Private Pilot License
Less than one percent of the population of the United States has some form of a pilot's license, with the number resting around 630,000 persons. Joining this elite club relies not on ones income, social standing, race nor age but on their ability to work independently towards a goal. Earning a private pilot's license opens up a whole new world of possibilities to you, your friends and your family. Imagine being able to whisk the family away for a weekend trip or taking a few business partners out of town for a meeting, and cutting your travel time in half. Or perhaps you could direct your newly acquired skills towards philanthropy efforts- the possibilities are endless. Getting started towards this goal begins right here, where we've detailed every step of the process. We provide lessons we've learned the hard way from our time moving up through the ranks as aspiring pilots and how we made the leap from "I wish I could" to "now they pay me to do it!"
What can you do with a Private Pilots License?
A Private Pilot’s Certificate (License) is essentially a drivers license for the sky- it allows the holder to fly any aircraft, within limits, with passengers on personal or business flights. The Federal Aviation Administration, a sector of the United States Department of Transportation, issues the certificate to an individual who has completed the required training and has passed a written exam, an oral exam and a practical, behind-the-wheel exam. There is no real limitation to how many passengers you may fly or how big an aircraft you may fly, assuming the pilot is certified or rated in that aircraft. That being said, for 99.99% of all people who earn their license they do so in a two or four seat, single-engine, propeller driven plane. This means that when you pass your exams and earn your license it will limit you to flying only single-engine aircraft of about the same size. No jets, seaplanes or multi-engine aircraft yet, but with further training these things certainly all lie within your future if you want them to! The good news is that even flying a smaller prop-job airplane is demanding and you will find yourself challenged for the duration of your flying years even if you never move on to bigger, faster aircraft.
What do I need to get my private pilot license?
How do I know if I am eligible to earn my private pilot's license?
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has a list of criteria, published in the Code of Federal Regulations part 14, Aeronautics and Space. More specifically, the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) parts 61 and 91. This document lists nearly all federal rules and regulations governing flight within the United States, including how to earn your license.
The paramount question here is "am I even eligible to begin flight training or earn my license?"
Breaking it down, here is what the feds say you need to comply with:
Although you must be 17 years of age to earn your private pilots license, you must be at least 16 years of age to fly solo (i.e. as the sole occupant of the aircraft), a necessary requirement in the process of earning your license.
You can start your training at any age, old or young, but must wait until your 17th birthday to take your check ride. Some young, aspiring aviators with families who fly or simply great connections in the aviation world make it a goal to fly solo for the first time on their 16th birthday and take their check ride on their 17th. This is certainly an incredible experience, having your parents drive you to the airport so that you may fly an airplane before the state says you can even drive a car! No matter if you take this leap at age 16 or 60 the rewarding nature of the moment is never lost.
As English is the international language of aviation, as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), pilots must be fluent! The consequences of this can be witnessed when listening to air traffic control conversations where a language barrier creates a misunderstanding that results in an unsafe situation. All new pilot certificates even include the phrase "ENGLISH PROFICIENT" printed on the back, further emphasizing this requirement. In the event that this requirement can’t be met for any reason, that person would be referred to an FAA office called the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) who then further examines the impairment and determines if the applicant can be given a special issuance or limitation and still qualify to be a pilot.
A medical certificate is obtained by going to a designated Aviation Medical Examiner, a doctor with special authorization from the FAA to examine airmen, who will determine if you meet specific, defined medical standards to pilot an airplane. The stringency of the requirements, which include items such as hearing, vision, balance, prior surgeries, past or present health conditions and medications increase as one moves up from a 3rd class to a 2nd or 1st class medical. Thanks to new rules implemented by the FAA, no matter the class of medical certificate, your medical will be valid for either 60 months (if you were under the age of 40 at the time of the exam) or 24 months (if you were 40 or older at the time of the exam), so long as you are exercising the privileges of either a private pilot or a student pilot. Your medical will also state that you are a student pilot and it must be carried with you during your training. It is mandatory to hold a medical and student pilot certificate before you can fly solo.
Now that you know you are eligible, what are the specific requirements you have to fulfill before you can slap a pair of wings on your shirt and call yourself a pilot?
Simply stated, you will receive both ground (i.e. classroom) and flight training in various areas of aeronautical knowledge and pass a series of test on what you learn. Sound familiar? It should- this process works like every other class you"ve taken with the grand exception that you set the pace and, most importantly, you’re flying an airplane! Way more fun than geography or PE.
Breaking it down into flight and ground training:
At a minimum, the FAA designates that you must have 40 hours of flight time before you can take your practical test to become a private pilot. This will include at least 20 hours of "dual" (flying with an instructor) and at least 10 hours "solo" (you are the sole occupant of the aircraft). During this time you will practice things such as:
- Preflight procedures
- Airport operations
- Takeoffs and landings
- Flight at various air speeds
- Night operations
- Emergency operations
Breaking it down further you will need 3 hours dual covering cross-country flying (flights with a destination over 50 miles from their origin), 3 hours dual flying at night and 3 hours dual training on flying solely by reference to your instruments (i.e. what you would experience if you were stuck in a cloud). Your time spent solo in the airplane will include at least 5 hours on cross-country flights, one of which will be over 150 miles in total distance with landings at three airports.
As stated here, these numbers are only minimums and many students find themselves exceeding these numbers. In the case of 40 hours total: few people actually take their test with that low total number of hours in an airplane. A more reasonable estimate would be 50 to 60 hours, taking into account delays in training, unforeseen circumstances, or perhaps you simply need more practice than can be obtained in 40 hours. Keep this in mind when budgeting for your training and be wary of any flight school that says they can guarantee you a license in the minimum time!
Not only do you need to spend time honing your flying skills in the air, but also you will likely spend even more time on the ground with a textbook going over the areas of aeronautical knowledge required by the FAA in the FARs. Some examples of the areas you will study are:
- Aircraft systems
- Aeronautical decision making
- Weather reports and forecasts
- Planning for the unexpected
- Aircraft performance
- Various methods of navigation
Even though you must pass a written test prior to earning your license, don't let it be your sole goal when it comes to "book knowledge". There are several published study guides for the FAA Private Pilot Written that will surely help you pass the test, but using them solely will not make you a safe and competent pilot. Your flight instructor will guide you on what areas to study and where the most up-to-date material can be found. This is what rainy days were made for- arm yourself with as much "book knowledge" as possible and you will find your training time in the aircraft will be even more valuable!
If you are looking to get flying faster, closer to home, in light aircraft, you should look into a Sport Pilot License.