First Solo

Kathan Dudhela

After his first solo, Kathan Dudhela, the UK’s youngest flight instructor, was so relieved that he kissed the ground… 

How did you get into aviation?

Back when we lived in India my dad took me to the airport – watching aeroplanes, I wondered how they managed to fly. By the age of five, I already knew I wanted to become a pilot. I had my first lesson when I was 14 years old and in the Air Cadets and didn’t expect to actually be given the controls. However, the instructor let me fly the aircraft which was amazing. The 20-minute flight literally flew by and felt like only two minutes!

How did your flight training go?

I started in 2017 at Elstree Aerodrome where everyone was very helpful. They let me sit up in the tower to improve my radio skills. The basic controls of the aeroplane weren’t that hard as I used to practise a lot in a simulator. However, I found navigation very difficult, especially because we were only allowed paper charts. Alongside my flight training I was doing my A-levels, so I had to be switched on the entire time. My morning newspaper rounds paid for one flying lesson a week and my parents funded the other one.

Was your first solo a surprise?

Yes, when my instructor opened the door and wished me good luck I was confused. I almost said, “No, I’m not ready” – but then decided to taxi to the runway and take it from there. During taxying I pretended my instructor was still there, but just before take-off I looked at the empty seat and realised he wasn’t. The flight was nerve-wracking. After landing, which was actually one of my best landings, I got out and kissed the ground – I was so relieved to have made it out alive.

Why did you decide to become a flight instructor?

I’m doing the modular way, so after obtaining my PPL and Night Rating, I could either get my CPL or my Instructor Rating. Becoming an instructor would mean I wouldn’t just get to fly regularly and gain experience, I’d also have some income. It’s great: when the weather is good, I get to fly.

“My morning newspaper rounds paid for one flying lesson a week”

At school, you get pushed to do your A-levels, go to university and then find a career. But if you already know what you want in life, why not work directly towards it? You don’t need a university degree to become a pilot. Just do your research and ask commercial pilots about their experience, which nowadays can be easily done via social media. Once every two weeks I still go to Heathrow Airport to ask pilots for tips, about what route they’ve taken or how I can progress from this stage onwards to the next. My main advice to youngsters wanting a career in aviation, though, would be to stay motivated whatever happens.

Has your age ever been an issue when instructing?

It occasionally is during trial flights. Last summer, a student said to me, ‘You look like you’re 12’ and wanted to see my licence before he got into the aircraft with me. He enjoyed his flight very much though. With my regular students it sometimes feels a bit weird when I tell them off, as they’re twice my age. I’m quite strict in the cockpit, there’s no unnecessary talking. Before and afterwards, we can be mates again and chat, but during that one hour lesson, for which they’re paying £200, I want them to concentrate and learn as much as possible.

Was it more stressful to go solo yourself or to send your first student solo?

Sending my first student solo. This is because of the immense responsibility. I’m the one sending them up, so I have to be 110 per cent sure they’re capable of dealing with any situation they might encounter. I try to calm them down beforehand and make it sound easy, but everyone knows flying solo isn’t. Then, when my students are calm and ready, I go to the control tower where I watch their every move.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to get into air racing and eventually represent India in the sport, if I can finance it. I’ll do my Aerobatics Rating this year, followed by lots of training and competitions. Aerobatics is the best feeling! During my first trial lesson in an Extra 200, I asked the instructor, “What can I do?”, to which he replied “Anything you want.” So I moved the stick to the left and we rolled twice in three seconds, just like that.

What do you love most about flying?

Being up in the air, looking down and enjoying the view. It’s really nice when instructing, as we fly over Milton Keynes, which is a beautiful area, and when the weather is good we can climb to 5,500ft. I also love flying by myself though. Alone in the aeroplane, I almost get a feeling of being outside this world.

See also: UK’s youngest female flying instructor

Solo stats

Just 19 years old, Kathan Dudhela is the UK’s youngest flight instructor.

When 2 February 2017
Where Elstree Aerodrome
Aircraft Cessna 152
Hours at solo 14
Hours now 590

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