Don’t be confused; this is not the aviator’s version of Hamlet and no, I’m not William Shakespeare, but this question may be truly “flying” around your mind.
People have different tolerances for adventure, learning, financial investment, time commitment and overall risk. I believe you should have some tolerance for all the above to seriously consider becoming a private pilot.
I have been challenged to share some basics on how or why you should consider the commitment of learning to fly, so here is a basic outline of the five editorial questions: the who, what, where, when, why and maybe how of pursuing the art of flying.
But before I do that, ask yourself this question: Are you willing to do what it takes to see this through to accomplishment? If not, that’s OK; maybe another hobby or passion awaits you. Flying must be taken seriously and it is not for the faint of heart, but flying has great rewards and will give you a sense of personal accomplishment.
So, let’s take off and start with who: People who are up for adventure! Do you have the spirit of the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart or Chuck Yeager? It isn’t necessary, but it would help.
I’ve flown with all types of people over the past 20 years. Being adventurous doesn’t mean someone is dangerous. The exact opposite must be true, or you will have big problems. The best flyers are people who aren’t afraid of the challenge or risk but are also very risk-averse and are smart enough to avoid bad decisions. Flying skills don’t necessarily come naturally to most people, but you will grow in knowledge and flying helps with hand/eye coordination.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported that 168,000 student pilot certificates were issued last year, compared with only 70,000 in 2009. So, we are seeing resurgence in new pilot training.
There are many advantages to flying in a private plane over flying commercially, but flying in a private plane has its own limitations. If you are flying shorter distances — such as a few hours’ drive to maybe a few states away — you can usually get to the destination in about one-third the time it would take you if you drove the speed limit on the highway. You also get to avoid those annoying airport security lines!
What: the most fun you’ll ever have — legally! Flying has truly been the most exhilarating, fun, challenging thing I’ve done in life. There is a joy found in the sense of freedom that only flying can bring, and flying can give you a true sense of accomplishment.
I love it when I have a passenger who may have flown in a 737, but never in a fly-by-wire or stick-and-rudder type of aircraft. What they quickly learn is that private pilots do just as much work as the professionals do on some levels.
We communicate just like your commuter or large airline pilots do. You have to learn the language to speak in a very specific type of code and know what someone is saying to you and you have to be quick about it. There are other people out there trying to communicate, too.
It’s even better if we are flying in the clouds or rain and the passenger cannot see the ground. You break out of the zero visibility and there is the runway straight ahead. Their mind is blown, and they say, “That is so cool!”
Where: Check out your local smaller airfield, talk to some pilots or instructors. Flight instruction usually happens just about anywhere there are small airplanes. Initially, you must take a written exam, usually all done online. Check out AOPA.org or faa.gov for information specifically for pilots.
The practical study happens in the left seat with an instructor. The minimum time required by the FAA is 40 hours (20 with a licensed instructor), although the national average is more like 70 hours.
You also need to connect with an instructor at a local flight school. Instructors may be people with years of experience and are professional or corporate pilots. But an instructor often is someone who is building up hours to get a higher designation to be able to fly for the airlines commercially.
Make sure you have a good working rapport with the instructor because you will spend a fair amount of time together. If you want to fast-track the learning, three sessions a week may be required. But many can reach the goal in one or two sessions per week, although it will take longer to get your required hours in. Delays like weather, schedules and life can get in the way of that learning.
Trust me when I say this is no time to be cheap with your time or your wallet. Your life and the lives of others will depend on your skills someday. I can truly say that after 20 years of flying, I am still learning every time I fly. Never be too proud to say you don’t understand something. It’s a lifetime of learning and skill building — that’s what is exciting about flying!
Glossary Of Flight Terms
Fly-by-wire: This system replaces conventional mechanical flight controls with an electronic interface. The pilot’s movements of the flight controls are converted to electrical signals, which are interpreted by the flight control computers. They, in turn, make the airplane do what the pilot commands.
Stick-and-rudder: Flying using convention mechanical flight controls
Fixed-base operator: A service center for aircraft, often a private enterprise or subsidiary of the airport or airport authority. Many provide charter service such as aircraft maintenance, fuel service and hangar services.
How Do You Become A Private Pilot?
Obtain a student pilot certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Pass a third-class aviation medical exam.
Find an instructor
Take the FAA written exam.
Start flying! Get your required hours of flight.
Take the FAA Practical Exam
Get your license.
When: You really must make the time commitment to complete the training. This isn’t something to take lightly; this is serious business. It takes as long as it takes; don’t be in a rush with something like this.
In a day of flight simulators and computers, people may think learning to be a pilot is easy. I remember taking my niece and nephew bowling one time when they were young. I asked them if they ever bowled before. They said, “We bowl all the time.” I thought, “Great! I don’t have to teach them anything.” But after the fifth gutter ball, I asked what kind of bowling they did “all the time.” They said, “Wii bowling.”
I can tell you, it’s not the same, just like flying a plane isn’t the same as flying a drone, model airplane or simulator — even though there is plenty of crossover among all of those.
So how quickly do you learn and retain information? Do you learn more by reading or by practical learning? It will take both, as well as a heightened sense of awareness to fly and stick with it and see it through, so persistence is required.
Why: Is that really a question? It should be why not? This has been the greatest ride of my life, next to having a family! I understand flying isn’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, 99.5% of the population doesn’t have a pilot’s license, so the pilot community is a very small one. But if learning to fly is on your bucket list, at least go and take an “introduction to flying” ride with a certified flight instructor at your local airport fixed-base operator. If your flight leaves you throwing up and white-knuckled, learning to fly may not be for you. But if you feel like a kid in a candy store and want more, then maybe it’s worth a try.
How: As mentioned previously, the journey starts with a knowledge exam, but you could dip your toe in the water before you even take this. Then follow the FAA’s “Becoming A Student Pilot” list of requirements on the faa.gov website.
You must undergo a medical exam to see if you can pass the physical requirements. There are even newer self-reporting medicals that don’t require you to go to an official FAA-certified flight doctor for the exam.
You are required to obtain a student certificate before you can fly solo, but your local flight school can help you along the way. I would also look online to King Schools and Sporty’s Pilot Shop for more education tools to help you along the way. If you are going to take flying seriously, APOA.org is a must for obtaining the knowledge and information you will need as a pilot. Many training centers also have flight simulators that will give you some of your training without your having to leave the ground as part of your training. This can be very helpful and more affordable for a portion of the training.
On average, you will pay about $200-$220 an hour for a training plane and flight instructor, based on my local flight school. At an average of 70 hours of training, you’re looking at an investment of around $14,000-$15,400 to get your ticket to ride. There are lower-cost options available by getting a sport pilot’s license and, if you’re serious about the process, that could be an option.
I hope this information is enough to inspire you to get your wings! There is a tremendous joy in flying. I challenge you to explore the horizon!