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Want to learn how to fly a biplane or even become a commercial airline pilot? The first step is getting involved in flight lessons. Here’s a step-by-step on how to do it.
Getting a pilot’s license is a common dream for many people. Learning how to fly can be an empowering experience, but the process is more involved than, say, getting your driver’s license. Flying a plane, whether private or commercial, is a huge responsibility because of the dangers involved.
You have to complete rigorous training, both in the classroom and at the controls of a craft. Before you may even be allowed to begin flight school, you also have to prove that you have the physical, mental, and visual fortitude necessary to fly a plane, understand flight regulations, and follow all applicable laws. If you can do that, you’re well on your way to being a pilot.
Choose Your Goal
Do you want to become a commercial pilot flying a passenger plane or something similar? Or do you want to stick with flying two-seater planes? If you choose to go commercial, you’ll have to complete far more training and undergo a strict background check. You’ll also have to have experience in flying smaller craft.
Finding a Flight School
First, you need to find a flight school. Many large cities or nearby areas have a flight school because flight school requires the presence of an airport to teach practical flying lessons. You can do an online search, check social media, or find a flight school through some other method. It’s rare that more than a few flight schools will exist in a metropolitan area.
You will be restricted by where you live or how far you’re willing to travel. If possible, arrange to meet with an instructor to talk about your goals, as well as other matters such as the cost of tuition and the time you’ll spend training. To get a private license, for example, you need 70 hours of both classroom and hands-on experience, both with an instructor and solo.
As far as paying for flight school, many schools offer financing plans such as scholarships. If you want to pay out of pocket, most schools are willing to work with you on progressive payments as your training progresses. If you have to pay upfront, be wary. Once you’ve selected a flight school and declared your intent to study, you can move on to the next step.
Before you can even touch a flight stick, you’ll need to undergo a medical exam from an Aeromedical Examiner. Depending on why you want to learn how to fly, you’ll need to meet different requirements. For example, a commercial transport pilot must obtain a First-Class Airman certificate.
Vision is one of the most important areas of competence. You need:
- Distant 20/20 vision with or without corrective lenses in each eye separately
- Near 20/40 vision with or without corrective lenses in each eye separately
- Ability to fully perceive color
- Full field of vision
- No degenerative eye conditions
You’ll also need to prove you can hear properly enough to distinguish conversation. Other requirements of a medical certificate are a lack of mental or neurological disorders, a lack of cardiovascular issues, and no issues with balance or equilibrium.
If you meet all these requirements, you can receive a First-Class Airman Certificate and be cleared to fly a plane after completing your training. These standards are set in stone, and for a good reason.
If you’re over the age of 40, the visual standards are slightly relaxed.
Getting Your Student Pilot Certificate
Once you’re medically approved for flight, you can apply for your student pilot certificate. To do this, go to the FAA website and navigate to the Integrated Airman Certification Rating Application page. If you need help, ask an instructor to guide you through the process.
If you can’t do it online or simply prefer a paper trail, download, print, and complete FAA form 8710-1. When you’re finished, submit the form to a Flight Standards District Office. If one is not available, give the form to your flight instructor and have him submit the application for you. You’ll need to have a valid form of government-issued ID. Usually, a driver’s license is enough.
If you need two forms of ID, have your birth certificate or a passport ready. Once you’ve completed and mailed your form or submitted your application, you can expect to receive your license card in about three weeks.
You don’t need to have your student pilot certificate to start lessons. However, part of your training will include solo flight, and you’ll need the certificate to do that legally so it’s probably best to get it out of the way.
Next, you’ll need to start your lessons. During your classroom or ground training, you’re going to start with theory. This includes learning about the basics of aerodynamics, the proper terminology and vocabulary, and the laws governing aircraft flight. Before you can fly a plane, you have to learn the fundamentals of how the craft works.
You might, if the flight school is equipped for it, be able to take part in a simulated flight to get an idea of what to expect when you’re in the air.
You should also make it a point to learn about common mishaps that can happen while you’re airborne, and how to deal with them quickly and safely.
This is the fun part when you learn how to fly. You get to take a plane up into the air, with the guidance of your instructor. He’ll first take you through the pre-flight check procedures. You’ll make sure that all the plane’s equipment and gauges are functional, as well as ensuring that the plane itself is in airworthy condition.
Granted, you could have a mechanic look over your craft before setting out, but knowing how to make some elementary repairs is vital to your success and potentially survival as a pilot.
After your plane is ready to fly, your instructor will walk you through the take-off procedure. Follow what your instructor says to the letter; otherwise, you can miss a critical step. By paying critical attention to detail early on, you instill muscle memory and make the process automatic.
Once you’re in the air, you’ll likely complete a few basic maneuvers on your first flight, such as climbing, descending, banking, and yawing. A bank turns the plane along the longitudinal axis and is how you’ll make the majority of your turns. By banking and pulling back on the stick, you “ascend” in that direction because of how the ailerons redirect airflow.
Yaw, meanwhile, turns the plane on the vertical axis. This allows you to subtly adjust course without needing to bank and right the plane again. When you bank, it needs to be gentle at first, because you’re not trying to fly a fighter jet. You’re likely to crash if you make sudden movements.
Also, climbing at too sharp an angle – this depends on the plane – can lead to a stall. As air flows over the wings, the increased pressure below is what keeps the plane in the air. Climbing too steeply undermines this effect and leads to stalling.
A stall means the engine dies in midair. When this happens, you need to be able to right the plane and glide until you get the engine restarted. Your instructor will explain all of these concepts and teach you how to apply them as you progress in your studies.
Your pilot exam consists of two components: a practical test and a knowledge test. To qualify for testing as a private pilot, you need to have at least 40 hours of documented flight time and endorsement from your instructor. Once you meet these requirements, you can take the knowledge test at a testing center.
All the questions are multiple-choice and test you on theory, law, terminology, and other knowledge-based aspects of being a pilot. Once you pass this, you can take the practical flight test. To do this, you need to set an appointment with a certified, designated flight examiner.
You’ll be asked questions orally to ensure you can think on your feet, and you’ll be tested on the practical skills you need to fly the aircraft, including safety checks, proper radio communication protocol, and safe handling of the plane. You’ll conduct a complete flight from takeoff to landing without any guidance, and be scored according to your performance.
If you succeed in obtaining your pilot’s license and want to make a career out of it, continue flying, practicing, and learning about different aircraft. To be a commercial transport pilot, you need to have at least 1,500 hours of documented flight time, and you may need to pass other tests.
If you want to learn how to fly, various resources online provide training and links to flight schools near you. You can also self-study to prepare for the theoretical questions you’ll need to answer on your exams. If you want to have a better chance of meeting your goal, set a timeline. Otherwise, it’s too easy to put off training in favor of other activities.