What can I expect in training?
You are now the pilot!
The biggest immediate change is that you are no longer a passenger- you are actually flying the airplane! Gone are the days of your passive admiration of pilots and what they do, for from now on you will be involved in every aspect of each flight. Your very first flight will start with an introduction in to what work pilots do on the ground before each flight- with emphasis placed upon weather. Moving on you will learn how to inspect an airplane during the preflight walk around, looking at such things as fuel, oil, tire pressure and the general condition of the control surfaces. Once you both determine that the weather is good enough to go and your airplane is in an airworthy condition, its time to go fly!
How will my training progress?
You will most likely fly the airplane for every part of your first flight, excluding the landing. It takes some time to get the concept of landing down and your flight instructor will ease you into this process over the next few flights. During the first fifteen or so hours your instructor’s goal is to introduce you to the basics- flying “straight and level,” how the flight controls work, dealing with air traffic control procedures at your home airport, what to do if the engine quits and some other basic emergency procedures. The idea being that at the end of this first set of flights you will fly solo (as the sole occupant of the aircraft)! It will be a day you will forever remember and will surely rank as one of your life achievements.
A note on frequency of flights-
Earning your private pilots license is both time consuming and relatively expensive. In order to maximize your investment it makes sense to fly often enough so that you retain skills and knowledge gained in your last flight and you are able to build new experiences on top of that. This translates to an ideal schedule of flying about three times per week- just enough so you keep making progress towards your goal but not too much so you’re burned out.
Post-solo you will continue to work with your instructor on refining your skills, and the next step will be a cross-country flight. Cross-country flights are defined as any flight including a landing at an airport more than 50 miles from the airport you took off from, and they bring their own unique set of challenges. You will learn the different methods for navigating, how to enter and exit new airports, working with air traffic control en-route and what to do if you’re ever lost. Once you two feel that you’ve got the concept down you’ll go out on your own and fly a series of solo cross-country flights, culminating with a marathon flight of over 150 miles in length and having landings at three airports.
By this point you’re starting to feel like a real pilot and your improvement has been vast throughout the course of your training. From this point your focus will shift to refining your skills for the practical portion of the check ride. Your instructor will hardly be flying the airplane during your lessons, if at all, and you will find yourself critiquing your own performance. During the practical examination, you will be held to certain standards in your flying. These standards are objective measures of how well you can fly, and include items such as how much altitude you can lose or gain during a maneuver or what airspeeds and techniques should be used during takeoff. Your instructor will introduce these standards to you and your maneuvers will be performed to them during the final stretch of your training.
How can I keep tabs on my progress?
Your flight instructor and you are both responsible for making sure you’re on the right track to meet your goal of becoming a private pilot. It is important to always ask for feedback on your flights and to recap the day’s events with your flight instructor- this is the time to iron out any misunderstandings as well as learn what you did well and where you’ve got room to improve. Depending on where you complete your flight training you may be subject to “line checks” from time to time. A line check is like a mini-check ride, where you will fly with another instructor who will evaluate your progress and give you an idea of how you’re progressing towards earning your wings. This is a great opportunity to have someone else objectively evaluate your flying, as they may be able to provide a new perspective and explain things a different way.
Once you’ve met all the time and experience requirements, you’ll be ready to go off and prove yourself to an examiner, with a successful outcome being your private pilot certificate!
What about ground knowledge?
In addition to the flight training you will endure you also need to spend at least an equal amount of time studying on the ground. There are a couple routes to fulfilling this requirement: you can either enroll in a class taught by a flight instructor or you can study on your own at home. If you prefer the flexibility that working alone offers and are disciplined enough to stick with it you may find studying on your own terms at home is best. The other option, a class, is a more common choice, and will allow someone else structure the learning process and explain complex ideas. At the end of either your home study course or the ground school class you enrolled in your flight instructor will need to sign you off to take the FAA written exam. This exam will have to be taken at a designated testing center, of which there are thousands spread across the country. Your instructor will know where the one nearest you is and how much you’ll have to shell out for the privilege, expecting $75 to be a low-to-average figure.
What is this all going to cost me?
As you’ve probably gathered earning your private pilots license isn’t exactly a cheap thing to do. Although there is no magic bullet to change that fact, there are plenty of resources available to help you set up a budget for your training to prevent any surprise expenses from popping up. If you figure 50 hours of flying time at a low-end estimate of $75 per hour for aircraft rental, we’re at $3750 for the airplane alone. Factor in a flight instructor at $35 per hour for 30 hours, and that’s another $1050. All other expenses, including books and supplies, a headset, a ground school course and testing fees should total around $800 to $1000. This brings our end figures to $5600 to $5800: a mid-range estimate that gives you an idea of what to expect.
What supplies/equipment will I need?
Breathe a sigh of relief! This is one area where you can scrimp and save some money if you’re on a tight budget, or you can dump thousands and be the guy with the latest gadgets at the airport. The basics that you will need to invest in will include a headset, E6-B flight computer, plotter, fuel strainer, flashlight, charts, a couple of textbooks and the FAR/AIM, plus a bag to throw it all in. Most all of these things can be found second-hand; for example, perusing ebay for a used headset will save you hundreds of dollars over purchasing new.