So you want to Fly?

Every time a plane flys overhead you look up and think to yourself, “sheesh self, I sure wish I could be up there flying that plane. It looks like so much fun!” You go home and do some research to find that some flying schools “guarantee” your Pilot’s License for a certain price. A litle more research reveals that the FAA requires 40 hours of flight time, then you can take your exam. Well…is that it? Forty hours of flight training and you get your license? The short answer is: probably not. The rest of this page is the long answer. I encourage you to read on if you are seriously considering taking the dive (no pun intended).

In this article, I’m going to try to take you through the basics of getting a Private Pilot License. First though….DISCLAIMER, DISCLAIMER, DISCLAIMER: This by NO means is an end all definitive answer to the questions posed above. It is simply an attempt to help you see what your instructor, the aviation community, and the FAA expect to see before handing you the license to fly.

To Start, everyone is different and we all learn at a different pace. In flying this is magnified because the environment we are trying to learn in can be slightly stressful. Other factors that play into the learning process are your basic motor skills, the time you can commit to flying, and your leanings toward subject areas related to aviation. So let’s get to the meat of the question: What do I need to do to get my license? Well there’s three major milestones in pursing a license. The solo training, the cross country training, and the checkride preparation. Additionally, there are some other requirements that must be completed before you become a “qualified applicant” for the license.

Solo Training:
The first is the most obvious…you need to learn to fly the plane. In this first segment of training we are simply building the motor skills and aeronautical knowledge necessary to operate safely in our local flying area. We learn the basic maneuvers that an aircraft can perform, the communication and navigation skills to get to and from our home airport, and the skills required for takeoffs and landings. The end of this first segment of training culminates in your first solo flight! It will be one of the most exciting and rewarding events in your aviation career.

Cross Country Training:
Well…now you know how to fly the plane, but how do you get anywhere useful?? This segment of training is about the practical side of flying. You’ll learn how to use your charts, navigational equipment, and predetermined calculations to get you from point A to point B. You’ll also learn some more complex landing techniques as well as learning to fly solely based on your instruments. This training segment culminates in your first solo cross country flight. “What!??@?” you ask, “I’m flying to New York by myself??”. Not quite yet…the FAA defines a cross country flight as one in which the destination airport is at least 50 miles away from the departure airport. You can go to New York after you get your license..:)!

Checkride Preparation:
At this point in your training, you have learned most of the skills required to get your license. The main purpose of this last segment is to prepare you for you FAA practical exam….affectionately called “the checkride”. You will review everything you’ve learned in previous training segments, and refine those skills to a finely polished sheen! The practical exam consists of an oral discussion that verifies your aeronautical knowledge as well as a flight exam which tests your ability to safely operate the aircraft. If all goes well you’ll be a full fledged Private Pilot! Check out the article I Just Got My Private Pilot License…Now What?? to see what you can do once you get your license!

Additional Requirements:
There are a couple other things that must be completed before you go on your checkride: A medical exam, and a computerized knowledge exam. The medical exam is simply a general health checkup that confirms you are fit to fly. You don’t need to have it to fly with an instructor, but it is required before you solo for the first time. I highly recommend this is completed early on in your training to ensure there aren’t any issues that must be address before you can fly alone. The other item that needs to be completed is a computerized knowledge exam. This is a 60 question multiple choice exam in which you have 2 hours and 30 minutes to show your knowledge of all things aviation related. The passing score is 70% so with a little studying it should be pretty easy to pass.

There you have it! That’s what it takes to get your license….sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well it is! But with a good instructor, it is a manageable endeavour. So you’re still interested? What’s next you ask? Go to your local airport and sign up for a demo flight. Get up in the air! The only way to see if this is something for you is to go out and try it. Then if you decide your gonna go for it, it’s time to choose an instructor and lay out a plan together. Read my article on 5 Myths About Choosing a Flight Instructor to help you get started.

Good Luck and Blue Skies!

- Paolo

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