How To Become A Pilot

How To Become A Pilot

A step by step process of how to become a pilot. No fluff just facts based on prior experience. What prior experience? 15 years worth of flight school operations. During this time we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Well also show you how to get your pilots license for less cost. Alright lets get down to business. So you want to learn how to become a pilot?

"No Fluff Just Facts About Getting Your Private Pilots License"

Questions To Ask Flight School Before Starting

Save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by asking the flight school the right questions.
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Do we have something to gain from writing this article? Yes we do. We’re in the business of producing quality pilots, but we’re not going to fluff up the facts to make a sale or feed you with unrealistic promises. It’s no secret, if you accomplish ground school and get the FAA written done before starting flight lessons it will save you time & money in the long run. PPG offers live online classes that are geared towards pilots who are just getting started. Feel free to check us out. Ok, now that we’ve made our pitch lets talk about how to become a pilot.

"PPG offers both in person and live online classes that are geared towards pilots who are just getting started"

Your Pilot Goals (How To Become A Pilot)

Don’t skimp on this step. Discipline and commitment are key to getting any pilots license. You may have to come back and finalize your goal after conducting some research. DO NOT go into pilot training without a goal. Pilot training is expensive, setting a goal will help keep you focused and efficient. To learn how to become a pilot you must first collect data then establish a goal.

There’s typical two pathways of learning how to become a pilot. Recreational or Professional (career). Either route will require you to start at the private pilots license. Therefore a great goal would be to obtain your pilots license in X amount of months. We’ve seen pilots get there private pilot license in as little as two weeks all the way up to 5 years or more. The FAA doesn’t have any restrictions on how many days you need to train. Learning how to become a pilot is based on flight hours, passing the FAA written test, and passing the final check-ride (oral & practical test).

"Recreational or Professional, either route will require getting the private pilots license."

If you have funds set aside and you can dedicate 5 days a week to pilot training then setting a goal of one month is very reasonable (make sure to find the right instructor, more on that here). If you work full time and will be doing a couple of lessons a week then 6 months is an acceptable goal. Below we created a table showing required hours to get your pilots license, hourly cost, and approximate time frame to get your private pilots license.

Private Pilot Flight Hours And Time Table

Typical Flight Hours Needed Avg Cost Per Flight Hour Flights Hours Per Week Aprox Time To Get PPL
40 hrs (FAA Part 61 Min) 170.00 Per Flt Hr 1 hr 9 - 10 Months
50 hrs 170.00 Per Flt Hr 1 hr 12 - 13 Months
60 hrs 170.00 Per Flt Hr 1 hr 15 Months
40 hrs (FAA Part 61 Min) 170.00 Per Flt Hr 2 hrs 5 Months
50 hrs 170.00 Per Flt Hr 2 hrs 6 -7 Months
60 hrs 170.00 Per Flt Hr 2 hrs 7 - 8 Months
40 hrs (FAA Part 61 Min) 170.00 Per Flt Hr 3 hrs 1 - 2 Months
50 hrs 170.00 Per Flt Hr 3 hrs 1 - 2 Months
60 hrs 170.00 Per Flt Hr 3 hrs 1 - 2 Months

The number one reason for private pilot drop out is lack of funds. A rough rule of thumb is to set aside 10,000.00 dollars towards the private pilots license (year 2022). If enrolled in a college or fast track program (for career guys) then you may be eligible for financing that can cover the pilot journey though CFI (certified flight instructor). 

Check out some common ways to finance your pilot training in the resources section. To summarize, your pilot goal should include: How you’ll finance the private pilot license, lessons per week, and a final date of when to have your private pilots license.

"The number one reason for private pilot drop out is lack of funds"

How To Start Flight Training (How To Become A Pilot)

To learn how to become a pilot you must become knowledgeable. Start talking to people in the industry. This is why we offer FREE Private Pilot Ground Lessons. It gives a no obligation opportunity for students just staring out to ask the instructor questions and interact with other students in an online class room setting.

The wrong first step can cost you thousands of dollars. Why? Because new students are venerable. Not all flight schools and flight instructors are good at what they do. We’ve seen time and time again students transfer over to our school after racking up thousands of dollars in training cost and not much to show for it. Asking the right questions in the beginning will save you a lot of time and money. We highly recommend you join some free aviation communities and start asking questions to collect data. Here is a great start on communities to join:

Facebook Student Pilot Group

Facebook Group Student Pilots

Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association

Gleim Find A Flight Instructor

Another must do is visit the local airport. You’ll be surprised at how many small airports their are around you. Show up and ask if there’s flight instruction offered locally, then use our Instructor Questionnaire to qualify the school. If your easily persuaded, be careful! Before you know it you could be learning how to become a pilot with someone who isn’t the best fit. Remember ask questions and collect data first. Checkout all the small airports hereTo learn how to become a pilot become familiar with your local airports.

"PRO TIP: Download PPG's Instructor Questionnaire to get paired with a solid flight school and flight instructor"

Another Plug From PPG, but only because it’s free and can help you out. Join one of our FREE online ground classes. These are taught in live time by real FAA instructors. This is a great place to ask questions and be in good company with other students who are just getting started. Isn’t it funny how we didn’t flat out say go down to your local airport and start flying with the local school. This is one way of learning how to become a pilot, but at 170.00 – 200.00 dollars per hour you can start racking up a bill quickly so it’s best that you draft a plan from data you’ve collected first.

When your ready to begin the first thing to do is go to an Aviation Medical Examiner and get a flight medical. This should be the first item you obtain once you’ve committed to getting your pilots license. First, if you have a medical condition it’s best to find out before you rack up thousands of dollars in flight training and you’ll need it before you can solo fly (needed to get your private pilots license). Use the Find An AME Site to find an Aviation Medical Examiner near you.

Before You Start Flight Training Punch List

Steps To Become A Private Pilot (How To Become A Pilot)

As we mentioned earlier the Private Pilot’s license is the first license to get whether training for recreational or career purposes. The journey to becoming a Private Pilot is spelled out in 14 CFR Part 61. These are the legal requirements to become a private pilot. You can also get a private pilots license under 14 CFR Part 141. See 141 vs 61 below. For now lets stick to Part 61.

Requirements To Become A Private Pilot 14 CFR 61.109(a)

(a) For an airplane single-engine rating. Except as provided in paragraph (k) of this section, a person who applies for a private pilot certificate with an airplane category and single-engine class rating must log at least 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training in the areas of operation listed in § 61.107(b)(1) of this part, and the training must include at least –

(1) 3 hours of cross-country flight training in a single-engine airplane;

(2) Except as provided in § 61.110 of this part, 3 hours of night flight training in a single-engine airplane that includes –

(i) One cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles total distance; and

(ii) 10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport.

(3) 3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments, including straight and level flight, constant airspeed climbs and descents, turns to a heading, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, radio communications, and the use of navigation systems/facilities and radar services appropriate to instrument flight;

(4) 3 hours of flight training with an authorized instructor in a single-engine airplane in preparation for the practical test, which must have been performed within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test; and

(5) 10 hours of solo flight time in a single-engine airplane, consisting of at least –

(i) 5 hours of solo cross-country time;

(ii) One solo cross country flight of 150 nautical miles total distance, with full-stop landings at three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations; and

(iii) Three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

*Note: To learn how to become a pilot you will also need to pass the FAA Private Pilot Written Test.

Put the above requirements into a checklist, and YOU must create the checklist. Why? This gives you the opportunity to learn the requirements of how to become a pilot, and have a measurable way of seeing your progress. I did this and learned how to become a pilot in 40.6 flight hours. 

CFR 141 VS CFR 61

Simply put CFR 141 is more structured and gives you the opportunity to get a private pilots license in less time (35 hours), but don’t let this fool you. Most students end up flying just as much as they would if they learned under CFR Part 61. CFR 141 is often tied to colleges and therefore will cost more in general.

Let me make a point… The largest flight school in the World, the one that produces 8,949 pilot licenses/ratings PER YEAR (as of 2021) trains their students under CFR 61. This is ATP flight School by the way, and they do that because it’s less regulated by the FAA. There’s regulation and there’s over regulation and sometimes over regulation prevents schools from prospering. To learn how to become a pilot you must choose between learning under 61 or 141. 

"Most students end up flying just as much under 14 CFR 141 as they would if they learned under 14 CFR Part 61"

14 CFR 141 is not a bad way of getting your training. It’s just not for everyone. If your looking for a 4 year degree with a pilot license then 14 CFR 141 is how you’ll learn how to become a pilot. If your looking for flexibility and ultimately lower cost then 14 CFR 61 is the route to take. We have the “are you a 61 or 141 flight school” question in PPG’s Instructor Questionnaire

How To Save Money While Flight Training

Are you a penny pincher. I am! Over the years we’ve found out how students have obtained their pilots license for less. To summarize make a plan. If you go at flight training depending on others to plan it for you then it’s going to cost you more. Lets cover some real ways to save while learning how to become a pilot.

"If you depend on others to plan flight training for you then it's going to cost more "

How To Become A Pilot

Get the FAA Written Test Done First (Ground School): Students who don’t get the written done first end up having to do it while they are flight training. Guess what this means, they have to much to balance and the flight training suffers while they’re studying for the FAA written test. This means going back to freshen up on the flight training again (costing more money). To learn how to become a pilot with less money, complete the ground training first.

Print 14 CFR 61 Requirements Above, And Track Your Progress: This simple tactic is how I obtained my private pilots license at 40.6 hours. Why? Because I knew exactly what to focus on next. I also measured my progress based of this checklist. Once I had all my requirements completed and checked off I still had hours to acquire. I was weak in navigation so I spent extra time in this area. With this I learned how to become a pilot efficiently.

Purchase Flight Time In Bulk: Many flight schools will give a discount if you purchase in bulk. 10% for 1,000.00 or more down is a typical discount. Like most things in life this is negotiable. Especially if you have cash. If the flight school isn’t marketing a discount, ask them. This can shave off anywhere from 100 to 1000 bucks.

Chair Fly Or Microsoft Flight Sim: Practice Practice Practice. You can choose to practice practice practice in an aircraft with a flight instructor at 170.00 dollars per hour or you can spend some time practicing with Microsoft flight sim for 60.00 bucks and fly over and over again for free! What’s Microsoft flight simulator? It’s a realistic flight simulator where you can practice things like communications, procedures, checklist, etc. You can even select the aircraft you’re flight training in to get a plane with the same instrument panel!

What’s chair flying: Chair flying is 100% free. Simply grab a chair and close your eyes. Now pretend your in the cockpit and start going through procedures like take-off, landing, steep turns, etc. It may sound silly, but it helps. If you can sit in the actual training aircraft do this as well. Just don’t turn on the master if you are billed by hobbs time.

Live ATC.Net: This is an awesome free resource allowing pilots to tune into aircraft communications at hundreds of airports around the United States. To learn how to become a pilot you must communicate like a pilot.

Ride with other students: Sitting backseat during a training lesson is extremely valuable. Throw the headset on and listen in as the CFI teaches another student. Of course you must get permission from the instructor & student. Offer the student the same in return “if you let me ride in the back seat, you can ride in the back for my lessons”. 

This is a great way to form a relationship that could save you thousands of dollars later on in your training. This person could become your safety pilot for instrument work and it will cut your hourly aircraft rental in HALF. This topic deserves another article… Keep an eye out as well create an article on “Safety Pilot’s, what are they? And how to use them” later.

"Cut your training in half after private pilot's license with a safety pilot"

14 CFR 91.109 covers being an safety pilot. In short a safety pilot serves to monitor the aircraft and airspace around it while another pilot (private or above conducts simulated instrument work). Both pilots get to log the time in their logbooks and they can split the cost of the aircraft.

Flight Training Red Flags

Flight instructor has 1500 hours and is going to the airlines: In our questionnaire one of the questions for the instructor is “how much total flight time do you have and what’s your next flying job?” Instructors who are close to going to the airlines usually don’t hang out and finish their students. Therefore you will be handed off to another instructor. This hand off can be done appropriately, but it should be a gradual exchange where your existing CFI lets the other CFI do a lesson or two before he jumps ship. This gives the two CFI’s time to exchange information as to where your at in the training process.

Your Gut Is Telling You Something: Follow your gut. The relationship you have with the instructor is key. It to can cost you thousands of dollars simply because you guys don’t jive. Having a bad lesson will come every now and then, that’s to be expected. If you’re not picking up what the instructor is putting down it’s time to self evaluate and possibly get a new instructor.

Instructor Is Rushed: Does it seam like the instructor doesn’t have time for you? Don’t worry it’s common. Top instructors will always be in demand, but if the instructor can’t sit aside 15 to 30 mins for debriefing after a flight. They maybe scheduling their students to tightly.

Aircraft Availability: Is the school’s aircraft available? Ask to access the schedule before you start flying. This isn’t a total wash. It just simply means you might have to plan out your lessons further in advance and include back up lessons.

Instructor Availability: Lastly is the instructors availability. Same as with the aircraft. How often is the instructor available? What’s his current student load? Make sure to check on this before committing. A good rule of thumb is to set up a recurring schedule with the instructor so they keep you as a priority. 

Check Ride Preparation

Make Sure All 61 Requirements Are Met: Use your check list and double check with the instructor that you have all the items needed to get your private pilots license.

Check Aircraft’s Status: The aircraft will need to have a current 100 hour inspection, annual inspection, 24 month transponder certification, Non expired ELT batteries, weight and balance, Operating Handbook, Federal Registration, and an Airworthiness Certificate. You’ll need the aircraft logs when taking the check-ride. Tab out the inspections in the aircraft logbook with a note so you can quickly jump to that page for the DPE (designated pilot examiner)

Contact DPE: A designated pilot examiner is the person who will administer the final test for your private pilot’s license. Typically check-rides include a mock cross country flight plan. Make sure to discuss with your instructor and call the DPE. Ask them if there’s anything special you should know about the check-ride.

Mock Check-rides (with instructor):  A couple days before the check-ride. Go up and do some mock check-rides with your instructor. Make sure the instructor is following the current ACS (airmen certification standards).

Hammer what your weak at: Learning how to become a pilot means you have to practice in areas of weakness. It’s not fun, but its required. In my case it was VOR navigation. Make your weak areas your strong suite. 

In summary learning how to become pilot is an exciting endeavor, and a great accomplishment. It requires dedication, focus, and planning to execute properly. As we mentioned earlier accomplish your ground training first. With the ground training, and FAA written test out of the way you’ll be able to focus on flying, which is the fun part!

Links And Other Pilot Resources

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