Become a Pilot!

Ever wished you could fly? Ever thought about taking flying lessons? Here you'll get answers to all of your flying questions. Below you'll find everything you need to become a licensed pilot, including a complete list of requirements and exactly what to expect along the way.

So You Wanna Be a Pilot?

Chances are if you're reading this, you're already interested in flying. But just in case you aren't, pause here to watch this amazing 1-minute video from Pilot Journey!

They offer a Discovery Flight Gift Certificate that allows you to give yourself, or someone you love, the gift of flight! With no experience necessary, you or your loved one will become a pilot for day... flying a real aircraft at over 400+ participating flight schools across the country!

So Who Can Get a Pilot's License?
Just about anyone! The prerequisites for earning a pilot's license are pretty basic. You'll need to read, write, and speak English. You'll also need to be at least 16 years old to fly solo, and 17 years old to take the flight test (which gets you your license). Aside from that stuff, you'll need four main things:

• A Medical Examination - Every student pilot must pass a basic medical examination given by an FAA-licensed physician. This isn't to say the FAA has it's own physicians, but that certain doctors have met prescribed FAA requirements to certify you as physical able to fly an airplane. These doctors are called AME's (Aviation Medical Examiners), and a searchable list of them by city or zip code can be found here.

• Time - Sorry, but you can't skimp on this one. While a pilot's license requires only a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, most student pilots take closer to 60-70 hours to complete their training. Keep in mind you're going to spend an equal if not greater number of hours on ground school, studying for the written exam, and as your final test approaches, getting ready for both the oral and flight portions of your FAA checkride. Factor in missed flights due to bad weather, high winds, and other unforseen events... it's going to take several months for even the best student to obtain a pilot's license.

• Money - Unfortunately, flying is not cheap. While certainly within reach of the average person, obtaining your license generally costs between $6,000 and $10,000 - depending upon the time of year, school, and home airport you fly out of. These costs be trimmed by studying hard and flying frequently, as you will retain more knowledge and be ready for your flight test in much less time. By stretching your training and flying intermittently, your costs could balloon higher. Keep this in mind when deciding when to fly, and try to start your training at the least busy time of year for you.

• Desire - This one's most important! While becoming a pilot isn't as hard as it first sounds, it certainly requires a good amount of dedication and study. Developing a desire and love for flying your airplane will go a long way in keeping you on the path to your license. When you do enter a flight training program, give it 100%. Go full-blast, and really get excited about it. You'll be a better pilot for it, and you'll have more fun.

Okay, I Have all That! What's Next?
Your next step is choosing a home airport that's close to you, and picking a flight school. You're going to want to do lots of research here. Read up on the schools near you, and check out their websites. Visit their facilities. Are they clean? Are the people behind the counter helpful and nice? What kind of services and aircraft do they offer? You don't have to know much about flying to determine which schools are run better than others. Weigh the value of low-wing trainers versus high-wing, and don't make your decision until you've visited them all. For some great articles about choosing a flight school, check out the aviation articles section.

What Kind of Flight Training can I Expect to Receive?
Each school is different, but in general you're going to spend half your time on the ground and half in the air. Here's what you can expect from each:

• Ground School - Some flight academys will offer a more structured ground school program with multiple weekly classes in a classroom environment. Others will rely upon you doing most of that work yourself, at home, with your nose in the books. Either way, you're going to be fed a lot of information in a short about of time, and it'll take some dedication to retain it. Any flying program will come with access to the necessary books, manuals, airport directories, and flight tools - although usually at additional cost.

You can expect to first learn the basics of aeronautics and flight: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. You'll learn how an airplane works, and how the control surfaces affect it during flight. You'll move into weather and temperature, where you'll learn about dewpoint and pressure and altitude and a whole bunch of other good stuff that you never really took into consideration when you saw an airplane in the sky. In fact, you'll learn so much about clouds and wind and front movement that you'll actually become an amateur meteorologist by the end of your flight training.

You'll learn how to do flight calculations using graphs and charts and your very own E6B flight computer. Speeds, crosswinds, and altitude conversions are only some of the areas you'll cover. You'll do weight and balance charts, fuel consumption calculations, you'll plot distance over time and learn how to compute runway takeoff and landing lengths based upon aircraft weight, type, and center of gravity. You'll learn to read your aeronautical sectional charts, how to plot courses, file flight plans, and steer clear of high-traffic airspace. Things get a little complicated here in ground school, and a good instructor will be key to keeping you on track. Luckily, you live in the age of the almighty internet, where anything and everything you might need help with is right at your fingertips.

• Air School - This is the part most people imagine when thinking about learning to fly. Flying school consists of one-on-one time with you and your instructor, and then after you make your solo, additional time in the airplane by yourself. The FAA 40 hour minimums don't just mean you can do anything you want in the air for 40 hours, either. Instead you'll be required to train in some very specific areas which are listed below:

Flight Requirements

20 hours of dual instruction including:
3 hours cross-country to airports more than 50 miles away
3 hours instrument, or hood training
3 hours night including a 100 nautical mile round trip
10 night takeoffs and full stop landings
3 hours instruction within 60 days prior to your FAA test

10 hours of solo flight including:
5 hours cross-country including a 150 mile round trip
3 takeoffs and landing at an airfield with a control tower

The above figures are the minimum numbers required before
being allowed to take the practical flight test given by an
FAA examiner. Keep in mind that most students will have
considerably more time in many of these categories
especially during an elongated flight training program.

In the air, you'll be taught how to takeoff, fly, and land the airplane (which is the most difficult part of flying). You'll learn to climb, dive, and make coordinated turns with control and fluidity that will only increase over time. You'll learn emergency procedures, dead reckoning navigaton techniques, and VOR tracking. Your radio-work will teach proper communications with air traffic control personnel, and how to announce your intent on UniCom frequencies.

When your flight instructor knows you're ready, there will be that fateful day the airplane is handed over to you for your first solo. This will be one of the most exhilarating things you do in your life, and you'll never forget it. After three such solos and a certain number of landings, your instructor will probably sign you off to do a lot more work alone, including your short and long cross-country flights.

Finally, your in-the-air training will also consist of certain manuevers that will be required to be demonstrated on your flight test. Some of these manuevers include demonstrating stalls, instrument flight techniques, steep turns, turns about a point, and short and soft field landings. Your skills in performing these manuevers will continue to sharpen as you practice them, and eventually you'll be prepared for your FAA flight test and checkride.

Don't I Need to Take a Written Exam?
You sure do. Sometime during your flight training, usually about two-thirds to three-quarters the way through, you'll need to take the FAA Written Test or Airman Knowledge Test. The test will be administered at an official FAA testing location that may or may not be within your flight school. You'll have 150 minutes to complete the 60 question exam, and you'll need a 70% or better to pass. The test will be generated randomly from the FAA's databank of over 900 possible questions from the current version of the FAR/AIM (Federal Aviation Regulations / Aeronautical Information Manual). It'll include some visual references to maps, graphs, and instruments as well as text-only questions. The questions are multiple choice with each question having three possible answers. Try to pass your written test with a decent grade, because you'll be presenting a copy of that test to the FAA examiner when taking your flight test.

Okay, Tell me About the Flight Test!
Eventually you'll be greasing your landings, rocking your turns, and navigating solo around your home airfield with total confidence. Your emergency and demonstrative procedures will be sharp, and you'll know your instruments inside and out. You'll have studied the FAR/AIM with grim determination, and you'll understand every aspect of your sectional charts. Then one day your flight instructor will slap a hand on your shoulder and tell you that you're ready for your FAA Practical flight test, also called your Checkride.

The checkride will be administered by an FAA Inspector, or an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DME), for a fee. A DPE is usually long time flight instructor who thankfully loves and appreciates aviation. Sometimes they are retired FAA inspectors, airline captains, or other highly qualified aviation professionals. They will know their stuff inside and out, and they will expect you to know it adequately as well if you want a passing grade. In order to take your Checkride, you will need to have the following stuff:

Your student pilot's certificate, medical certificate, and identification.
Your FAA written test results.
Your logbook, containing all the required minimums mentioned above.
Written recommendation and endorsement from your Certified Flight Instructor.
A properly filled-out Form 8710, with both you and your CFI's signature.
All airplane required documents (AROW's) and maintenance logs for your aircraft.
Current sectional charts, FAR/AIM, PTS, and an airport directory.
Brass balls (not mandatory, but recommended).

Your FAA flight exam will then consist of two parts: the oral knowledge exam and the practical flying exam. The oral part will happen first, where you'll sit down and be tested to the outer limits of your aeronautical knowledge. You'll be held to the information in the Practical Test Standards (PTS), and will be asked situational and hypothetical questions as well. The instructor will not only be looking for the right answer, he'll be more interested in seeing if you know why your answer is correct. There will be things you forgot or even get wrong - remember that you're not expected to be an expert. Still, you must demonstrate an overall knowledge of each area of expertise to the examiner's satisfaction, which will determine if you continue on to the flying portion of the test.

Once the examiner has declared your aviation knowledge satisfactory, you'll continue to the in-flight exam. This of course includes a full pre-flight check and run-up, during which you should demonstrate aloud each phase of your checklist. Make sure your examiner knows what you're doing and when you're doing it; this may very well be the first time the examiner is going to fly in this airplane, and he's going to want to know that it's airworthy.

Prior to your test, the examiner will have asked you to draw up a flight plan to a local airport as well as a contingency plan (emergency airport) should something happen during the flight. Most likely you'll fly this flight plan, at least partially, until the instructor tells you to break off. Here you may be asked to divert to your secondary airport, or you'll be asked to demonstrate manuevers at the airspeeds and altitudes designated by the Practical Test Standards.

You'll be tested on just about everything. If you fail to keep within acceptable limits during a manuever, you'll probably be asked to repeat it - this doesn't necessarily mean you failed the flight test. When a mistake is made, a good policy is to announce the mistake, explain to the examiner why it was a mistake, and then ask to repeat the maneuver. You'll be asked to demonstrate takeoffs and landings as well, so make them good ones.

What if I Fail the Checkride?
Your checkride should be easy because you've already been through the hard part - the months of training. Most pilots pass the checkride on their first try. If you do fail however, you will be issued a pink slip and will need to wait to take the test again. You'll be given the reasons why you failed, so at least you'll know what to work on in the weeks ahead.

What if I Pass? What do I do with my License?
Take passengers! Your private pilot's license entitles you to grab your friends and go flying, which is something you could never do while still a student. You'll be able to fly during VFR conditions (visual flight rules), to both tower-controlled and non-tower controlled airfields. Socially, flying will extend the normal range of your weekend excursions, as you can now get to more distant places more quickly than by car. Best of all, you'll get to experience the thrill of getting up above everything whenever you want, and the beauty of seeing your neighborhood in all the different seasons of the year.

For a more detailed and human account of what it's like to learn how to fly, read our Pilot's Journal. And for additional questions or comments about flying, feel free to Contact Us.

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