How to Make Your Flying Dream Come True with a Private Pilot License

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If you’re enamored with the thought of flying, you will learn that it is entirely possible to make those dreams a reality. There are a few things you need to know about getting a private pilot license, which we’ll outline for you here.

Types of Pilot Licenses

There several types of pilot licenses, also called certificates, available. For any of these, you need to be at least 17 years old to get your certificate. You need to have specific knowledge about aeronautics and pass a written test. You need to have flight experience; the number of hours varies according to the license. And you need to meet medical guidelines and qualifications.

  • Private – With a private license you are authorized to fly a variety of single-engine aircraft, almost all over the United States, in good weather, and with some, but not many restrictions. One of these restrictions is that you cannot accept payment for your flight services.
    • Private + Instrument – This certification allows you to fly anywhere you could go with a private license, but you can fly at night and in cloudy weather
    • Private + Multi-Engine – The Multi-Engine certificate allows you to fly higher and faster in planes with two engines
  • Sport – The Sport license lets you make day time flights in a lightweight, one or two passenger plane, with restrictions
  • Recreational – The Recreational license is similar to the private license, but with more restrictions on when, where, and how high you can fly.
  • More advanced license/certificates
    • Commercial – The Commercial license allows you to carry cargo and make money as a pilot. Once you have a commercial license, you can get further certification as a Flight Instructor and teach others how to fly.
    • Airline Transport Pilot – The Airline Transport Pilot is the license needed to become an airline pilot and fly multiple passengers in large planes.

Requirements for Private Pilot License

Most pilots start with a private pilot license. The private pilot can carry passengers, making business or personal trips. They can generally fly anywhere in the United States, at altitudes below 18,000 feet.

A pilot with a private license is able to fly any single-engine aircraft with no limits on the number of passengers or the distance traveled. If their training included night flying, private pilots can even fly at night. However, there is additional training and certification required for flying in cloudy or bad weather.

The private pilot license requirements include at least 40 hours of in flight training, some of which is done without an instructor in the plane, known as flying solo. According to the FAA pilots must also pass an Aviation Medical Exam, conducted by an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner.

If you pass the medical exam requirement, the Aviation Medical Examiner will issue you a Medical Certificate. You must present this certificate in order to receive your pilot’s license. You will have to pay the cost for the medical exam.

Which leads us to the next requirement for getting your pilot license.

How Much Does it Cost?

It can be costly. There are no two ways about it. Flight training, course training, medical exams, and certifications can be expensive. The average cost for a flight training course runs between $4,000 and $16,000, depending on your location, the type of airplane, type of school and the instructor. There are four year universities, academies, and local flight schools–all with different costs.

In addition to the costs of the flight school, you will have the costs of the medical exam, the knowledge test, and the practical test.

If you are determined to fly, it will be worth the expense to you.

The Written Test

In order to take the practical flying test required to be licensed, you must pass the written knowledge test. The written test demonstrates your knowledge on topics related to flying: weather, safety, airport regulations, aircraft, and aerodynamics.

Your flight instructor can provide you with a study guide or classroom training. You may also find a home-study or online program to prepare you for the knowledge test.

When you go to take the knowledge test, you will have to present a photo ID, with correct address and a signature, and a certificate of graduation from the ground school portion of the study. The certificate can come from your flight school, flight trainer, or home-study course.

The knowledge test results are good for two years. If you do not complete–and pass–the practical test in that time, you will have to take the knowledge test again.

The Practical (or Flight) Test

Once you’ve completed all the course work, logged enough in-flight hours, and passed the knowledge test, then you can take the practical exam. The practical, or flight, test is given as a final exam. It is given by an FAA designated inspector or Designated Pilot Examiner.

The practical exam requirements are updated regularly by the FAA, but will certainly include all of the following: preparing for your flight, procedures and checks, standard operations of airports, takeoffs, touch and go, landings, in flight maneuvers, on the ground maneuvers, navigation, speed related stalls, maneuvers with instruments, emergency procedures, night guidelines, and post-flight operations.

Of course, by the time you take the exam, you will have spent at least 40 hours practicing all of these things with your flight instructor. There really should be no surprises on the practical exam; you are simply demonstrating your competency.

Finding a Flight School

The difficulty of finding a training program will depend on your location. If you live in an area that has several small airports, chances are you will find a flight school in your area. However, you will not want to limit your flight school choices to those that are located near you. There are also universities, academies, and aviation colleges.

The kind of school you want will depend, in part on your future plans. If you intend do become commercial, and then an airline, pilot, you will want a school that meets the FAA guidelines. If you are seeking only to fly you and your friends and family, then the FAA accreditation is less important.

Flight schools are designated as Part 61 or Part 141 schools. These designations are based on FAA regulations. Part 141 schools are closely monitored by the FAA and must have FAA-approved curriculum and student pass rates. Part 61 schools have different accountability standards. Part 141 schools require a minimum of 35 flight hours for a private pilot license, while Part 61 school require 40 hours.

Another consideration when choosing a flight school is the airplane, or planes, they use in training. How often are they inspected? How current is their maintenance? How old is the plane? These are questions you should ask as you visit the flight school. Yes, you should visit a few flight schools before deciding on one.

No mailing, website, or phone call can compare to actually putting your feet on the ground at a school. During your visit you can check out the training airplane, talk to flight instructors and current students, and get a “feel” for the school. Does the personality of the school, its instructors, and its students fit with your personality? The cost of flight school is a terribly large investment to make in a school where you will be unhappy or uncomfortable.

Continuing Your Flight Path

Once you have earned your private pilot’s license, it may seem natural to you to take the next step and seek the commercial license. Here is some information on how to become a commercial pilot.

The commercial pilot license requires you to be at least 18 years old, able to read, write, and speak English, and have the pilot’s license with at least 250 recorded flight hours. Of those 250 hours, at least 100 of them have to be as command pilot with at least one cross-country flight.

In addition, the commercial license requires a more intense medical exam, another written test, and another practical exam. The cost for a commercial license can run around $20,000. Fortunately, once you have a commercial license, you can start charging for your services to recoup some of those expenses.

The next step in the flight path of a pilot is to become a flight instructor. There are two main reasons for taking this step. The first reason is that being a flight instructor will again allow you to make back some of your costs; the second reason is to get flight time.

As a flight instructor, you will be teaching students to fly–essentially helping others get their private pilot or recreational pilot license. In order to become a Certified Flight Instructor you will need to complete CFI training, pass an even more intense medical exam, pass both a written and an oral knowledge exam, a practical exam, and log additional flight time.

You will need that addition flight time, both while in training and as an instructor, to reach the level of airline pilot. If you are wondering how to become an airline pilot, keep reading. The requirements for an Airline Transport Pilot certificate start with logging at least 1, 500 flight hours as a licensed pilot, and this can take up to four years.

You must be at least 23 years old to get the license. Again, you must pass a medical exam, written and oral knowledge exams, and a practical exam. Becoming an Airline Transport Pilot, flying the big jets around the world, is the final leg of the pilot’s flight path.

Wrapping Up

Getting a private pilot license is the first step on the journey to captain of an airline pilot, but it may very well be the only step you are interested in taking. If you dream of flying, if you want to spread your wings and fly, you can take these steps to become a licensed private pilot. The sky’s the limit.


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