The Flight Training Process
Aviation is a learn-by-doing proposition. You will be able to take lessons on your own schedule, as often as you like. The kind of airplane you learn to fly in will be your choice also. The training and license will be the same no matter the make and model of airplane. Your first flight lesson will include your first flight. During that flight you will actually fly the airplane. Every subsequent flight you will learn and build on what you did before.
An introductory flight with a certified flight instructor (CFI) is the first step towards getting your license. After a briefing by the instructor and a walk-around inspection of the airplane, during which he or she will explain the actions pilots take to prepare for flight, you will strap into the pilot’s seat and do most of the flying. The CFI will introduce you to the four fundamentals of maneuvering an airplane: climbs, straight-and-level flight, turns and descents. After the introductory flight you’ll be in a good position to determine if flying is for you. If it is, you can schedule more flights and pick up the necessary books and materials.
Aviation training consists of flight and ground lessons. Most people are surprised to learn that a ground school is not required. The books that you will purchase are designed for self study and it will be your choice whether you learn the ground subjects at home or in a classroom environment. A wide variety of training manuals and DVD courses can be purchased to supplement your ground training. Which format and presentation to choose is largely a matter of personal preference and budget. Just make sure that the product you buy is the latest, most up-to-date version available. Lately we have been encouraging our students to enroll in an online ground school course from Gleim Aviation. See this link for more information.
Your training program is designed to take each new thing you learn — and for most people, flight training is a new experience all around — as a building block for what will follow. The subjects you will have to study and the flight experience you will have to acquire before being able to take your final flight examination for your private pilot or sport certificate are determined by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).
People train to be pilots under a variety of circumstances, so flexibility exists for fashioning the kind of training plan that is right for you. It depends mostly on your schedule and goals. Honestly assessing your goals and financial abilities from the very beginning is one of the best ways to keep your training moving. To avoid discouragement and expensive backtracking, it is important to keep your momentum going, especially during critical stages of your training such as pre-solo and your final preparation for your flight examination. Other causes of delay, such as bad weather or aircraft maintenance issues, can’t be helped, so the more you can do to create an efficient schedule from the beginning, the better.
The FAA sets the minimum requirements for earning your private or sport pilot certificate. Essentially, you have to be 16 years old to solo, and at least 17 get your license. For the private certificate you must be healthy enough to pass an FAA medical examination. For a student or private pilot, only a Third Class Medical Certificate is required. There is no medical exam requirement for sport pilot candidates, only a valid US drivers license is required. At some time before you take your final flight exam you must pass the FAA written knowledge test. You must have your medical certificate and or student pilot certificate to solo, but you can start your training without it. If you have any doubts about passing the medical exam you should take it sooner rather than later. You don’t want to start flying only to be disqualified because you can’t get a medical.
To earn a private pilot certificate, you will fly a minimum of 40 hours in training. The sport pilot requires a minimum of 20 hours. The FAA sets other minimum requirements that include solo flights, night flying and flights of certain lengths to other airports. These are minimum figures. In reality, most students take more to complete their training. 60-70 is closer to average. Flight lessons usually run about an hour and are dedicated to familiarizing you with basic aircraft control, takeoffs and landings, specific maneuvers, navigation and emergency procedures.
Once you have completed the minimum requirements it will be time to focus on the practical test, which is a combined oral and flight exam. This test, known to pilots as a checkride will include subjects such as knowledge of aircraft systems, flight planning, regulations and weather. This flight test will be given by an FAA designated examiner (DPE). Upon successful completion of the checkride you will be issued your pilots certificate.
Many factors will affect the overall time and cost to get your license. By the time you have purchased your books, taken the medical exam, paid for the lessons, written test and checkride, plan to spend $4000-$5000 for a sport certificate and $7000-$9000 for a private.