The truth is that there is no such thing as a ‘born pilot’. Everybody needs pilot training to be able to know how to fly an airplane. What does that pilot training involve? A lot of dedication and hard work!
Today, I’ll cover flight training requirements, including the number of hours you’ll need, along with the theory requirements and mandatory test items. I’ll also explain why these are necessary.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Private Pilot?
With regards to educational qualifications, there is no mandated minimum to embark on private pilot training.
Literally, anybody, regardless of their educational background, can do it.
However, as you’d expect, flying an aircraft and all that goes with it is not easy. You’ll generally need to have a solid grasp of math and written and spoken English.
Regarding actually satisfying pilot training qualifications to be awarded a license, the Federal Aviation Administration stipulates something known as minimum requirements.
In general, these requirements focus on the following areas, which I’ll go into in more detail shortly:
- A minimum level of medical health and fitness
- A minimum level of English language proficiency
- A set number of training hours (of which there are two routes, either private pilot or sport pilot)
- Passing a ‘hands on’ flight test
- Satisfying the authority that you understand the theory behind flying an airplane with a written and verbal test
You can find all of the minimum requirements for pilot training in an FAA document called Part 61. The relevant chapter is “Subpart E 61.103”. In essence, this publication gives more specific details of all of the points I just mentioned above.
Let’s break down what Subpart E says in detail…
Private Pilot License Eligibility
- Must be 17 years of age
- Must be able to read, speak and understand English
- Must hold a Third-Class Medical Certificate
All of the above requirements for pilot training are 100% mandatory. If any of the above requirements can’t be met, you will not be able to hold a pilot’s license.
The age requirement doesn’t stop you from pilot training. It just means that you can’t hold a license until your 17th birthday.
The requirement to speak and understand written English is essential. Most airplane manuals are in English, and in fact, the internationally recognized language of aviation is English. This means all notifications, weather reports, and laws will be in English too… Including air traffic control instructions!
A pilot medical is essential, especially considering that (eventually) you may be flying all on your own. As long as you are in good health, gaining a class 3 medical certificate isn’t too challenging.
Private Pilot Licence Training
A minimum of 40 hours flight time:
20 hours of flight instruction, including:
- 3 hours of cross-country
- 3 hours of night flying
- 3 hours of instrument flying
- 3 hours of preparation within 60 days of the flight test
10 hours solo (by yourself) flying including:
- 3 solo takeoffs and landings at a tower-controlled airport
- 5 hours of solo cross-country flying
This area will form the ‘meat’ of your flying and occupy the vast majority of your time. This is what people think of when discussing flight training. The above will all be recorded as you complete it in a logbook, checked and verified by your flight instructor.
It should be noted that all of the above pilot training is a minimum requirement for granting your license. It might very well be the case that you will require extra hours to get you to the required standard to pass your flight test.
The good news is that at least 20 hours of your flight training will be with an instructor. During this phase, they will start with the basics, and as time goes on, introduce you to more complicated concepts, such as charting a course and stalling.
Even better, a fair chunk of your pilot training will be solo!
Sport Pilot License Training
Sport pilot training is a little easier going. The training and medical requirements are less than that of the Private Pilot’s License; however, as a sport pilot you may find yourself slightly more limited in what you are allowed to do by the FAA.
Here are the requirements for sport pilot license training. See if you can spot the differences to the above PPL requirements: –
- Fly a minimum of 20 hours flight time, including 15 hours with a certified instructor and 5 hours solo (by yourself)
- Two hours of cross-country flying (more than 75 nautical miles)
- Pass the FAA knowledge test (30 questions requiring a 70 percent or better score)
- Three hours of training in preparation for the FAA practical test (called the checkride)
- Pass the FAA practical test
- Present a valid automobile driver’s license or a third-class FAA medical certificate as proof of medical health
Private Pilot Testing
- Pass a written examination (called the Knowledge Test)
- Pass an oral exam and flight test (also known as “the checkride”)
The written examination will require quite a lot of study. However, provided you prepare correctly, it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you want to know more about the knowledge test, I’ve got a great article detailing what it is about and how to pass it.
The flight test will be the final step of your pilot training. Provided you pass this stage, you are no longer considered a ‘trainee’!
In short, the flight test consists of a short oral exam, which is more like an interview where the examiner will ask you various things about the route, weather, and procedures. Provided they are satisfied, you will then undertake the ‘practical’ part of the test.
This will be your time to shine and show a qualified examiner exactly how great your flying is! So, enjoy it.
For a more detailed guide of what to expect during the flight test, I’ve produced a detailed guide to help you
Pilot Training: The Bottom Line
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Pilot training isn’t just a means to an end. Not only is it a requirement for the granting of your license, but it will also make you a much better pilot. So make the most of it, and get as much benefit as you can from your instructor. If you want to supplement your practical learning with a little extra reading, why not check out my guides detailing all of the things you’ll be doing in each lesson?
"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-- Andre Gide