Plane Answers – A pilot’s experience before flying solo, a passenger pointing out a mechanical problem and wake turbulence bumps

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Esteban from Spain asks:

When learning to drive a car, for most people a few minutes of training are enough to drive, although they don’t know the circulation rules. Do you think that it is possible to take off, turn, and land in a small cessna with few hours of training without obeying the navigation rules?

Hi Esteban,

Soloing is the moment every student pilot dreams of. That moment when your instructor hops out of the airplane and tells you to take it around the ‘patch’ three times.

Can it be done in just a few hours? Absolutely. But you’d have to find an instructor willing to put his certificate on the line at that point. The ‘typical’ range is anywhere from 6 to 25 hours, but that’s also dependent on the airport you’re flying from and the type of airplane.

Densely populated areas have more requirements for ATC communication and airspace regulations, so your instructor will want you to be familiar with those regulations before letting you go.

For a more anecdotal look at the typical times before soloing, take a look at this thread written by flight instructors and pilots about the subject on

Cassandra asks:

I just flew down to FL from Hartford last Thursday on Delta and had a window seat on the wing. Just before we began our descent, I had glanced down on the wing and noticed 3 round tanks(?) that were screwed down right by the emergency door. What caught my eye was the fact that 2 of them seemed to be leaking what I thought was water or some sort of clear liquid. It was 2 smaller tanks near the front of the wing and a larger one just behind them. The two smaller ones were the ones that were leaking and all coming from under the screws. It was enough they were trailing down towards and past the next tank.

What are these and though it might have been nothing, should I have said something to the crew after the flight? Of course it was dry by the time we arrived at the gate.
Hi Cassandra,

It’s common to see slight stains around some of the screws on the wing, especially on the bottom of the wing near the fuel pumps. I’m sure what you saw wasn’t critical, but I’d encourage you to let the pilots know as you deplane. If you were really concerned about something, bring it to the attention of the flight attendant. They’ll pass it along to the pilots who can then decide if it’s a serious enough problem.

I always follow up on the comment with maintenance, which is often at the gate shortly after we arrive anyway. It’s just a good idea to take even the smallest comment seriously. Many of them can be easily explained away, but it’s always prudent for us to look at anything that’s a concern to a passenger just to be sure.

John asks:

Hi Kent,

Recently, while on a flight from the east coast to the west, we were enjoying a smooth ride. Then, without warning, we hit a pocket of extreme turbulence. What made this differenct was that it was less than 2 seconds, and had the “feel” of an impact.

My questions are:
1) Is this a normal thing, and
2) Does it pose any danger to the flight.


Hi John,

The way you’ve described it, I’m pretty certain your airplane flew through the wake turbulence of another jet. This doesn’t happen often at all, but when the airplane is in just the right position relative to crossing traffic, it can be startling. It happens so briefly that we don’t usually see any injuries, but it will sure make you tighten your belt while sitting.

You can rest assured that the airplane is designed to handle the wake structurally and it generally doesn’t present any danger to the flight.

That said, ATC goes to great lengths to provide enough separation between aircraft during arrivals and departures. It’s during this time that wake turbulence can present a greater problem for airplanes, since the wake is generally larger when jets fly slower, with the gear and flaps down, than while in cruise flight. If the airplane weighs over 250,000 pounds (usually anything larger than a Boeing 757), then the pilots will call themselves a ‘heavy’ which reminds controllers that extra separation is needed behind those aircraft.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.