Solo Shirt Cutting: An Aviation Tradition - AeroGuard

Solo Shirt Cutting: An Aviation Tradition

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Have you heard about the traditional shirt cutting performed in celebration of a student’s first solo flight? Let’s explore this custom and its relevance in the aviation world!

A Student’s First Solo Flight

Flight instructors work closely with students, taking them under their wing, guiding them through the training phase of their aviation journey and sharing their own flight expertise along the way.

A first solo is required to complete the Private Pilot License phase, which is the first certification in a student’s flight training. A student will implement all knowledge gained from previous lessons and practice with their instructor to ensure they’re solo-ready.

Once they’re prepared to fly the skies by themselves, a student pilot’s first solo flight is an incredible milestone in their training. When a pilot solos, they’ll take off, perform a short flight and land without the help of their instructor riding in the seat next to them.

The Tail Tradition

Traditionally, a student pilot’s shirttail is removed upon completion of their first solo.

Prior to the introduction of headsets and radio communication, instructors sat behind their student pilot in open-cockpit tandem aircraft. The lack of hearing equipment in an open-cockpit and tandem seating arrangement made communication between instructor and student challenging. According to aviation lore, the student’s flight instructor would grab hold of and tug on the student’s shirttail to get their attention and provide directions as necessary.

Solo Shirt Cutting and Decorating

After they successfully complete their first solo flight, the student’s instructor takes a pair of scissors and carefully cuts out a portion of the back of the student’s shirt — so come prepared wearing a shirt you don’t mind snipping up! Shirt cutting is a sign of an instructor’s new confidence in their student, symbolizing that they no longer require the instructor’s hands-on assistance, as they once did.

To celebrate their accomplishment, students decorate their shirttail however they’d like. Common designs include doodles of the aircraft they flew for their solo, tail numbers, runway and airport codes, motivational quotes or the student’s nickname. Whatever you’d like to include on your shirttail, you’ll get to display it on the wall for all to see!

Many aviation schools follow this same solo shirt cutting tradition today. Some schools may also engage in a “solo dunk” in which their instructor dumps water over their head! While there are multiple ways to celebrate, it’s also common to commemorate a first solo flight with a photo.

At AeroGuard, solo shirt cutting is just one of the ways we recognize students for completing their first solo. In fact, the solo wall is covered from top to bottom in shirttails of all different shapes and sizes. In addition, students’ photos are taken and posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to both celebrate their feat and encourage them to continue flying toward their goals. Ready to see your shirttail hung up, too?