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How to Become a Pilot

Learn how to become a pilot and the training required for this field.

Anyone who wishes to become a pilot must first obtain a private pilot's license. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Anyone who wishes to become a pilot must first obtain a private pilot's license.

Since long before the Wright brothers' inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, people have been fascinated with the idea of soaring through the air with the freedom of the birds. Today, anyone who can pay for a ticket can experience the thrill of a (seemingly) gravity-defying airplane ride. But if your enthrallment with the skies can't be satisfied by the occasional passenger experience, perhaps it's time to consider obtaining a pilot's license.

Private Pilot's License

There are several types of pilot's licenses, but everyone who wants to fly an airplane must first obtain the most basic type: the private pilot's license, which is valid for a single-engine plane. For many, this type of "recreational" license will satisfy their flying desires. To obtain the private pilot's license, individuals must be at least 17 years old, pass a written test and flight exam, and log at least 40 hours of flight time -- 20 of which must be with an instructor (most people need between 60 and 70 hours to complete their training). A medical certificate must be obtained from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved examiner before the first solo flight.

Flight Instruction

The first thing to do is select a training school or instructor. Choosing where to train is very important to a piloting career, whether for professional or private use. Start by doing a pilot school search on the FAA site. Another good place to begin is at local Flight Standards District Offices, which will have information about training schools and instruction in the area. Airports also usually have their own training school, club or private instructors.

Some schools are FAA-certified, which ensures a high level of thoroughness and knowledge. However, many nonapproved schools are excellent as well; consider choosing a well-established school with a good reputation. Some factors to consider include level of training (private or commercial licensing), training costs, and part-time or full-time training.

Medical Certification

For medical certification, find an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Search by city, state, county, zip code or last name on the FAA Web site. Before a solo flight is allowed, all pilots must obtain at least a third class airman medical certificate.

For More Information

The FAA provides all the U.S. government's rules for flying, including getting licensed for helicopter, gyroplanes, balloons, airships and gliders.
The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots, explains the detailed requirements for getting a private pilot's license. For individuals looking for a more personal outlook, private pilot Oliver Ross describes his own experiences on Air Affair.com.

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