Everything you need to know about getting that Private Pilot's License

Well, this is not everything you need to know about obtaining an FAA Private Pilot's license for an airplane, but it is a lot of it.  I have broken your reading down into the following categories:

The basics:

Must be at least 17 on the day you receive your license.  Must be 16 on the day you first fly solo in the aircraft.  However, instruction is permitted at any age.
Must be able to read and speak English
Must pass a Third Class Medical Examination

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What you need to know, (and will learn in ground school)

(1) Applicable Federal Aviation Regulations that relate to private pilot privileges, limitations, and flight operations
(2) Accident reporting requirements of the National Transportation Safety Board;
(3) Use of the applicable portions of the "Aeronautical Information Manual" and FAA advisory circulars;
(4) Use of aeronautical charts for VFR navigation using pilotage, dead reckoning, and navigation systems;
(5) Radio communication procedures;
(6) Recognition of critical weather situations from the ground and in flight, windshear avoidance, and the procurement and use of aeronautical weather reports and forecasts;
(7) Safe and efficient operation of aircraft, including collision avoidance, and recognition and avoidance of wake turbulence;
(8) Effects of density altitude on takeoff and climb performance;
(9) Weight and balance computations;
(10) Principles of aerodynamics, powerplants, and aircraft systems;
(11) Stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery techniques for the airplane and glider category ratings;
(12) Aeronautical decision making and judgment; and
(13) Preflight action that includes—
               (i) How to obtain information on runway lengths at airports of intended use, data on takeoff and landing distances, weather reports and forecasts, and fuel requirements; and
               (ii) How to plan for alternatives if the planned flight cannot be completed or delays are encountered.

There is a bunch more, but these are the topics mandated by the regs.  Don't be intimidated.  Lots of people have learned this stuff.  You can too.

The skills you will learn in the airplane:
Preflight preparation;
Preflight procedures;
Airport operations;
Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
Performance maneuvers;
Ground reference maneuvers;


Navigation;
Slow flight and stalls;
Basic instrument maneuvers;
Emergency operations;
Night operations,
Postflight procedures

Minimum aircraft experience required by the FAA
You must log at least 40 hours of flight time, and that must include:
20 hours of flight instruction from an authorized instructor.  And that must include:
3 hours of cross-country flight
3 hours of night flying
3 hours of instrument flying
3 hours of review for the practical exam
10 hours of solo flight, including 5 hours of cross-country flying

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Reality – What I think is a more reasonable expectation of the flying time required – It is quite unusual for a student to complete all of the skill requirements within 40 hours of instruction that the FAA requires.  Here is a more realistic estimate of the flying time required.  And the disclaimers are at the bottom.

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Disclaimers and Explanations

When you begin comparing flying schools, you will find that the overall cost will vary widely between them.  Why?  Most schools will quote a total estimated cost, based on the FAA minimum flying time required.  Others will quote on their own estimate of the number of hours you will need.  As they say in the car business, your mileage will vary.

When comparing prices, it is best to look at the hourly rate for the aircraft to be used, and the hourly rate for the instructor.  Depending on how the type of aircraft and how new the aircraft is, and whether the organization is a for-profit business, or a not-for-profit club, aircraft rental rates will vary from a low of $45 per aircraft flying hour to a high of $120 per hour. 

The rate for flight instructor are a bit more uniform.  As of the end of December, 2011, instructor rates hover in the $35 to $40 per hour range.  In most cases, instructors charge from the time the student arrives until the student departs.  However, some charge only while actually in the airplane.

As a side note, neither system is right or wrong.  Students tend to think that an instructor who only charges when he is in the airplane is providing a bargain.  This is not necessarily true.  There is a good deal of information that students should understand about a flight, both before and afterwards.  An instructor who only charges when the airplane is running is essentially penalized for providing that information, or is encouraged to provide it while also charging for aircraft time.

The biggest factor in over-all cost for a private pilot's license is not the difference between individual schools.  The biggest factor is the frequency of the lessons.  And this is based on four things. First, the weather. Can't do much about it.  But in the Kansas City area there are lots of good flying days year round, mixed in with the wintery days and rain shower days.

Second, maintenance.  We want to take aircraft out of service for preventive maintenance.  When talking to schools, ask how many aircraft are available, and how many students and licensed pilots are asking for them.  This will give you an idea of what will be available when aircraft are out of service for maintenance.

Third, instructor availability.  How many students are assigned to each instructor?  Do the  instructors work part-time or full-time?  What is the likelihood of the instructor staying to complete the training? Do the instructors have their eye on moving on as soon as possible to an airline job?

Fourth, and most important, what is your availability?  Students who are able to fly several times each week will progress much faster than those who only fly a couple of times per month.  Learning to fly entails learning motor skills as well as gaining new knowledge.  Repetition for both is critical

Having spent all of that time on cost comparison, I am now going to say that cost should not be your primary consideration.  All of the organizations listed below have a long record of excellent teaching in the Kansas City area, and all of them will provide that instruction a reasonable cost.  The consideration bigger than cost is your rapport with your flight assigned instructor.  Your instructor works for you, not vice versa.  You should expect to be treated courteously and professionally by your instructor.  You should expect that you and your instructor will be comfortable with each other.  And you should expect that are actually becoming more comfortable and competent.  If this is not the case, you should expect that you can talk to your instructor (or his supervisor) and improve the situation.

Homeland Security is involved

The Department of Homeland Security is involved with flight training, as they are with passengers on the airlines

For flight instructors, Homeland Security requires that we undergo a certification process every year covering their regulations and security threats.

For student pilots, Homeland Security requires that you show your instructor either:

  • a valid US Passport

OR

  • a birth certificate and government-issued ID (driver's license)

After your instructor examines these documents, he is required to:

1. make an entry in your logbook stating that he has done so

2. make a copy of your documents and keep the copy in his own records

For students without a US passport or US birth certificate, additional requirements apply

Kansas City area sources for flight instruction.

Kansas City Flying Club, Johnson County Executive Airport .

Air Associates, Johnson County Executive Airport

Rebel Aviation - Lee's Summit Airport and Roostervile Airport (Liberty MO

ATD Flight Systems, Kansas City Downtown Airport

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Comments, questions, or just want to chat about anything aviation?  Drop me a note or call: 816-763-5205

updated March 10, 2018

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