Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learn to Fly: A Practical Guide

Today, it’s easier than ever to fulfill your dream of flying

Flight Training 101: Getting Started

What Is It Like?
You'll start by finding a flight school. This can be at your local airport, at a dedicated training academy, like ATP or several others, or at an aviation college or university. You'll then receive flight training in sessions of about one hour in the air and 30-60 minutes on the ground. You'll also have to study to pass an FAA written knowledge exam. When the instructor feels you're ready, you'll solo (fly the airplane alone). You'll then fly "cross-country" flights both with your instructor and solo, of various distances. You'll fly at night and continue to train until you're ready for the check ride. When ready and after you've passed the written exam, an FAA-designated pilot examiner will conduct an oral interview and a flight test with you. If you pass both, you earn your private pilot certificate!

How Do I Find A School?
AOPA has a free online directory with over 3,000 flight schools across the country at

What Are The Requirements?
1. Be at least 17 years of age to earn your private certificate in an airplane.
2. Read, speak and understand the English language.
3. Pass a basic medical examination administered by an FAA-designated aviation doctor.

Is The Medical Exam Difficult To Pass?
There are many misconceptions about what's required to pass the medical exam. Vision must be at least 20/40 for near and distant vision with or without corrective lenses, and you must be able to perceive those colors necessary for safe performance of flying tasks. Disabilities don't necessarily disqualify you. For example, there are thousands of pilots who fly with monocular vision (vision in only one eye), prosthetic limbs and other limitations. You can find and talk to a qualified FAA medical examiner through the online directory at

How Much Will It Cost?
Learning to fly requires a variety of physical skills and aeronautical knowledge. You'll be paying an hourly rate for both the airplane and the instructor, and for ground instruction. The cost of the airplane and instructor is calculated hourly. Also, you'll need to add in the cost of training materials and miscellaneous gear you'll need, such as a headset and other items. Costs depend on geographical location, the model and year of your training aircraft, how often you train, and how quickly you learn. The private pilot certificate will typically cost $8,000-$10,000, and the sport-pilot certificate will cost about half of that.

How Long Will It Take?
FAA regulations require a minimum of 40 hours of flight time to earn your private pilot certificate. This is broken into 20 hours of dual (with your instructor) and 10 hours of solo. Those regulations were created when our airspace was less complex. Today, the national average time to earn your private certificate runs around 60-70 hours. Training three times per week, you could do it in four to six months. Accelerated programs exist that take 10-21 days.

Is There A Minimum Age To Learn To Fly?
No. However, you must be at least 16 years old to solo an airplane (14 years old for operation of a balloon or glider), and 17 before you can be issued a private pilot certificate. Also, you need to be able to reach all the aircraft's controls. From a cost standpoint, beginning flight training too early can get quite expensive. Otherwise, there's no minimum age.

Is There A Maximum Age?
No. The average student pilot today is 30-40 years old, and the typical average active pilot is in his/her 50s. More than 25% of all U.S. pilots with current medical certificates are in their 50s. There are many active pilots in their 70s and beyond.


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