9 Tips to get your pilot license faster

by | Flight Training Guides, Learn to Fly, Training Tips + Techniques

Get Your Pilot License FasterYou pay for flight training by the hour, so when you make the effort to get your pilot license faster, it also becomes cheaper. The FAA requires a minimum of forty hours to get a pilot license, but in reality the national average is about seventy hours of flight time, which can cost students more money than they budgeted. So why does it take so long, and how can you get your pilot license faster and cheaper?

Why does it take so long, and how can you get your pilot license faster?

The more hours you spend learning to fly, the more expensive your license will cost. Taking steps to get your pilot license faster will save you money in the long run.

So why do students take so much longer than the FAA minimum to get their license? There are many reasons: for most of us, learning becomes more difficult as we get older. Newer aircraft are filled with capable and complex instruments that take more time to master than older aircraft with basic gauges and a single radio. Large busy airports require billable time spent getting to and from the runway and practice area, while small quiet airports require more precision to master.

Students who are training to fly professionally need a minimum of 250 hours to become a Commercial Pilot. For them it doesn’t matter whether they log the time in training for their Private Pilot certificate as a first step in their training, or while renting an airplane later to build time later, since the hours need to be flown and paid for anyway.

If flying professionally is not your goal, you can save both time and money by earning your certificate in as few hours as possible. Here’s how you can get your pilot license faster and cheaper.

Here’s the big secret to help you get your pilot license faster

Of the forty hours of flight training required by the FAA, 30-hours are prescribed into 20-hours of instruction time flown with your flight instructor, and 10-hours of solo flight time. At least half of the 20-hours of instruction time is spent completing FAA-specified minimums for night, instrument, and navigation training. All of the FAA minimum solo time is used up completing the solo pilot requirements. And you’ll spend a few hours before your checkride practicing all of the maneuvers you’ll be expected to demonstrate, and polishing your technique to meet the standards.

To earn your license anywhere close to the forty hour minimum, you’re going to need to focus on soloing as soon as possible. And that means using every technique you can to learn how to takeoff, land, and maneuver an airplane safely in about ten hours.

No instructor is going to let you solo without feeling absolutely confident you are ready: there’s just too much on the line. So here are some tips to help you get your pilot license faster.

Choosing the right airport to get your pilot license faster

How a large airport can help you get your pilot license faster

Airports built for large aircraft have nice big runways. Having a one-hundred-foot wide runway stretching out a mile or more in front of you gives you plenty of space and opportunity to get the airplane safely on the ground. As you develop your skills, you can focus your efforts on become more precise, landing with your nosewheel on the centerline and making the first turnoff after touchdown.

Most larger airports will also have a control tower, so you get used to using the radio and talking with Air Traffic Controllers from the beginning of your training. When you solo, ATC will make sure other traffic is separated, so you only need to focus on flying the airplane and getting it down on that nice big runway!

Sounds like the obvious choice, right, so what are the disadvantages of learning at a large airport? Depending on where your flight school is on the field, you may have to spend a lot of time taxiing to the runway. Once there, you may spend more time waiting in line for takeoff. Larger airports often accommodate jet aircraft with higher landing speeds, adding pressure during the landing phase when ATC asks you to keep your speed up for landing traffic. Busy approach and departure corridors probably mean you will have to fly some distance to and from the practice area before you can begin your lesson adding to the cost of your training.

How a small airport can help you get your pilot license faster 

At small quiet airports, often with one flight school located close to the runway, you can takeoff minutes after startup. During the week you will rarely find yourself waiting in line at the end of the runway since most of the pilots will be flying on the weekends.With less traffic, you can do your maneuvers close to the airport, so you will spend more of your time focusing on training, rather than commuting to and from the flight school to the practice area.

What are the disadvantages of learning at a small airport? With a small narrow runway, you have no room to be sloppy as you learn to maneuver and safely land an airplane. Instead, you’ll be focusing on landing on the centerline at the start of the runway from day one. Many instructors, regardless of airport size will emphasize landing precisely, but needing to rather than aiming to, may add some pressure that will increase the time you take to solo, which is important as we shall see.

Without ATC to provide traffic separation, you’ll also need to keep your eyes wide open for other traffic, especially older aircraft that may not have radios. This can add more pressure when you’re flying solo and don’t have the benefit of an instructor’s second pair of eyes and ears with you. You will also need to learn to communicate with ATC, which adds to your workload can be intimidating to pilots who are used to quiet airports and not talking on the radio.

What’s the ideal airport to get your pilot license faster? 

I learned to fly in Ventura county, California, northwest of Los Angeles. Ventura is home to three airports, Camarillo (CMA), Oxnard (OXR), and Santa Paula (SZP). Let’s take a closer look at these airports and see if there’s a Goldilocks option.

Camarillo, formerly Oxnard Air Force Base, is a towered airport with 6,000 foot long runway that’s 150’ wide. It is a busy airport; at least one weekend I was eighth or ninth in line to take off. The practice area is 20 nautical miles away––over the Ojai valley––adding 15-20 minutes to many training flights. While it may seem insignificant, that extra flight time could add another three or four hours before solo.

Santa Paula is a small private airport nestled in the Fillmore valley. Known as a home for many vintage aircraft, Santa Paula airport is a wonderful tight-knit community. An aerobatics box a few miles from the approach end of the runway serves as the practice area minutes from the airport. There’s no control tower so you need to always be vigilant about looking out for other aircraft and setting your own spacing. The tight landing pattern along the edge of a mountain ridge means that you learn to fly precisely to the 60-foot wide runway that’s 2,665 feet long from your very first flight.

Like Camarillo, Oxnard is a towered airport with a 6,000 foot runway that is 100 feet wide. It’s location a few miles farther out of Los Angeles means it is much less busy than Camarillo. The prevailing winds mean you take off toward the ocean and practice area is minutes away just offshore. With this set of parameters, Oxnard would seem to be the ideal choice in this instance, but there’s more to consider as we shall see.

Choosing the right school to get your pilot license faster

Airplanes 

Ask a group of flight instructors the best type of aircraft to learn in and everyone will have a different opinion: high wing vs low-wing, glass cockpit vs. traditional gauges, tricycle gear vs. tailwheel. Every choice has its pros and cons, a lot of which will do with your long-term flying goals.

When it comes to airplanes, glass cockpit aircraft are more capable (and more suitable for pilots looking to make a career from flying), but will take longer to master than simple gauges and radios. Most standard trainers are equally suitable for getting your private certificate, so the actually make and model isn’t as important as how many similarly equipped aircraft the school has available.

Scheduling conflicts, maintenance and weather will all conspire to keep you on the ground, so the more options you have when scheduling your training will keep you flying. As your checkride nears, decide which airplane you’re going to take your test in and schedule as much time in that particular aircraft as possible.

Instructors 

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your flight instructor so it is important your personalities are compatible. Flight instruction is often the first job professional pilots get while trying to build time for the airlines. When the economy is strong and airlines are hiring, you may find yourself switching instructors and repeating lessons as each new instructor gets an offer to fly for the airlines. Make sure your school has several instructors to choose from and find one that’s going to be around long enough to complete your training. Schools at smaller airports are more likely to have older instructors that are looking to give back to the aviation community rather than looking at flight instruction as a stepping stone to a career at the airlines.

If you find your personalities clash, don’t be shy about switching instructors. You’re paying for the instruction and it’s important that you’re learning. Sometimes, just hearing something presented differently by another instructor can be enough to break through a plateau in your training and overcome a frustrating series of lessons.

Amenities 

It’s unlikely that you live or work at an airport, which means that you’re going to be driving some time to and from your lessons. There are days when you’re going to be waiting, perhaps because your airplane (or your instructor) hasn’t yet returned from their previous lesson, or because you’re holding on for the weather to improve. It’s important that the time you spend waiting doesn’t feel wasted. It can be really helpful if there is Wi-Fi available, so you can continue studying for your ground school, or get some work done instead of worrying about how late you’re going to be getting to the office or back home.

Similarly a coffee machine and snacks can help build a community that allows you to mingle and learn from other students, adding more opportunities to build your knowledge and be better prepared. When you’re ready to find a flight school, use our search tools to help you find a flight school with the amenities you’re looking for.

Finish ground school early to get your pilot license faster

Some student pilots never get their license, not because they are not capable and competent pilots, but because they never completed their ground training. With so many options for ground school; in-person, online, interactive, one-on-one, there’s not excuse not to get it done. Completing your ground school early will leave you better prepared for the navigation phase of your training, and let you focus all of your attention on the flying portion, which is why you’re learning to fly. Your Knowledge Test certificate is good for two years after you complete the written test, so you needn’t worry about it expiring if you pass it too soon.

Preflight, postflight, and home study instruction to get your pilot license faster

To get the most out of each lesson and get your pilot license faster, it’s important to know what you’re going to be working on during that flight. It’s tempting for some instructors to skip the preflight and postflight sections of your lessons. If your instructor greets you by saying, “go ahead and preflight the plane, I’ll meet you out there,” ask them instead to spend a few minutes with you before lesson discussing what you will be doing during the flight. This ensures both of you are prepared and they’re not just winging the lesson plan as they get in the airplane. It also gives you an opportunity to ask questions and get a clear idea of what you’ll be doing while you’re on the ground and not trying to figure it out in flight. Of course, if you’re struggling with a maneuver and getting frustrated it’s sensible to break it off and try something else, even if it wasn’t briefed beforehand.

As you walk back to the school building with your instructor after the flight, it’s the perfect time to ask questions that you’ll want to spend more time studying when you are at home. If you really want to get your pilot license faster, spend time once you are home reviewing your lesson, making notes, and preparing for your next lesson by writing out questions and––if you are following a syllabus––reading up on what you will be practicing the next time you fly. One of my favorite ways to practice at home is chair flying. I still do it now, twenty years after I earned my license.

How Chair Flying can help you get your pilot license faster

Chair flying is the simple act of sitting in a chair and imagining your hands and feet on the controls of the airplane. While it sounds silly, getting your muscle memory down so you’re not thinking through every maneuver step-by-step as you perform it is the key to help you get your pilot license faster. Here’s an example for a regular landing:

I am flying on the downwind leg of the pattern. As I pass the runway numbers, I pull back on the power, add carb heat, and apply pressure to the back of the yoke to keep the nose in the air as I watch the airspeed drop. As the airspeed slows into the white arc, I lower the first stage of flaps.

I watch to see the runway numbers pass forty five degrees past my left shoulder, and begin a turn onto the base leg of the pattern. While turning, I add the next stage of flaps, carefully applying gentle pressure to the front of the yoke to prevent the aircraft ballooning.

As I approach the runway centerline, I check final approach to make sure there is no conflicting traffic. Then, I begin my turn early to account for the left-crosswind that will push me to the centerline. As I line up on final, I add the last stage of flaps, while adding a little left bank and right rudder to correct for drift. I make small adjustments with the yoke to adjust my airspeed, and use power to keep the touchdown point from moving in the windshield.

As I cross the runway threshold, I pull out all remaining power, focus my eyes to the end of the runway and pull gently back on the yoke as if to keep the airplane from touching down. As I do so, the nose continues to rise, until the main wheels, gently touch the ground. I use the rudder to stay centered on the runway, as the nose lowers and I apply the brakes to slow and turn off onto the taxiway.

 

Imagine yourself performing the actions you are describing, reaching down to move the controls as appropriate. With practice, you will develop muscle memory preparing you more quickly for solo.

Using simulators to help you get your pilot license faster

Until Redbird developed their range of simulators, most flight school simulators were designed for training instrument pilots. With limited visuals, and a focus on instrumentation, they had limited use for training private pilots. Today, Redbird’s simulators provide 180-degree visuals that make private pilot training a real possibility. Redbird’s Guided Independent Flight Training (GIFT) software lets you practice maneuvers in a simulator, so when you do fly with an instructor you can focus on learning rather than proficiency.

Fly frequently!

It may seem obvious, but the more frequently you fly, the better you’ll become. Instead of spending time each lesson reviewing and remembering what you did last time, you move your learning forward.Most instructors agree that flying three times a week really benefits students who want to get their pilot license faster. While it may seem more expensive to fly more frequently, it will save money in the long run.

Go get your license!

While I can’t guarantee that using these techniques will get you your license in forty hours, I will say that using these techniques, especially spending time in the simulator, frequent lessons, and chair flying, will reduce the amount it would have taken you. if you didn’t practice as much. As we get older, the way we learn and absorb information changes. We need to be willing to try and find the tools that work best for us.

Don’t put off your dream of learning to fly any longer. Click the button below and start your journey to become a pilot with FlightRepublic today.