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#119 Traditions

I guess I was responsible for her first airplane ride.  It was a doozy.  She met me at the hangar at sunrise and we’d headed for the nearby peaks of the Cascades.  We’d then flown alongside “Three Fingered

Three fingered Jack

“Three FIngered Jack” as seen from the Cessna 140

Jack”, one of my favorite mountain peaks in the Cascade Range.  The air was as smooth as a baby’s bottom and we’d been able to pass close to the rocky peak.  The light was beautiful.  You’d have to be nuts not to get hooked on flying during that experience.  Later that month, she’d informed me that she had begun flying lessons in Marin County, California.  Shortly after that, she’d taken her written and passed it with flying colors.  She was serious about flying.  After a few months of flying both in Marin County and here at Tailwheel Town, I soloed her.  What does this have to do with traditions, you ask. Here’s why:

 When she taxied away from the FBO at Madras for her very first solo, I wandered out to the windsock in order to watch her more closely.  Once out there in the middle of the infield, I decided to answer the call of nature.  The windsock pole was a handy place to provide a modicum of protection so I took my relief against it.  After she returned from her solo flight and we were celebrating in the FBO building, I happened to mention that I’d taken advantage of the windsock’s position.

“You peed on the windsock pole?” she asked, somewhat surprised at that action.

“Well, yes,” I answered.   Then, thinking as quickly as I am capable of, I added, “It’s a tradition, you know”.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Too windy to fly“It’s a tradition that the CFI pee on the windsock pole when the student first solos,” I lied.  Then, in order to make that statement a bit more believable, I added, “Everyone knows that.” The airport bums present for that dialogue nodded in agreement, even though they’d never heard THAT one.

Being somewhat new to aviation and its culture, she accepted it.  Until she reads this little story, she will believe that peeing on the windsock pole is a long-standing tradition among flight instructors.  I think it’s kinda like sending a new young aviator to fetch a can of relative bearing grease.


Where do you suppose the tradition of cutting a shirt tail ACTUALLY came from?

Do you suppose that some flight instructor long ago, decided that it would be a cool idea to clip the shirt tail off a new soloist?  And, when questioned about that operation, he replied that it was a tradition, first started in order to get the student’s attention, or maybe symbolic of tail feathers or some other equally believable explanation.  His pals all nodded in agreement. A tradition was born.  Do you suppose I’ve started a new one? It’s now up to you, fellow CFI’s.

Happy Swooping!


6 comments to #119 Traditions

  • Melinda Hartner

    that was funny…..hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving!!! we are still loving
    Florida…ate turkey then walked on the beach…..ah yes…..Driving to Ft. L. to cruise to the Bahamas !!! Nice Xmas present to each other !!
    stay nice and toasty…. hope all is well with you and the “kids” ????? young adults !!!
    as ever,

  • Keith N

    I have just completed my first test flight in VH-KXN ( N2421V) and am now rushing out to pee on the windsock pole! You know that’s a very old aviation tradition.
    It’s also an old tradition that the teacher as well as the student be congratulated. Well done.
    Lots happening in the possum werks,and I am trying to remember all that you taught me.

  • Diana

    I don’t know if that is a tradition that will stick! It would be fun to know where the tradition of cutting the shirt tail actually came from. 🙂

  • Here’s what I found.

    Several traditions have developed in the USA around “soloing”, including drenching the student with water and cutting off and permanently displaying the back of his or her shirt.

    In American aviation lore, the traditional removal of a new pilot’s shirt tail is a sign of the instructor’s new confidence in his student after successful completion of the first solo flight. In the days of tandem trainers, the student sat in the front seat, with the instructor behind. As there were often no radios in these early days of aviation, the instructor would tug on the student pilot’s shirttail to get his attention, and then yell in his ear. A successful first solo flight is an indication that the student can fly without the instructor (“instructor-less” flight). Hence, there is no longer a need for the shirt tail, and it is cut off by the (often) proud instructor, and sometimes displayed as a trophy.[2]


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