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  • Writer's pictureThe Thrifty Pilot

RE: How to become a pilot

The process of obtaining a Private Pilot license is something I get asked about regularly. Here is an email, unmodified, that I have sent out to a few of my friends who want to get an idea of what the process looks like.


"So, you are interested in becoming a pilot – cool! Here is some info to give you some of the “basics” behind becoming one. I have been flying since 2001. Love it and am constantly working on various things to enhance my abilities and give back to the aviation community. I even started a blog about how to stay thrifty in aviation, you can check it out at Currently, I am working on my instrument/commercial license - but that’s the future and enough about me! So, the basics of getting one of these things are time and money. Fact is, you gotta have both. Pretty much the baseline of all of it. There are ways to work with these requirements if you spend the time to do so. There are various schools out there that can work with you regarding small loans, partnership programs, scholarships, etc. If you want to know more I can give you some great tips and resources. As far as the time is concerned – if you want it bad enough, you can always find the time ; ) Here is how it breaks down. Time – takes a min of 40 hours flight time and 20 hours instruction. That’s if you are an absolute genius and you were born with a yoke in your hand. Pretty much shoot for an extra 10-15 hours. The BIG factor here is frequency. If you take one lesson a week, you will never get it done. I cannot stress this point enough. Best bet is to dive into it and get it done. Welcome to the 8-12 hour flight day. Ground school is easy – you just study (a lot) at night.

Money. This will cost approximately $10k (more like $11) after everything is said and done depending on the school and the approach is taken. This may sound crazy, but buying a small 2- seater plane will save you thousands. If you need to take out a loan for the plane, go for it as you can almost always sell the plane for at least what you paid for it. If you are thinking about renting the least expensive plan on the block, go for it. Basically – Plane rental is about $120/hr (on the cheap side) and instruction is about $45/hr. You need to factor in these: Medical - $150 (ish) FAA exam - $150 (ish) FAA practical - $400 (more if you fail) Alright, so the process. First, get a class 3 medical. I don’t want to gloss over the medical because if you have a pre-existing condition you will want to check that out online so you know what you're getting yourself into. Do your research, ask around, talk to your flight instructor and know what this is all about. Simple if you are healthy, but know that some illnesses and meds will cause you to not be able to obtain your medical. THE MEDICAL ACTS AS YOUR STUDENT PILOTS LICENSE!

Additionally, if you look into the Class 3 and see that it is not for you there is an alternative called Basic Med - talk with me/other pilots if you want to go down this route and read this article which might be helpful: Be ready to pick one though as it is needed to kick off your training.

Second, study and pass the FAA written exam. Yes, you must know all about something you have never done before! Go to and get the on-line study guide for the private pilot FAA exam. There are many study resources out there, but I have had success with that. Additionally, there are a TON of FREE resources and groups that you might want to take a look at. Google is your friend. Third, when you are ready (should take about a month or so of diligent study) go to a testing center and take the exam. Fourth – pass the exam! Fifth, after you interview a few, grab a CFI/CFII (certified flight instructor (CFI)/certified flight instructor (CFII)) and start your practical training. It's critical that you find a CFII that you can work with well. Let them know your intentions right up front with the timeline you are wanting to fulfill. Sixth, fly….a lot and study a lot. Seventh, get the blessing from your instructor (and his sign off) to schedule an FAA practical exam with an FAA examiner.

Eighth, pass the exam. There are two of them that are done by the examiner. One that focuses on the theory of flying and one that gets you in the plane with the instructor to test your flying skills. To be more specific - the first exam takes about 2-3 hours (this is the short one, all the other licenses take longer. My next one is going to take approx. 2 days). It is broken up into two parts – first your knowledge. This is where you talk about flying and everything you learned. Navigation, etc. Basically, this is the time where you dump all of that info you have been studying out. Next, you jump in the plane with the examiner and fly. Maneuvers, VFR reference, etc. Lastly, rejoice in the thought that you now have your license!!! It’s a lot and it almost sounds like I am trying to make it seem like a big deal. However, if you really are into it and would like to get through it – you can do it! Also, I can help The aviation community is probably the most helpful group out there. Not a lot of us are “part of the club” and its best to help each other out. Always here for a phone chat as well, if you want to get more details as well. If you want to go up and check it out let me know. Always interested in flying with people! I have my own plane and am always ready to take to the sky. Hopefully, I kept this short enough. For an example of what the FAA “final exam” looks like, this will give you a good idea: I personally have nightmares of this video, however, when you get to this point you are more than ready to do as well as this guy!

Good luck, god speed and let me know how we can help in realizing your dream."

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