The sport pilot certificate provides one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to fly for fun and recreation. You can think of it as a sort of middle ground between becoming an ultralight pilot and a full-fledged private pilot. Sport pilots can carry a passenger and operate in certain types of controlled airspace, for example, but they may not fly at night and are limited to lighter and lowered-powered aircraft than those available to private pilots. On the other hand, the sport pilot certificate is more affordable because fewer hours of instruction are required.
There are a different ways you can become a sport pilot, but these are the basic steps you will take:
To become a sport 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 sport pilot certificate (16 for gliders). In addition, you must hold a valid U.S. driver's license.
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.
In addition, EAA's own Sport Pilot Academy offers three-week full-immersion programs at our headquarters in Oshkosh throughout the year.
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.
Unlike private pilots, sport pilots don't need to obtain a medical certificate. As long as you have a valid U.S. driver's license and — this is important — you haven't previously had an FAA medical certificate denied, revoked, or suspended, you're good to go.
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 sport 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, emergency procedures, practicing maneuvers, and more. The legal minimum amount of flying time (both solo and with your instructor) required is 20 hours for a traditional airplane, and as few as 12 hours for a simpler aircraft like a powered parachute.
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 sport pilot certificate, the opportunities are limitless. From lunchtime "$100 hamburger" trips to weekend getaways or just 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.