How to become a pilot: everything you need to know in 10-steps

how-to-become-a-pilotMany people have had dreams of learning to fly since childhood, but they don’t know how to become a pilot. For a lucky few, those dreams dreams become reality and they get to experience the joy of seeing the world from a different perspective at the controls of a flying machine.

By following the steps below, you too can make your dreams come true.

  1. What do I want to fly
  2. Find a flight school
  3. Take an intro flight
  4. Get your student pilot license
  5. Apply for your medical
  6. Apply for your student pilot certificate
  7. Start your training
  8. Pass the Private Pilot Knowledge Test
  9. Pass the Private Pilot Practical Test
  10. Getting your license

Start today by deciding … 

How to Become a Pilot Step 1: What do I want to fly?

When most people think of flying, they think of an airplane. Airplanes may be the most common way to get airborne, but it’s far from the only way. Here are some other ways how to become a pilot:

Airplane

We tend to think of pilots flying airplanes, and it with good reason. Ever since the Wright Brothers first flew their airplane at the end of 1903, airplanes have proven to be the most effective way to combine efficiency, speed, practicality, controllability and cost. Airplanes are also inherently stable, so just about anyone can learn to fly one if they take lessons frequently enough.

Helicopter

For some people, helicopters represent the ultimate freedom in flying. Able to takeoff and land vertically, hover in mid-air, helicopter pilots can accomplish amazing feats which makes them valuable workhorses and amazing fun for individuals lucky enough to fly their own helicopters.

Glider

Because they rely on the elements to keep them flying in a constant battle with gravity, glider pilots develop an amazing feeling for the air they are flying through. Masters of managing energy and securing every bit of performance from their flying machines, many of the world’s best pilots started their training in gliders.

Weight Shift Control(hang glider) & Powered Parachutes

Best known as hang gliders, weight shift control ultralights are like riding bicycles in a world of cars. If you like the outdoors, weight shift control aircraft will let you experience nature in a whole new way.

Similar to hang gliders, powered parachutes are controllable parachutes with a sling seat, and an engine worn like a back-pack. Powered parachutes give pilots more control and flight duration than a hang glider, while weight shift control pilots are able to enjoy the quiet of the outdoors.

Balloon

The very first humans rose into the sky aboard a balloon. The most regal and oldest of flying machines, balloon pilots learn to control their majestic machines by finding the right winds to take them in the direction they want to go. If airplanes are about traveling to a destination, balloons are all about the journey.

How to Become a Pilot Step 2: Find a flight school

When deciding how to become a pilot, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is finding a flight school near you. Most people are only aware of the airports they travel from when they go on vacation, but in fact there are thousands of small airports around the country: something that makes learning to fly practical and appealing.

FlightRepublic’s airport directory makes it easy to find a flight school near you. Enter your zip code and we’ll show a list of flight schools in your area. Refine your search by selecting the type of aircraft you want to fly and filter by other criteria to find the school that’s right for you. Flight schools are verified and we’re adding new schools to the directory every week.

Choosing the right flight school is important if you plan to fulfill your goal of becoming a pilot. If you have the chance, visit and interview more than one.

How to Become a Pilot Step 3: Take an intro flight

Once you have found the right school it’s time to schedule an intro flight. Intro flights give you your first taste of what it is like to experience flying from the controls of an airplane.

Your intro flight will also let you see first hand what it will be like to learn to fly at the school, getting a sense for the quality of instruction, the aircraft and meeting the other students.

Give a school bonus points if they leave you with a package about learning to fly, popular destinations you can fly to once you earn your certificate, and anything else that shows they are invested in you successfully becoming a pilot. You want to find a school that motivated to see you succeed as a pilot and not just monthly hours billed.

How to Become a Pilot Step 4: Get your student pilot license

Although you don’t need a student pilot license to begin your flight training, you will need it to solo. The “license” is really a combination of two documents, your FAA Medical Certificate and your FAA Student Pilot Certificate. Follow Steps 5 and 6 below or if you need more help we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to getting your student pilot license.

How to Become a Pilot Step 5: Apply for your medical certificate

There are three classes of medical certificate. All student pilots need at least a third class medical, but if you’re ultimately planning on flying for the airlines you should consider getting a first class medical, which meets higher standards than a third class medical, and you’ll need to have during your career.

To get your medical certificate, set up and account and complete an application via the FAA’s MedXpress website, and schedule an appointment with an Aviation Medical Examiner near you. If you have already begun training, consider asking your instructor to recommend an AME.

How to Become a Pilot Step 6: Apply for your student pilot certificate

Before you solo you’re also going to need a student pilot certificate. There are several ways to do this, but the simplest is to complete an application online through the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website. Be sure to make a note of your FAA Tracking Number or FTN, which you will need it when taking your written and practical tests later.

How to Become a Pilot Step 7: Start your training

Now that you have your paperwork organized you will be able to schedule your first lesson. If you are a US citizen you will need a TSA endorsement before you begin training. Your instructor will ask you to bring your passport or other official document such a birth certificate to your first lesson. The TSA endorsement lasts five years unless you switch schools or start training with a different instructor at the same school who is unfamiliar with you.If you are not a US citizen you will need to enroll in the TSA’s Alien Flight Student Program. Ask your flight school if they are already registered with the TSA, which will make completing the application simpler.

How to Become a Pilot Step 8: Pass the Private Pilot Knowledge Test

Before you complete your flight training you will need to pass the FAA’s Private Pilot Knowledge Test. Commonly known as the “written,” this computer-based multiple choice exam is a test of the theoretical knowledge you will need to fly an airplane safely and covers subjects such as weather, regulations, aircraft systems, aerodynamics and more.

To prepare for the written test, most students complete a ground school program before getting an endorsement from their instructor to take the test. While it can be tempting to put off studying for the written because flying is more fun, passing it early in training can help you be better prepared for your solo flights. Most accelerated flight instruction programs require the written test to be completed before flying begins.

How to Become a Pilot Step 9: Pass the Private Pilot Practical Exam (checkride)

At the end of your training you will need to schedule a practical test with a Designated Pilot Examiner or DPE. The practical test consists of two parts, the first of which takes place in the examiner’s office. There you will show the examiner your logbook, demonstrating you have completed the required flying to take the practical. You will also go through the airplane’s logbooks with your examiner so that you can both see the airplane is airworthy and ready for flight. The examiner will then ask you questions, focusing especially on areas where you showed weakness in your written test score. After you have completed the ‘oral’ exam, you will begin the flight portion of the test. The examiner will act as a passenger, and try to distract you, which is why you have spent the last third of your training honing your skills for the flight test.

How to Become a Pilot Step 10: Getting your license

After you land, your examiner will tell you if you have passed and you’ll go back to the office where your temporary certificate will be printed. There is nothing like being handed your pilot certificate and slowly realizing that you are free to get in an airplane and fly it anywhere in the world. Suddenly all of those hours with your instructor will come together as the culmination of your hard work results in a pilot certificate.