How do I know that I can learn to fly?

Somewhere there is someone just like you who recently became a pilot. Although the average student pilot is 32 years old, anyone 16 years old or older can learn to fly an airplane (14 if you fly gliders). People from every occupation and every geographic location in the nation are pilots.

What are the requirements?

There are three basic requirements for learning to fly powered airplanes in the United States. First, you have to be at least 16 years old. Second, you have to be in good health. And third, you have to be able to read, speak, and understand English.

You can apply for a student pilot certificate if you are at least 16 years old. When you’re 17, you may apply for a private pilot certificate. There is no maximum age limit because it’s health and not age that determines a person’s ability to fly well.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires everyone who wants to become a pilot or continue to be a pilot to pass a routine medical exam every two years. This requirement ensures that pilots do not have medical problems that could interfere with their ability to fly safely. Allowances are made for many physical limitations. For example, glasses and contact lenses are perfectly acceptable. The physical exam can be obtained anytime from one of many FAA-designated physicians. If you’re planning to learn to fly, it’s advisable to complete the physical exam early in your flight training to assure that you qualify.

How difficult is it?

As with any other skill you master, flying is learned step by step by step. It’s a fascinating experience. But it’s not particularly difficult. It can be learned by practically anyone who is willing to invest some time and effort.

Pilot training has two aspects: ground training and flight training. Ground training takes place on the ground. It covers flight rules and regulations, flight planning, navigation, radio procedures, and weather. In the next phase, flight training, you learn to fly by actually controlling the airplane yourself. Under the supervision of a certificated flight instructor, you learn how to take off, land and fly cross-country (from your home airport to another airport and then back again).

Millions of people have learned to fly. By the time you’re ready for your private pilot certificate, you’ll be secure in the knowledge that you’re a safe and competent pilot.

Do I need special skills to fly?

No. Perhaps the most important element in successfully learning to fly is desire. Once you’re ready to invest your time and effort in learning to fly, then it’s time to take the first steps.

What is the first step?

Deciding to learn to fly is obviously the first step and often the most difficult. Before you make the big decision to take flying lessons, you may want to experience flying in a small plane. Once you’ve viewed your community from the perspective of a general aviation aircraft and felt the sensation of flight, you’ll know whether piloting is for you.

To arrange for a flight in a small plane, contact the Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) at your local airport. FBOs are general aviation air terminals — they work like gas stations for small planes. FBOs service local and transient aircraft. They often provide flight training, sell and rent aircraft, and provide charter services and aircraft maintenance. Many of them offer introductory flights or sightseeing flights at reasonable rates.

Where is the best place to learn to fly?

There are several types of flight-training schools across the country. Choosing the right one for you depends on your specific needs and reasons for learning to fly. Most flight training programs use a mixture of audiovisuals, textbooks, and workbooks designed for ground training. You may receive your ground training instruction from your certificated flight instructor (CFI) individually or as part of a ground training class. Certificated flight instructors have been specially trained and examined by the federal government to ensure that all of your training is the safest and most effective possible.

The flight training itself is conducted with your personal certificated flight instructor. You’ll probably learn to fly in an airplane that was developed for student pilots. Such planes are designed to provide the best possible flight training environment.

Many people learn to fly through a local FBO or through a local flying club that offers flight training. A flying club is a group of individuals who own aircraft and rent them to members. They usually offer flight instruction and other flying-related activities to their members. FBOs and flying clubs offering flight training are listed in the yellow pages of the telephone directory under aircraft schools.

Each year more vocational and technical schools, colleges, and universities are offering aviation programs that include flight training. If you’re seeking a career in aviation, you may want to consider learning to fly at one of these schools.

What will my first flight be like?

Your instructor will introduce you to the general aviation airplane you’ll learn to fly. You’ll be briefed on the instruments, controls, and equipment in the plane and on what to watch for when you’re flying.

After this preflight briefing, the two of you will take off. When aloft, and under the close supervision of your instructor, you’ll take control of the airplane. It will be unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Soon, you’ll feel the exhilaration — impatient for the next flight.

What kind of tests will I take?

No test is required for a student pilot certificate. But before a private license is issued, you must to pass two tests. One is a written FAA examination — largely a practical exam on flying rules and regulations. You’ll also have to work out the details of a hypothetical flight for this exam. But don’t worry; you’ll have done it all before in planning the cross-country flights you made as part of your training program.

Following this exam is a practical examination of your flying ability. Here you take a designated FAA examiner for a checkride to demonstrate your ability to maneuver the airplane safely and confidently. You’ll have practiced the maneuvers many times before, and your flight instructor will have prepared you thoroughly.

How long will it take?

Most people receive their private pilot certificate after about 55 hours of flight time, including time spent with an instructor aboard (dual time) and time spent flying alone (solo time). Training will include some night flying, some instrument flying (flying solely by reference to the airplane’s instruments), and some cross-country flying. The minimum time required by federal regulation is 35 or 40 hours of flight time, depending on the type of school you attend.

How long it takes to accumulate flight time is largely up to you and your instructor. Usually, two to three hours flying time per week is a good learning rate, with more hours during weeks when cross-country flights are made. Statistics indicate that the average student pilot completes the requirements for a private pilot certificate in four to six months. Depending on the schedule and number of hours spent flying, some people will complete it sooner and others will take longer.

You can fly in the early morning, during the day, or on weekends. Scheduling your flying is up to you and your instructor.

How much does it cost?

Flight training costs vary. Fuel prices, maintenance, and insurance costs are but a few of the variables. You can expect to pay between $2,500 and $4,000 for a good private-pilot flight-training program. Many schools offer finance packages that allow low monthly payments spread over several years.

Compared to the costs of training in other business skills, becoming a licensed private pilot is a good value. Prorated over a lifetime, it’s probably one of the best bargains you’ll ever find. The cost of becoming a pilot is a solid investment in your future.

Is flying safe?

General aviation airplanes are built to rigid federal specifications, and they are constantly checked and rechecked to make sure they are mechanically and structurally safe. People who fly are safety conscious. As the pilot-in-command of an airplane, you’re also in command of most variables that affect flying safety. Safety is the most important word in the general aviation vocabulary.

Your flight instructor will emphasize training you to operate the airplane safely. Flying as pilot-in-command of the airplane puts you in charge. A well-built and well-maintained airplane in the hands of a competent, prudent, and well-trained pilot makes flying safer than many other forms of transportation.

What happens if the engine quits?

An aircraft engine is a piece of finely built machinery that is designed to keep running. If the improbable should happen, however, you won’t fall out of the sky. Your airplane descends slowly in a glide. You’ll simply do what your instructor will have had you practice during your lessons: select the nearest safe landing site and land there without power.

What about insurance?

Life insurance — The insurance companies have come to learn how extremely safe flying really is. Most new policies don’t even mention general aviation flying. If you have an older policy, restrictive clauses for private flying can often be removed at little or no cost.

Liability insurance — Some flight training schools include this insurance in your rental fee. If not, many people purchase special low-cost pilot insurance that covers private flying. At any rate, you should check with your own insurance agent to find out where you stand and whether there are any additional requirements.

Do I have to own an airplane?

Not at all! Of course, owning your own general aviation airplane will give you complete freedom to set your own schedule. You’ll have a pride of ownership like nothing you’ve known before. But many pilots don’t own their own planes. Often pilots belong to flying clubs — groups who pool their money to buy and share a plane.

Other pilots rent airplanes. Rental fees are normally based on an hourly rate for actual flying time. For an individual trip, renting a plane may cost less than renting a car.

What happens after I get my pilot’s license?

You’ll never be quite the same person you were before. You’ll have access to a whole new world of personal freedom. You’ll think of travel in terms of hours, not miles. You’ll know what it means to make your own schedules, go your own way…far above the crowds, the congestion, the hassle, and the annoyances of ordinary transportation. You’ll find a new sense of personal fulfillment in your ever growing flying skills. You’ll push the old boundaries of your life forward and you’ll have the opportunity to plan, seek, and find new experiences that will enrich your life in countless ways. You’ll gain greater self-reliance and confidence. Through your own initiative and effort, you’ll be a master of our 20th century’s most distinctive and rewarding art — flying.

Copyright 1996 General Aviation Manufacturers Association
General Aviation Manufacturers Association