The private pilot certificate is the one held by most active pilots. It lets you fly just about any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings) for any noncommercial purpose, enables you to carry multiple passengers, and fly at night and in more types of airspace with no distance restrictions.
There are a lot of different ways you can become a private pilot, but these are the basic steps you will take:
To become a private pilot, you must be able to read, write, and understand English, and meet the minimum age requirements — you have to be at least 16 to solo as a student pilot (14 for gliders), and at least 17 to get your private pilot certificate (16 for gliders).
Free First Flight
If you haven't already, contact your local EAA chapter and take your free introductory flight, giving yourself a look at the freedom and fun of personal aviation.
Join a Chapter
In addition to helping arrange your first flight, not to mention the fun and camaraderie of spending time with people who love to fly, EAA chapters are great sources of advice and mentorship that can help you with every step of your journey toward becoming a pilot. You can find the chapters nearest you here.
Learning to fly costs money, but we can help. EAA offers scholarships to help with flight training, both directly and through your local EAA chapter. In addition, while most student pilots rent an airplane while training, in some cases buying or even building an airplane can be a cost-effective way to get started. One of the best ways you can get affordable access to an airplane is by joining — or even starting — a flying club.
Instructor or School?
Depending on your learning style, you have a general option of enrolling in a formal flight school or working one-on-one with an independent flight instructor. Once again, members of a nearby EAA chapter can help you learn what's available in your area and offer advice based on their experiences. The most important thing to remember is that you are in charge of your training, and it's very important that you have a healthy and trusting relationship with the person teaching you to fly.
Here's a list of things to consider when choosing a flight instructor.
Before you can fly solo as part of your training, you need a student pilot certificate from the FAA. Your instructor or flight school will guide you through the process of obtaining one.
To be a private pilot, you must have what's called a medical certificate, which you get from an FAA-approved doctor after a physical examination. While the exam itself is straightforward, it is vital that you understand its scope before scheduling an appointment, as the denial of a medical certificate can be complicated and costly to rectify. If you have any questions about your health, any underlying conditions, or regular medications, EAA has resources that can help.
Studying and Practicing
Once the paperwork and medical exam are out of the way, it's time to start learning. You'll train in the airplane, of course, as your instructor has you take the controls on your very first lesson. You'll do a lot of studying on the ground as well, both with your flight instructor and on your own, as you hit the books and prepare for the written test. If you're training at a formal flight school, they will likely offer a ground school as well, where you'll work in a traditional classroom setting to learn the material. Many people prefer to self-study and learn at their own pace, reading books and taking online courses from companies like Sporty's. (Note: Sporty's online ground school course is free for student members of EAA.)
Once you've finished your ground school, whether independently or as part of a class, it's time to take the written test. An endorsement from your instructor or the course provider is required, and the test must be taken by appointment at an FAA-approved testing facility. It's generally up to you to decide when you want to take the FAA written exam for your private pilot certificate, but our recommendation is that sooner is better. Here are some tips to help you understand what goes into passing the test.
This will be one of the most memorable days of your life, the first time you fly an airplane entirely by yourself. You're still a student pilot at this stage, but, with as few as eight to 10 hours of instruction, your instructor will send you up on your own. You'll stay close to your home airport, and usually do three takeoffs and landings while your instructor watches from the ground. This is a major milestone worth celebrating!
Once you've soloed, the rest of your training will be a mix of flying by yourself and with your instructor as you study things like navigation and cross-country flying, night flying, emergency procedures, practicing maneuvers, and more. The legal minimum amount of flying time (both solo and with your instructor) required is 35 hours in a formal flight school or 40 hours with an individual instructor, but the average time required is closer to 60 to 80 hours.
You've passed the written test, built up the required flying time, and your instructor says you're ready. This is where it all comes together. On the day of your final exam, called a checkride, you'll actually take two tests with an FAA-approved examiner: first, an oral examination where you'll be quizzed extensively on your knowledge of everything from aircraft systems to rules and regulations. Once you pass that portion, then you'll get in the airplane and demonstrate what you've learned.
Once you earn your private pilot certificate, the opportunities are limitless. From lunchtime "$100 hamburger" trips to family vacations, volunteer humanitarian flights to a hop around the patch at sunset just because the sky looks so nice, becoming a pilot is one of the most rewarding things you'll ever accomplish.