Over the last few years, getting your Pilot’s License has become easier than ever before. This guide will walk you through the process of getting your first license, then show you the next steps if you decide you want to move beyond the basics.
The Basic Requirements
You must be at least 17 years old to get a regular pilot’s license, though you can get started with a student’s license one year earlier.
Also, you must be in reasonably good health to pilot an aircraft. Certain medical issues may disqualify you from obtaining a license, and there’s no getting around this unless you resolve your medical issues.
Finally, you must be fluent in the English language. This is because all airports and control towers use English, and you’re expected to be able to understand and obey any directions they give you.
If you meet all three of these requirements, you are ready to proceed to the first step.
Step 1: Find a School
When deciding how to get your pilot’s license, you should know that the only way to get your license is through professional instruction. There are no ‘at home’ courses.
Flight schools can typically be found near airports, though locations in the countryside may have a private runway to use. When possible, it’s best to look for smaller, local airports instead of international hubs. Aside from being quieter, it’s much easier to use a local airport’s runway whenever you want to. You can also look for a school online.
Step 2: Get Your Medical Exam
Your chosen school can direct you to the nearest Airman Medical Examiner. If you’re lucky, they may even have one on staff. The cost of this exam rarely exceeds $75, and you can expect to both fill out a questionnaire and go through a variety of physical tests to ensure that you’re fit to fly.
If you’d like to get the exam done before bothering to find a flight school, the FAA maintains an online reference of qualified doctors here. Make sure it’s set to search for an AME, rather than a DAR-F (a Designated Airworthiness Representative), as the same system is used to locate both.
Step 3: Sign Up At Your School
Once you’ve been medically certified – and not before then – it’s time to sign up at your chosen school and continue with how to get pilot license. Most schools offer a variety of courses and training that you can go through, but for the moment, our focus is on obtaining your basic pilot’s license.
Step 4: Go Through Ground School
Before you even set foot on a plane, you’ll need to go through your school’s ground training course to learn how to become a pilot. This may take up to five weeks (depending on your school’s schedule) and covers an extensive amount of information you’ll need to know, including:
- Radio communication and procedures
- Airport operations
- Weather reports
- Weather theories
- Flying regulations
- Navigating planes and other aircraft
This isn’t as fun as flying, but these things are taught first for a reason – and will be tested when it comes time to get your license.
You can get further training in by looking for computer simulations, manuals, and videos available online. Make sure your instructor approves of these before you use them – you don’t want to study something that’s at odds with what they’re teaching.
Ground lessons usually cost around $20/hour, and you may need to purchase additional items like log books before the end of the course.
Step 4: Get in the Air
Once you’ve completed your ground schooling, you’re ready for the main part of getting your private pilot’s license – actually flying. Most courses will have you spend anywhere from 40-60 hours in the air before you’ll be able to take your exam, and about the same amount of time will be spent on the ground as you go through a variety of pre- and post-flight lessons.
On average, it’s likely to take you several months to finish this part of your education, even if you’re flying multiple times per week. If you want to get your pilot’s license quickly, you may be able to find an intensive course that will get all of this done in one month, but the majority of people won’t do this.
In-flight instruction is more expensive than ground school. Aside from slightly higher instructor fees (typically around $25 per-hour), you’ll be expected to rent a plane for each flight if you don’t have your own. This can go as high as $75 per-hour and is the single biggest expense associated with getting your license.
If you don’t have several thousand dollars to pay up-front, your flight school may allow you to pay as you go, or pay in specific installments over time.
Step 5: Fly Solo
In many ways, this is the most nerve-wracking part of how to get your pilot license – for the very first time, you’ll be flying all alone. However, you’ll still be in contact with your instructor for the duration of the flight. If you can successfully pilot a plane solo, then you’re ready to take the exam.
Step 6: Get Your License
Once you have your instructor’s recommendation, you’re ready to take the written test and continue towards getting a pilot’s license. This is administered by the Federal Aviation Administration, not by your school, and you’ll want to review their resources and guides thoroughly. As of the last update, the exam consisted of 60 questions, with a score of 70% (or 42 correct answers) required to pass.
Completing the written exam gives you up to two years to take the practical test.
When you’re ready, you’ll go through what’s known as a “check ride” with a FAA examiner. Following a vocal question-and-answer session, you’ll head into the air with your examiner as a passenger. If you pass, you’ll receive your temporary pilot certificate, and the full pilot’s license will arrive once the FAA process it.
Note that it can take several months for your full license to arrive, so don’t worry if it seems to be taking awhile.