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:

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What the FAA says are the basic requirements

What the FAA says you need to know

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What the FAA says you must be able to accomplish

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What the FAA says are the minimum flying experience hours (These are all mandated by Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR Part 61, paragraphs 103 - 109)

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How do I prepare for the written exam?

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How do I prepare for the oral and flight exam?

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My estimate of a reasonable amount of flying experience required

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Considerations for finding the right instructor and school

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How does the Department of Homeland Security get involved?

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 (not required for a Sport License)

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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

So where to I learn all of this stuff?  Ground School
The ground school route differs for each person.  For the person who is comfortable with self-study, there are several very good computer-based programs - look at King Schools or Sporty's for example. 
For the student that prefers a classroom environment, there are a number of possibilities.  Look to local flight schools or community colleges for opportunities.
Regardless of the study method, use your favorite internet search engine to find sample written exam questions.  There are several websites that offer free FAA questions, taken from the real FAA database.  These sample exams are not a substitute for learning the material, but they offer a great chance to practice for the real exam.  The FAA offers sample test questions and answers at their Knowledge Test Guide

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 instruction 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 solo cross-country flying

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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lesson nr.

airplane, dual

aircraft, solo

instructor time

task

1

1.5

 

3

Introductory; Takeoff, straight and level, climbs, turns

2

1.5

 

3

Slow flight, stalls

3

1.5

 

3

Rectangular courses, S turns, turns about a point, emergencies

4

1.5

 

3

spin awareness, forced landings

5

1.5

 

3

Normal patterns and landings

6

1.5

 

3

Review

7

1.5

 

3

Review

8

1.5

 

3

Review

9

1.5

 

3

Review

10

1.5

 

3

Review

11

1.5

 

3

Pre-solo check ride

12

2

0.5

4

First supervised solo

13

1.5

 

3

Review of all pre-solo maneuvers

14

0

1

 

solo practice

15

1.5

 

3

Review of all pre-solo maneuvers

16

1.5

 

3

Short \ soft  field  takeoffs \ landings, instruments

17 *

1.5

 

3

Night

18 **

3

 

6

Cross country, day

19 *

1

 

2

basic instruments

20 *

1

 

2

basic instruments

21 *

1

 

2

basic instruments

22 *

1.5

 

3

Night cross country

23 *

0

0.5

1.5

Night solo, supervised

24

 

1

 

solo, practice

25

 

1

 

solo, practice

26

 

3

 

Solo Cross Country

27

 

3

 

Solo Cross Country

28

1.5

 

1.5

Review for check ride

29

1.5

 

3

Review for check ride

30

 

 

 

FAA Checkride

total hours

35

10

70

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Not required for Sport License

** Cross country instruction required for Sport license, but to a lesser degree

Preparing for the oral and flight exams - These two exams come together and are generally referred to as “the checkride”.  At one time, the checkride was administered by an FAA Flight Examiner.  The FAA has ceased doing that, however, and now designates certain Flight Instructors as Designated Flight Examiners.  They are offered no leeway by the FAA as to what topics they can cover on the oral exam, and how they will conduct the checkride.  That is all spelled out in the Private Pilot Airman Certification Standards (ACS)

Disclaimers and Explanations and Costs
When you begin comparing flying schools, you will find that the overall cost will vary widely between them. Why? Many 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 can vary from a low of $60 per aircraft flying hour to a high of $160 per hour.

The rate for flight instructor is a bit more uniform. As of mid- 2014, in the Kansas City area, instructor rates hover in the $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 penalizing the student for not 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. The consideration bigger than cost is your rapport with your flight assigned instructor.

And one last thought - 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 you 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 a governnent-issued ID (drivers's license)
 After your instructor examines your documents, he is required to:
   
 1. Make a notation in your logbooks stating that he has done so, and
 2. Make a copy of your documents and keep them in his own records.

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

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