do I know that I can learn to fly?
Somewhere there is someone just like you who recently became
a pilot. Although the average student pilot is 32 years
old, anyone 16 years old or older can learn to fly an airplane
(14 if you fly gliders). People from every occupation and
every geographic location in the nation are pilots.
What are the requirements?
There are three basic requirements for learning to fly powered
airplanes in the United States. First, you have to be at
least 16 years old. Second, you have to be in good health.
And third, you have to be able to read, speak and understand
English. You can apply for a student pilot certificate if
you are at least 16 years old. When you're 17, you can apply
for a private pilot certificate. There is no maximum age
limit because it's health and not age that determines a
person's ability to fly well. The Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) requires everyone who wants to become a pilot or continue
to be a pilot to pass a routine medical exam every two years.
This requirement ensures that pilots do not have medical
problems that could interfere with their ability to fly
safely. Allowances are made for many physical limitations.
For example, glasses and contact lenses are perfectly acceptable.
The physical exam can be obtained anytime from one of many
FAA-designated physicians. If you're planning to learn to
fly, it's advisable to complete the physical exam early
in your flight training to assure that you qualify.
Go to top
How difficult is it?
As with any other skill you master, flying is learned step
by step. It's a fascinating experience. But it's not particularly
difficult. It can be learned by practically anyone who is
willing to invest some time and effort.
Pilot training has two aspects : ground
training and flight training. Ground training takes place
on the ground. It covers flight rules and regulations, airplane
systems, flight planning, navigation, radio procedures,
and weather. During flight training, you learn to fly by
actually controlling the airplane yourself. Under the supervision
of a certificated flight instructor, you learn how to take
off, land and fly cross-country (from you home airport to
another airport and then back again).
Millions of people have learned to fly.
By the time you're ready for your private pilot certificate,
you'll be secure in the knowledge that you're a safe and
Where is the best place
to learn to fly?
There are several types of flight training schools across
the country. Choosing the right one for you depends on your
specific needs and reasons for learning to fly. Most flight
training programs use a mixture of audiovisuals, textbooks,
and workbooks designed for ground training. You may receive
your ground training instruction from your certificated
flight instructor (CFI) individually or as part of a ground
training class. CFIs have been specially trained and examined
by the federal government to ensure that all of your training
is the safest and most effective possible.
The flight training itself is conducted
with your personal CFI. You'll probably learn to fly in
an airplane that was developed for student pilots. Such
planes are designed to provide the best possible flight
Many people learn to fly through a local
Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) or through a local flying school
that offers flight training. FBOs are general aviation air
terminals [they work like gas stations for small aircraft].
Each year more vocational and technical
schools, colleges, and universities are offering aviation
programs that include flight training. If you're seeking
a career in aviation, you may want to consider learning
to fly at one of these schools.
Go to top
What is the first step?
Deciding to learn to fly is obviously the first step and
often the most difficult one. Before you make the big decision
to take flying lessons, you may want to experience flying
in a small plane. Once you've viewed your community from
the perspective of a general aviation aircraft and felt
the sensation of flight, you'll know whether piloting is
for you. To arrange for a flight in a small plane, contact
the FBO at your local airport. FBOs service local and transient
aircraft. They often provide flight training, sell and rent
aircraft, and provide charter services and aircraft maintenance.
Many of them offer introductory flights or sightseeing flights
at reasonable rates.
How long will it take?
Most people receive their private pilot certificate after
about 55 hours of flight time, including time spent with
an instructor aboard (dual time) and time spent flying alone
(solo time). Training will include some night flying, some
instrument flying (flying solely by reference to the airplane's
instruments), and some cross-country flying. The minimum
time required by federal regulation is 35 or 40 hours of
flight time, depending on the type of school you attend.
You can fly in the early morning, during
the day or on weekends. Scheduling your flying is up to
you and your instructor. How long it takes to accumulate
flight time is largely up to you and your instructor. Usually
two to three hours flying time per week is a good learning
rate, with more hours during weeks when cross-country flights
are made. Statistics indicate that the average student pilot
completes the requirements for a private pilot certificate
in four to six months. Depending on the schedule and number
of hours spent flying, some people will complete it sooner
and others will take longer.
Go to top
What will my first flight
Your instructor will introduce you to the general aviation
airplane you'll learn to fly. You'll be briefed on the instruments,
controls, and equipment in the plane and on what to watch
for when you're flying. After this preflight briefing, the
two of you will take off. When aloft, and under the close
supervision of your instructor, you'll take control of the
airplane. It will be unlike anything you've experienced
before. Soon you'll feel the exhilaration - impatient for
the next flight.
What kind of tests will
No test is required for a student pilot certificate. But
before a private license is issued, you must pass two tests.
One is a written FAA examination. You'll also have to work
out the details of a hypothetical flight for this exam.
But don't worry ; you'll have done it all before in planning
the cross-country flights you made as part of your training
Following this exam is a practical examination
of your flying ability. Here you take a designated FAA examiner
for a checkride to demonstrate your ability to maneuver
the ariplane safely and confidently. You'll have practiced
the maneuvers many times before, and your flight instructor
will have prepared you thoroughly.
Go to top
How much does it cost?
Flight training costs vary. Fuel prices, maintenance and
insurance costs are but a few of the variables. You can
expect to pay between $3,000 and $5,000 for a good private-pilot
flight training program. Many schools offer finance packages
that allow low monthly payments spread over several years.
Compared to the costs of training in other
business skills, becoming a licensed private pilot is a
good value. Prorated over a lifetime, it's probably one
of the best bargains you'll ever find. The cost of becoming
a pilot is a solid investment in your future.
Is flying safe?
General aviation airplanes are built to rigid federal specifications,
and they are constantly checked and rechecked to make sure
they are mechanically and structurally safe. People who
fly are safety conscious. As the pilot-in-command of an
airplane, you're also in command of most variables that
affect flying safety. Safety is the most important word
in the general aviation vocabulary.
Your flight instructor will emphasize training
you to operate the airplane safely. Flying as pilot-in-command
of the airplane puts you in charge. A well-built and well-maintained
airplane in the hands of a competent, prudent, and well-trained
pilot makes flying safer than many other forms of transportation.
Go to top
What happens if the
An aircraft engine is a piece of finely built machinery
that is designed to keep running. If the improbable should
happen, however, you won't fall out of the sky. Your airplane
descends slowly in a glide. You'll simply do what your instructor
will have had you practice during your lessons : select
the nearest safe landing site and land there without power.
What about insurance?
Life insurance - The insurance companies have come
to learn how extremely safe flying really is. Most new policies
don't even mention general aviation flying. If you have
an older policy, restrictive clauses for private flying
can often be removed at little or no cost.
Liability insurance - Some flying
training schools include this insurance in your rental fee.
If not, many people purchase special low-cost pilot insurance
that covers private flying. At any rate, you should check
with your own insurance agent to find out where you stand
and whether there are any additional requirements.
Go to top
What happens after I
get my pilot's license?
You'll never be quite the same person you were before. You'll
have access to a whole new world of personal freedom. You'll
think of travel in terms of hours, not miles. You'll know
what it means to make your own schedules, go your own way...
far above the crowds, the congestion, the hassle, and the
annoyances of ordinary transportation.
You'll find a new sense of personal fulfillment
in your ever growing flying skills. You'll push the old
boundaries of your life forward and you'll have the opportunity
to plan, seek, and find new experiences that will enrich
your life in countless ways. You'll gain greater self-reliance
FAA FLYING REGULATIONS
As a pilot, you'll be governed by the regulations set by
the FAA. The more responsibility you take on as a pilot,
the more stringent the FAA requirements become. For instance,
pilots who want to fly as commercial pilots for hire must
pass stricter requirements than pilots who fly only for
personal pleasure or business. Some of the basic FAA regulations
for the different levels of piloting are shown below.
Go to top
- Student pilot regulations
You must be 16 years old and pass a Class III medical exam
given by an FAA-designated physician to obtain a student
pilot certificate. The medical certificate doubles as a
student pilot's certificate. You may fly only with an instructor
or, with your instructor's written approval, solo (by yourself).
- Private pilot regulations
To obtain a private pilot certificate, you must be 17 years
old and have a minimum of 35 or 40 flight hours, depending
on the type of school you attend. You must also pass the
FAA private pilot's written examination (a 60-question,
multiple-choice test) and a checkride with an FAA examiner.
As a private pilot, you can fly solo or with passengers.
Special weather requirements pertaining to visibility and
cloud conditions must be met, and you must continue to pass
your Class III medical exam every two years. You may not
be paid for your services as a pilot.
- Instrument rating regulations
An instrument rating allows you to fly when visibility is
poor and clouds are low in the sky. To obtain this rating,
you must have a total of 125 hours of pilot experience and
40 hours of instrument instruction. Then you must pass a
written examination and an FAA checkride.
- Commercial pilot regulations
Commercial pilots can "fly for hire". To exercise the full
rights of a commercial pilot, you must have an instrument
rating, be at least 18 years old, hold a Class II medical
certificate, and have a minimum of 250 hours of flying time.
You must also pass a 60-question written FAA examination
and a FAA checkride.
- Certificated flight instructor
To become a certificated flight instructor, you must be
18 years old and hold a commercial or airline transport
certificate with an instrument rating. Then you must pass
a written examination and a FAA checkride. As a certificated
flight instructor, you may instruct private or commercial
students. You may also obtain additional instructor ratings
to teach instrument instructor or multi-engine instructor.
- Airline transport pilot regulations
You must have a commercial certificate, have passed a Class
I medical exam within the last six months, have 1,500 flight
hours, and pass a FAA written examination and checkride.
This certificate allows you to perform pilot-in-command
duties for commercial airlines and other transport operations.
- Multi-engine rating regulations
To earn a multi-engine rating, you must take instructions
from an appropriately certificated instructor. There is
no hourly requirement or a written examination, but there
is an FAA checkride, after which you'll be licensed to fly
airplanes with two or more engines. You may hold either
a private or commercial certificate.
Why does an airplane
Although nothing is mind-boggling or mysterious about flying,
there is much to learn - just as there is in learning to
drive a car. As you learn to fly step by step, you'll find
your training enjoyable and challenging. Although airplanes
have been a part of our society for more than 85 years,
most people have only a vague idea of the basic principles
of flight. Flight may seem complicated, but in fact it's
based on some simple laws of nature.
- The principle of lift
When you examine a cross-section of an airplane's wing,
or airfoil, you'll notice that the top part is curved and
the bottom part is relatively flat. This special shape creates
lift, which makes the airplane fly. As the wing moves forward,
the air flowing over the top travels faster than the air
flowing beneath, resulting in a lower pressure area above
the wing. The relative pressure differential provides the
upward force called lift. Lift is basic to flying.
Go to top