Flight Training 101
 

Learning to fly is one of the most rewarding pursuits you'll ever undertake. More than just learning the skills and knowledge necessary to safely control an aircraft, becoming a pilot will change how you live your life. Once you take to the sky, you'll see everything differently. Your surroundings, the sky, the way you drive, the way you think about weather; everything will seem different. The people you look up to and associate with will evolve. You'll see the world through the eyes of an aviator, and adventure will truly become a way of life.  
Learning to fly is not easy, but only because it requires dedicated time. It's not like a cooking or painting class where you can ease your way through. Flying will require your mind and your body, giving you new muscle-memory skills and newfound knowledge. The good news is that just about anyone can learn to fly; It's all up to YOU.
Today there are two options for becoming a pilot; the SPORT PILOT certificate, and the PRIVATE PILOT certificate. Each has advantages and disadvantages for different students. The SPORT PILOT certificate was created by the FAA in 2005 to make learning to fly less expensive and faster than the PRIVATE PILOT route. However, PRIVATE PILOT is the first rung on the ratings ladder for future professional pilots. Let's look at their differences: 

PRIVATE PILOT

SPORT PILOT

Minimum training time:
National average time:
Approximate cost:
Language requirement:
Can fly at night?:
Maximum passengers (in addition to pilot):
Requires FAA medical certificate?:
Maximum aircraft weight:
Maximum speed:
Complex Airspace limitations:
Altitude restriction:
Minimum age to earn certificate:
Minimum age to solo:
Written test required:
Flight (practical) test required:
Eligible for advanced ratings:
Type of aircraft:
Can fly outside the continental US:
  

40 hours
70 hours
$10,000 - $14,000
Read, speak, understand English
YES
No limit (aircraft capacity)
YES
12,500 lbs
No limit
Can fly in Class B, C, D, E, G airspace
Below 18,000
17
16
YES
YES
YES
Any
YES
20 hours
38
$4,000 - $6,000
Read, speak, understand English
NO
1
NO- Just have driver's license
1,320 lbs & 2 seats, max
138 mph
Requires additional training (C,D,B)
10,000' ft. MSL or 2,000' ft. AGL
17
16
YES
YES
NO (time flown does count)
Only light-sport (LSA)
NO, except for The Bahamas

TRAINING HOURS BREAKDOWN

PRIVATE PILOT - 40 Hours Training (minimum)
 
Dual: 20 hours minimum of flight training with an instructor including:
 
  • 3 hours of cross country flight training (destination farther than 50 nautical miles) in a single engine airplane;
  • 3 hours of night flight training in a single engine airplane, that includes at least:
- a) 1 cross country flight of over 100 nm total distance; and
- b) 10 Takeoff’s and 10 landings to a full stop with each involving a flight in the traffic pattern at an airport.
  • 3 hours of flight training by reference to instruments in a single engine airplane; and
  • 3 hours of flight training in a single engine airplane within the 60 days prior to the practical test.
  • The rest of the 20 hours is spent on all the elements of basic training (stalls, turns, landings, ground reference maneuvers, etc.)
 
 
Solo: 10 hours minimum of solo flying in a single engine airplane on the Private Pilot areas of operation including:
 
  • 5 hours of solo cross country flying;
  • 1 solo cross country flight of at least 150nm total distance with full stop landings at 3 points and one segment of at least 50nm between T/O and landings; and
  • 3 T/O’s and landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating control tower.
  • You will also go out solo and practice on your own to acquire the minimum solo hours.
 
NOTE: You’ll notice this only adds up to 30 hours. You will spend between 45-60 hours on your Private Certificate training. The difference is all the additional skills (landing, controlling the aircraft, ground reference maneuvers, stalls, etc.)
 
 
How Often To Train
The optimum is 3-4 days per week. At minimum, 2 times per week.
  
SPORT PILOT - 20 Hours Training (minimum)
 
Dual: 15 hours minimum of flight training with an instructor including:
 
  • 2 hours of cross-country flight training, (destination farther than 50 nautical miles)
  • 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport
  • 2 hours of flight training on the Practical test Standards within the 60 days prior to the practical test.
 
 
Solo: 5 hours minimum of solo flying including:
 
  • 1 solo cross-country flight of at least 75 nautical miles total distance, with a full-stop landing at a minimum of two points and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 25 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations
  • You will also go out solo and practice on your own to acquire the minimum solo hours.
 
 
How Often To Train
The optimum is 3-4 days per week. At minimum, 2 times per week.
  

WHAT EXAMS MUST YOU PASS?

For either SPORT or PRIVATE pilot you will be required to pass 3 exams; an oral exam, written exam, and practical exam (commonly called the "checkride.") The checkride is taken with a designated FAA pilot examiner (a kvery knowledgeable senior pilot). You will train with your flight instructor for the practical exam which tests your physical flying skills. However, the other exams require your own self-study. Here are the three exams in detail:
1.WRITTEN EXAM: The FAA knowledge test (we call it the “FAA written”) is a tough test that consists of 100 questions that cover all areas of aviation knowledge. YOU must select a ground school course and study – ON YOUR OWN – for the written exam. There are many good online courses and many good book/paper course. Even if you are enrolled in a ground school now, you will need to augment that with a study course. 
2.ORAL EXAM: The day you take your “checkride” (the practical exam in the actual airplane), your FAA examiner will conduct an oral interview where you will be asked to explain all the knowledge areas you’ve studied in ground school and in your books and online courses. This includes: aircraft systems, weather, cross-country flight planning, aerodynamics, FARS (regulations), airport operations, airspace designations and operations, charts, aircraft performance, and much more. This will require study and understanding on your part. Your flight instructor will discuss many of these areas but you must study and learn the concepts as well.
3. PRACTICAL EXAM (“CHECKRIDE”): This is the test in the aircraft. You will fly with an FAA Pilot Examiner who will ask you to perform all the maneuvers and skills you have been working on since the beginning. It typically runs 2 hours and will include you planning a cross-country flight complete with fuel requirements, time enroute, courses, alternates, altitudes, performance calculations, winds, etc. This is where it all comes together.

WHAT EQUIPMENT WILL I NEED?

It's tempting to start spending money on all the goodies and gear available for pilots, but the truth is you don't need much to get started. Save your money and just get a few basics. Most of the additional purchases you will need to make are books and manuals. Still, it's not much and can be had for about $200 or less if you're creative and frugal. Ebay and Craigslist are great sources for some of this stuff.
It's tempting to start spending money on all the goodies and gear available for pilots, but the truth is you don't need much to get started. Save your money and just get a few basics. Most of the additional purchases you will need to make are books and manuals. Still, it's not much and can be had for about $200 or less if you're creative and frugal. Ebay and Craigslist are great sources for some of this stuff.
SUNGLASSES
As you climb into the sky, you start to get above the pollution and haze and the sun is much brighter and more intense. Also, ultraviolet radiation is stronger. For that reason, decent sunglasses are a must to protect your eyes. They dont have to be $200, but sunglasses with UV protection and non-polarized lenses are best.
LOGBOOK
This is where you record your flight time. A pilot’s logbook is required and essential. They are inexpensive. Any logbook from a pilot supply house will work, though I like the Gleim book, and it’s inexpensive. ASA makes a pink logbook which is pretty cool too.
KNEEBOARD or WRITING PAD
There are many things to jot down in flying and a kneeboard is a device to which you can attach a 6x9" writing pad. It straps to your knee so it won't fall. At first, just a small writing pad will do. 6”x9” is best. You can buy a kneeboard later when you know what works well. 
CHARTS
Aeronautical charts are what pilots use for navigation. You'll likely need a "sectional" chart and a "terminal area ("TAC") chart. These are about $8.00 ea.
BOOKS
You'll need several books and manuals:
  1. FAA- Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
  2. FAR/AIM
  3. FAA- Airplane Flying Handbook
  4. Oral Exam Guide
  5. Practical Test Standards
  6. Knowledge Exam guide (from Gleim or ASA)
You can download many of the books for free to your iPad or mobile device. Check out our RESOURCES page!

Medical requirements

To earn a Private Pilot Certificate you will need to pass what is called a "Third Class" medical exam. It is administered by a specially-licensed doctor designated by the FAA as a "Airman Medical Examiner" (AME). These doctors are in every city and suburban area. To find an AME near you, go to the FAA's examiner locator at https://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/
Third class Medical Certificate:
 
Third class certifications require the least involved examinations of all medical certifications. They are required for those intending to be pilot-in-command of an aircraft under the Private or Recreational pilot certificates or while exercising solo privileges as a student pilot. To qualify for a third class medical certificate, pilots must meet the following requirements:
 
- Distant vision: 20/40 or better in each eye separately, with or without correction
- Near vision: 20/40 or better in each eye separately, with or without correction, as measured at a distance of 16 inches (410 mm)
- Color vision: Demonstrate the ability to perceive the colors necessary for the safe performance of airman duties
- Hearing: Demonstrate the ability to hear an average conversational voice in a quiet room, using both ears, at a distance of six feet, with their back turned to the examiner, or pass an approved audiometric test
- Ear, Nose, and Throat: Exhibit no ear disease or condition manifested by, or that may reasonably be expected to be manifested by, vertigo or a disturbance of speech or equilibrium
- Blood Pressure: Under 155/95
- Mental Status: No diagnosis of psychosis, bipolar disorder, or severe personality disorders
- Substance Dependence: No dependence on alcohol or any pharmacological substance in the previous two years
  1.  
For pilots under 40 years of age, third class medical certificates expire on the last day of the month they were issued, five years from the date of issue. For all others, they expire on the last day of the month they were issued, two years from the date of issue.
Typical Costs
Humans are individuals with very different learning styles, pre-existing skills and abilities, and different rates of absorbtion of complex material. As such, there is not a definitive number of hours in which a given person will earn their pilot certificate. The FAA minimum is 40 hours, while the national average in the US is currently 70 hours. The costs for different number of hours is presented here as a rough guide for how much to expect to spend (total) on learning to fly.
  1. 40 Hours (FAA mimimum)
    $8000 - $8500
  2. 50 Hours
    $10,000 - $11,000
  3. 60 Hours
    $12,000 - $13,000
  4. 70 Hours
    $14,000 - $15,000