Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Becoming a Pilot
Some of my readers may be interested in knowing what is required to become a Private Pilot, so that they'll know where I am in the process. The FAA has the following requirements:
- A minimum of 35 or 40 hours of flight training, depending on what kind of school you attend. The average is 60-70 hours. (I currently have a little over 11 hours of training.)
- Pass the FAA knowledge exam, a written multiple-choice test. People attend ground school or take a home-study course to learn the necessary information (I'm attending ground school). You must have an endorsement from an instructor to take this test.
- Pass the oral exam and practical test, known as "the checkride," administered by an FAA Designated Examiner (DE) who will verify that you have the necessary knowledge and skills. The DE will give you a paper certificate on the spot if you pass, instantly making you a Private Pilot. The laminated license arrives in the mail a few weeks later.
There are other requirements for age, health, etc., and a lot of specifics I've left out, but the above summarizes the hurdles I have in front of me.
Flight training can be roughly broken down into these stages:
- Pre-solo: You fly with a certificated flight instructor (CFI) who will teach you the basic maneuvers and emergency procedures. (This is the stage I'm in.)
- Solo: After you convince the CFI you can take-off, fly, and land safely, you can get rid of the "dead weight" in the right seat and practice maneuvers on your own. (Aside from the joy of flying by yourself, the rate of cash burn decreases because you don't have to pay the CFI when you fly solo.)
- Maneuvers: Ground-reference maneuvers, steep turns, and other advanced maneuvers are practiced to perfect your control of the plane.
- Cross-country: You fly to other airports, using various navigational techniques. Among the requirements are a solo cross-country trip of at least 150 nautical miles with three stops, and a night cross-country flight of at least 100 nautical miles.
- Pre-exam: After learning everything you need to know, you practice and refine it until you are ready for the checkride.
So, with the 11 hours of training I currently have logged, I've got a way to go. I have several firsts to look forward to: first unassisted landing, first solo, first solo cross-country, first night flight, and eventually, first pilot certificate. There will probably be some less celebratory firsts, like first time getting lost, first time being chewed out by air traffic control or an instructor for doing something wrong, first time an important flight is cancelled due to weather or maintenance, first time getting ramp-checked by an FAA inspector, and so on, but that's all part of the experience.
As long as the money doesn't run out, I have a lot of learning ahead of me. With luck, I'll be soloing in a month or so, and will pass the checkride in five or six months.