How to Become a Private Pilot

Are you thinking about pursuing your dream to get a private pilot license? Some people get their private pilot certificate for hobby or sport, while others love the idea of aircraft travel for vacations or visiting family. Some private pilots even use their airplane as a mode of transportation to business meetings or events. For others, it’s a step towards a career as a commercial pilot. Private pilots get the skills to fly small aircraft by themselves. During private pilot training, you’ll learn aircraft maneuvers, navigation techniques, emergency procedures, and cross-country flight planning.  


The first step to getting your private pilot license is checking your eligibility.  You need to be at least 17 years old, able to read, speak and understand English. You’ll need to successfully complete the flight training requirements and the knowledge exam. A private pilot applicant will also need to pass a practical exam that consists of a verbal part and a flight test.  

Student Pilot Certificate

You’ll start by obtaining a student pilot certificate. You have three options for getting your student pilot cert:

  • Get your student pilot certificate and aviation medical certificate at the same time at the aviation medical examiner’s office. The document given after a successful medical exam can serve as both a student pilot certificate and medical certificate.
  • Go to an FAA Flight Standards District Office and submit an application. 
  • Submit an application to an FAA examiner.   

Find an Instructor

Do your research and find a flight school with a good reputation.  You can start by checking at your local airport or searching online for instructors and schools in your area. If your airport has a flight school check there first. If they don’t, ask around the terminal, there are many flight instructors that are eager to teach.

Take the FAA Written Exam

Some flight schools and instructors will require you to take the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam before you start flight training. Some will let you fly while you study for the exam. Either way, the test must be successfully completed before you can take the final private pilot check ride for your certificate.

Get Flight Time Logged

You’ll start with basic maneuvers like takeoff, turns, climbs, and descents. Students need at least 10 hours before soloing an aircraft, but many choose to take more time. The primary focus might be learning how to land the airplane. You’ll need to be comfortable with emergency procedures, radio communication, and navigation techniques.

FAA Practical Exam

After 40 hours of flight time, you will qualify for your check ride. The check ride is given by a designated FAA examiner and consists of a verbal exam and flight exam. The exam may last from two to six hours. The ground portion is usually done first and can last from 30 minutes to a few hours. If your verbal exam is successful, the examiner will then conduct the flight portion of the exam.

Get Your License

After you successfully complete your FAA Practical exam, the examiner will assist you in filling out the FAA paperwork. You will receive a temporary private pilot certificate to use while you wait for the official FAA certificate to arrive in the mail. 

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