Have you always had the dream of becoming a pilot but thought it was out of your reach? After all, only rich people learn to fly their own airplanes and you don’t have the desire to become an airline pilot, so learning to fly isn’t for you…right?
The truth is far different than this. Learning to fly an airplane and earning your Private Pilot License is more in reach than most people realize. This guide should is designed to help aspiring pilots get started easier, make good choices in the beginning and stay motivated to complete the process as efficiently as possible.
Why Learn to Fly?
Before you decide to learn to fly, you should ask yourself, “Why do I want to learn to fly?” Different people may have different reasons why they want to learn to fly. There are no one- size-fits-all answers to many questions in aviation; understanding why you want to learn may impact how you go about learning to fly.
Innate Love For Aviation
If you are anything like I was, you can’t remember a time in your life where you didn’t have a love for flying. As a kid, I would see an airplane fly over and have to look up and wonder, “What would it be like to be there?” I had some basic introductions to general aviation as a kid, but aviation wasn’t a central part of my life.
Career in Aviation
A lot of people are looking for a life long career as a professional pilot. This article will not speak a lot about this option because I have little experience in that world. A career in aviation is an exciting and rewarding career. It is an opportunity that has to be earned. Very few professions take as much hard work, money and dedication to achieve. It is almost in the same category as becoming a medical doctor.
You might have some specific missions in mind that having the ability to fly your own airplane will help. Perhaps you have family that is a 4-10 hour drive away, and will want to cut down the travel time by flying instead of driving. You might also be the kind of person that is required to travel in the regional area for business.
Keep in mind, just because you can now fly an airplane, do not expect to be making trips from LA to NY and say, “Wow this was better than flying commercial!” But a trip from Austin, TX to Houston, TX will be beneficial with general aviation. I can easily make a 6 hour meeting in Houston and be home the same day with General Aviation, but driving would be miserable.
Find a Buddy
Pilots are typically a very welcoming and open group of people. If you are interested in learning to fly but don’t know where to start, find a a pilot buddy to team up with. Start searching on Facebook for a local pilot group in your area.
Post a message like, “I am interested in learning to fly, would anyone be interested in helping me get started?” I guarantee you that you will receive more than one offer for help. I have offered to help multiple pilots in the past, even though I am not a flight instructor. This usually includes:
- Taking them for a flight (sometimes sharing the costs)
- Explaining how training typically works
- Letting them know about different local flight schools
- Making it clear that learning to fly is a commitment, but it is achievable.
- Explaining the costs
Having a buddy also helps you remain accountable. Your buddy should take personal interest in your training and help you through any tough times. Also by seeing someone who is actively flying, you have a goal to work towards. You want to be flying like your buddy does.
Select a School
Next step is to find a flight school that is right for you. You might be surprised to find out how many schools there are out there. Google searches are not always a good resource for finding the right flying schools. A lot of schools are still very old school and do not have a good online presence (something Pilot Partner hopes to help with).
2 Different Types of Schools
There are two different types of Flying Schools. Part 61 and Part 141. Choosing between which one is right for you is an important decision. Part 61 and Part 141 refer to the FAA Regulation Part # that governs the requirements to learn to fly.
Part 61 schools is a standard low key approach to learning to fly. These schools allow a more customized approach to your training and are all goal and skill based. When you meet the minimum requirements measured both by time and skill level, you are ready to take your check ride and earn your license.
These schools will allow you to pay as you go and move at your own pace. They are perfect for the vast majority of the people who are approaching learning to fly as a hobby or for personal reasons (such as to fly to visit family, vacation, etc).
Typically you need a minimum of 40 hours of Flight Training, Ground School, Pass a written test and Pass a Practical Test (Called a Check Ride). Please note, most pilots take more than 40 hours. Average is 50-60 hours. Typically you can expect to spend 6-9 months earning your Private Pilot’s License in this kind of school. It could be more if you are unable to fly regularly.
Part 141 schools are setup more like a college. Each Part 141 school has their own curriculum that is approved by the FAA. When you fly in a Part 141 school, your training is more ridged and scripted. Training is also compressed into a shorter time schedule and you may be flying more often. Part 141 schools typically require more time dedication than a Part 61 school.
These kind of schools are typically attended by pilots who want a career in aviation. They are also often associated with a university as well, but there are many independent part 141 schools.
Plan on attending near full time if this is the path you want to choose. The cost is about the same or sometimes more to go to one of these schools.
What’s Important in a School?
Several factors go into evaluating a Flight School. Bottom line, it needs to be a place that you are comfortable with because it will become your home away from home during training.
Is the Flight School easy for you to get to? If you have to drive an hour or two, you will be less likely to drive for your lesson. Make sure you choose a location that is convenient for you. Remember that there are a lot of small airports out there, don’t only look at the Major Airports that you can fly American Airlines out of.
Above all else, it is the people and the team at the flight school that will make the biggest difference. Be sure you get to meet several people at the flight school and not just the instructor that you will use. Find a school with people who you get along with. This will keep you motivated and successful. If you are not having fun, then you will not do well.
There are a wide range of aircraft that are good for learning to fly in. Most flight schools do not use brand new aircraft to train in. This can be a major adjustment from what you might be thinking. Just because you show up and see an airplane built in the 1970’s, don’t discount it. Some of the best planes I’ve flown were built around the same time I was born.
Some of the more common and good aircraft to learn in are:
- Cessna 172
- Cessna 152
- Piper Warrior/Archer
Some flight schools have started using Diamond DA20/DA40’s to train in. There is nothing wrong with these airplanes, but be aware they are set up quite differently than traditional airplanes. They have a center stick instead of a yoke (steering wheel kind of thing). If you learn to fly in a Diamond, you will need to transition into the other kind of airplanes. That transition is pretty easy, normally a flight or two. But I would recommend something out the of the list above unless you plan on flying Diamonds for most of your career.
Select an Instructor
Selecting your instructor is the single most important choice you will make during your training. Do not allow a school to just “assign” one to you. Insist on being able to meet with potential instructors and talk with them. Get to know them. You are not looking to grade their aviation abilities or skills, but rather evaluating how well you will get along with them. You need to find an instructor that you gel with and can trust.
My primary instructor became my best friend. We are still friends 20 years later.
There are countless stories of pilots who never finish training because they did not get along with their flight instructor. If you start training with one instructor and it is just not working out, change instructors. Although you shouldn’t change instructors often, it is worth changing if the one you are flying with isn’t working out.
Part 141 schools will be able to provide a much better cost estimate up front. A lot of them have firm fixed price fees that can be financed.
It is very hard to provide an accurate estimate for a Part 61 school because it depends on many factors that will be unique to your situation. But you can look at the Rental Rate of the aircraft you choose to fly in, the Instructor’s rate and guess a couple items. You will need at least 40 hours of flight time, but typically it is closer to 55 hours. Some of it will be solo and a lot of it will be Dual Time (with instructor). There will be other fees to consider.
This estimate is based on an average at a local flight school in Austin, TX.
- 55 Hours of Flight Time @ $120/hr = $6,600
- 35 Hours of Instruction @ $40/hr = $1,400
- Ground School $400
- Books $200
- Headsets, Gear, Misc Items: $500
- Written Test: $100
- Check Ride: $450
Total will be $9,650. But you will not need to pay this all at once, you will just pay as you go.
I recommend establishing a budget of $700-$800 a month. Then start saving that budget for 2 months before you start. Once you have $1,600 saved to start, go take your first lesson and start buying the items that you need. This will allow you to fly more often in the beginning then slow down a little towards the end. Some flight instructors will say that you shouldn’t slow down, but I am just being realistic here.
When you first start, your goal should be to fly twice a week. No matter how hard you try, you will end up canceling a few lessons due to weather or life events. Try to fly twice a week and accept once a week when required. Do this until you solo. Typically 8-12 hours into training.
Once you solo, Aim for 1 flight a week. You’ll have a couple months with 2-3 flights a month. But the key thing to remember is: When you take time off, you will loose the skills you just learned and take a step backwards. Try to take as few steps backwards as possible.
The final phase of training will be your longer cross country flying. These will be more expensive flights than your flights early in your training. This is when you are typically flying every other week.
Regardless, the more often you fly, the better it is. The $800 a month budget with saving 2 months worth up 1st, is a great pace that should get you your license in under a year.
During your flight training stay connected to your Pilot Buddy who started this off. Talk to him/her often, maybe even after every lesson. The more people who are invested in your training efforts, the better the chance you have of staying motivated.
Also stay connected to other pilots. Although your instructor will be your primary source of learning, you will learn a lot from other Pilots. Facebook groups are a great source for this community. But you can also hang around the airport and talk to other pilots.
When I learned to fly, I had a rule. For every hour I flew, I spent 3 hours just hanging around the airport. When pilots would walk through, I would talk to them. When they found out I was a student pilot they always took time to talk with me and inspire me. I got several tours of great airplanes and heard many good stories. This kind of interaction made it possible for me to expand the scope of what aviation was to me. These lessons were worth their weight in gold.
In the end, learning to fly is what you make out of it. It will be your own adventure and you need to remain in control and accountable for it. There are a lot of options in flight training so that you can make it your own.
The best way of failing to be a Pilot is by not trying. It is far more achievable than you would expect. Reach out to a Pilot Buddy today and start the process.
If you’re having a hard time finding a Pilot Buddy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will help you find one, or who knows, I might become your Pilot Buddy.