There are literally a little over 300 million adults in the United States, and two-thirds of them have a driver’s license. Yet, a little of 600,000 or less than one in 500 of them are licensed by the FAA to fly a plane. So the next time you see a movie where the pilots have all passed out or are dead from poisonous gas and the stewardess or a fellow passenger flies the plane, don’t believe it.
Learning to fly a plane isn’t rocket science, but it’s not exactly something people can pick up in 20 minutes of instruction either. So what’s involved.
Step one – becoming a student pilot
In the first step, you go to a flight school with a certified FAA flight instructor and enroll. Candidates can be younger than 17, but to become licensed, 17 is the minimum age.
Candidates must prove they are minimally fluent in English since English is the universally recognized language for air traffic control.
Step two – learning the theory and practicing flying
Step two requires a minimum of 35 hours of flight training, but according to the FAA, most people require 65 hours. And those are the flight hours.
In addition to flying in the airplane, a great deal of time is spent learning the theory of flight, the parts of an airplane, how lift, thrust, weight, and drag interact, radio protocols, safety regs, weather forecasting, collision, and turbulence avoidance, emergency techniques and procedures, flight maneuvers, and many more.
For every hour in an actual airplane, students typically spend four or more hours hitting the books, although not literally. In the old days, students struggled through personal training manuals. Nowadays, most of the ground instruction takes place with online aviation training. And some flight schools, often supplement actual hours of flight with Cessna-type flight simulators.
Step three – Flying
You also need to get an FAA medical certification that you are safe physically to fly, but once you have this and the training material locked in, it’s time to actually learn how to fly.
A typical flight course may see candidates spending 40 hours or so of dual, instructor-guided flying, followed by 10 to 20 hours of solo flying.
Step four – testing and licensing
Once an instructor feels a candidate is ready and candidates flight logs ae checked off, students go for an actual written test that covers everything they learned. There is both a written test, which you have 2.5 hours to complete, as well as a practical test.
Expect to pay just under $100 for the written exam, and between $300 and $400 for you check-ride.
During the check-ride, the examiner will fire a number of oral questions at you, then expect you to perform administrative tasks such as completing engine, airframe, and propeller maintenance logs. You will also be grilled heavily on oral questions.
After that, you have about an hours flight in the air with the examiner.
The vast majority of people who have gone through the process recommend, first grilling your instructor on every maneuver you will need to go through, then pay for another certified examiner to take you through the paces in a practice check-ride.
Finally, if all goes well, you’ll get your private pilot’s license, although there will be certain restrictions. For example, you can’t set yourself up as a private pilot for hire without undergoing and obtaining, other, more complicated and involved ratings.
But keep your head up and remember that 600,000 others have undergone and passed the same requirements you are expected to hop through.