because I fear that the plane is going to break up flight, I.E. a wing breaks off, and the plane spins, turns upside down, and hits the earth� Or something in that approximately sphere. Also, as the plane climbs to 3000 AGL or higher I start to get more, and more nervous. As pilots, and student pilots, all of us have probably heard that SKY ABOVE YOU, AND RUNWAY BEHIND YOU ARE USELESS. But I forget that first part as I mentally cling to the ground near 2000-2500 feet AGL.

I have set a goal for myself; the goal is to fly, SOLO, above my local training airport, an un-controlled airport in Northern California (KWVI), at 5000 feet AGL. The altitude I choose here is arbitrary, and I will review this with others carefully to ensure that I am not accidentally encroaching into airspace dangerous to this rookie pilot, or something to cause concern to others flying near this airport. Simply put, sitting in that airplane, ALONE, climbing out past 3000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) starts to scare me.

I share this in hope of reading comments from others and then realizing that this fear is something that others also have had, and have �beaten�. This fear, if not overcome, will limit my flying experience. It will leave me able to �ride the airplane around the patch�, but unable to use the airplane for what its designed for, I.E. taking me from place to place, quickly, and safely. (student pilot)

-- Brian OConnor, May 21, 2014

i totally understand your fear. i got my private 25 yrs ago and the fear of everything that possibly could happen (mostly from reading "aftermath" articles in Flying magazine) drove me from flying. i am now retired and getting back into flying and hoping to have fun this time

-- paul evans, June 9, 2014