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Learning to Fly

You've always wanted to - now you can

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

Every year, people dream about learning to fly but never take the first step. An Eagle Flight is just that—the first step in your journey to fulfilling your dream of becoming an aviator. After your flight, your pilot is available to answer any questions you may have about flying, aircraft ownership, or what’s involved in the flight training process. Additionally, many of the important steps along your flight path are highlighted here.

What do I need to start my flight training?

For the most part, you can show up for your first flight lesson with nothing more than a primed eagerness to enjoy an exhilarating experience! The airplane and fuel are included in the cost of your instruction, so all you need is your desire to learn to fly.

Here are the basic qualifications:

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Be able to read, write, and speak the English language
  • Before you fly solo, you’ll need to apply for a student pilot certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). An FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner will issue you a combined medical certificate and student pilot certificate after you complete an Airman's physical exam (Sport pilots can use their driver’s license as their medical certificate). Talk to your flight instructor early in your flight training about applying for your student pilot certificate.

Time and Cost

Learning to fly is easier, more affordable, and less time-consuming than you think. The cost and length of flight training varies by which type of pilot certificate you choose to earn, the type of aircraft you learn to fly in, the frequency of flight lessons, and your location. While each certificate requires a minimum number of flight training hours, there’s no set duration for training. The best way to progress quickly is to fly consistently and to study what you’ve learned between flight lessons.

Once you become a pilot, there are many ways to reduce or share the costs of flying with other like-minded pilots. Those options include renting aircraft versus buying, aircraft partnerships, flying clubs, and membership in your local EAA chapter where you’ll have thousands of opportunities to participate in the fun of flying year-round and right in your community.  

Finding a Flight School

The first step in your journey to learning to fly is finding a place to train. With thousands of flights schools located all over the world, chances are good there’s one near you. A good place to start your search is your local airport. Your Eagle Flights pilot will be happy to point you in the right direction. You can also find a flight school in your area through this online directory or by calling the EAA Eagle Flights Office at 800-557-2376.

Choosing an Instructor

The choice of a flight instructor sets the stage for your success as a student pilot. On the surface, choosing a flight instructor may seem akin to selecting any other business service—for example, a golf instructor. However, during the course of pilot training, the flight instructor will be more than a teacher; he or she will be your mentor, coach, cheerleader, and friend. Your flight instructor will be at your side during one of the most memorable times of your life, so it’s wise to be choosy in the selection process.

When selecting a flight instructor, ask yourself the following:

Is the instructor enthusiastic about training?
Is the instructor truly interested in teaching others to fly? Find a potential instructor who embraces your goal.. Remember, it is your time and money you're investing to become a pilot, so you have the final say.

How well are the aircraft and facility maintained?
Well-maintained aircraft and flight school facilities are strong indications that the instructor(s) and training facility have a professional attitude and approach to training. A professional training environment will have the best results for you as a student.

How much training experience do the flight instructors have?
All flight instructors must meet the FAA’s stringent training requirements to be awarded a Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, and must accomplish recurrent training to maintain that Certificate. Look for an instructor with an established record of teaching new students to fly. Ask for a list of previous students with whom you can speak to or ask your Eagle Flights pilot for a personal recommendation.

Are you compatible with your instructor?
After discussing your goal of becoming a pilot with the potential flight instructor, ask yourself if this is someone you will enjoy training and flying with. Flight training is challenging, but it should be fun and enjoyable. If you doubt whether this instructor’s training style or personality will mesh with yours, trust your instincts and keep looking for an instructor.

How far do you live from the training facility?
The closer you live to the training site, the better. Time spent commuting to a distant facility is time that is not available for training. Several flight schools have developed accelerated courses where you travel to the school and stay nearby for several days to complete your training. That may be an option to consider.

One item missing from the above list is the cost of instruction. Selecting an instructor by price is always the wrong reason. Cost is a factor, but you’ll find most instructors have comparable rates, so saving a few dollars an hour by going with your third or fourth choice is false economy.

The right instructor will know how to coach you to maximize your training experience. If, after a few lessons, you realize the instructor isn’t working out, look for a new one. Remember that you are not married to your instructor; you are a consumer, and you have the right to make different choices.

The National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) is a great resource for locating a professionally minded instructor. Click here to find a NAFI flight instructor near you.

Types of Certificates

Once you’ve made the decision to learn to fly, you will need to decide which type of pilot certificate is right for you. There are three basic types to choose from when you begin flying: sport, recreational, or private. These terms describe the scope of what you’ll learn, your training requirements, and your privileges and limitations once you’re a pilot. The costs of flight training vary depending on area of the country and aircraft used. Please contact your training provider for accurate information. Here’s a brief overview of each certificate:

Sport Pilot
The sport pilot certificate is the quickest, easiest, and least costly way to fly for fun and recreation. As a sport pilot, you can fly solo or with one other passenger in a variety of two-place aircraft called “light-sport aircraft” (LSA). Sport pilots can only fly during daylight hours in good weather and must stay within the United States. The minimum requirements for a sport pilot certificate are 20 hours of flying time. The sport pilot certificate is a good choice for those who want to fly purely for fun. Plus, almost all of your sport pilot training will apply toward a higher certificate if you wish to advance your flying skills and activities.

Recreational Pilot
A recreational pilot certificate requires 30 hours of flying time and allows you to fly heavier aircraft than a sport pilot certificate, but flight is limited to within 50 nautical miles of your home airport. All of the training required for this certificate can be applied toward a private pilot certificate. For this reason, most people who begin down this path go on to become a private pilot.  
Private Pilot
The private pilot certificate requires 40 hours of flying time and allows you to fly single-engine aircraft with multiple passengers, day or night, and unlimited distances. If your ultimate goal is use your aircraft to get from point A to point B, you’ll want to become a private pilot. With additional training, you may also fly in weather that exceeds visual flight rules (VFR) conditions.

Each certificate has its place, depending on your wants and needs. And, since most of what you’ll learn can be applied towards a higher certificate, they’re all equally good starting points. To begin, though, the particular certificate isn’t as important as getting started with your training.

Flight Training Milestones

So, what does it take to become a pilot? Here are the major milestones in the flight training process. After successful completion of these achievements, you’ll be a competent and safe pilot, ready to fly with friends and loved ones as passengers.

Dual Instruction
This is the phase of flight training that entails having your instructor with you in the flight training aircraft. The majority of hours flown before obtaining your license will be with an instructor. During dual instruction, your CFI will train you in all the necessary skills required to pilot an aircraft.

Solo Flight
One of the major milestones in learning to fly is your first solo flight. Ask any pilot, and they can vividly recall the details of the first time they flew solo. When your instructor believes you are ready, he or she will set you free to fly on your own as you work toward the completion of your flight training. Before you engage in solo flight training, you will need a student pilot certificate issued by the FAA.

Written test
Along the path to becoming a pilot, you’ll have to make time to study some academic materials to pass the FAA Knowledge Test. This is often referred to as the “written” because it is a 40-question, multiple-choice test. You must score 70 percent or better to pass. To prepare for the test, you can train with your instructor, taking a class (called “ground school”), or a self-study course at home. This test can be taken at any time in your flight training, but it must be completed before the practical flight test, commonly called the “checkride.”

Cross-Country Flight
For the private pilot certificate, an important element of your flight training will be to conduct several cross-country flights. That is, you'll depart from one airport and land at another airport before returning to your home field. This exercise will ensure your ability to fly and navigate. Your flight instructor will oversee the planning for each cross-country flight, but most of your cross-country hours will be solo.

Oral and Practical Test
Once you’ve completed the different flight training requirements and your flight instructor is satisfied with your training, you will need to pass a “checkride.” The check ride entails an oral exam followed by a hands-on flight tes that you’ll need to pass to obtain your pilot certificate. You must take your checkride with an FAA designated examiner who will test your knowledge, practices, and proficiencies at the controls.

Once you become a pilot, you’ll likely be looking for every possible opportunity to get out and FLY! You might plan an ambitious coast-to-coast trip, fly away with a friend for a weekend getaway, or spend a few hours practicing at the local airport. Or maybe you’ll use your newly acquired skills to travel for business. Whatever your plan, it will center on enjoying the world from a different perspective, and feeling the exhilaration, freedom, and satisfaction of flying an aircraft yourself.

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