10 Things You Need To Know To Become A Pilot

Welcome to LadiesLoveTaildraggers.  This is the first in a series of articles I’ll be writing about earning a Private Pilot Certificate.
Up next: ‘Getting a Private Pilot Certificate in a Taildragger’

I am NOT the expert on becoming a pilot, but I am a pilot. I achieved this near god-like status in 1939, at age 5, but I was very special. OK, ok, maybe not exactly. Read on, aviation knowledge awaits you.

Someone recently asked me a very simple question, “How do I become a pilot?” Just six words and yet I struggled to condense my answer into the quick, canned response people expect at a party. I did end up spitting something out but, the truth is, my response was pretty crummy compared to the information I could have provided him. The answer is actually very complicated and there’s no single fit-all response that works. Every potential pilot’s situation is different and their options are different. Since that fun party, I’ve given it some thought and realize visitors to LadiesLoveTaildraggers may not be pilots and may have the very same question.

It takes a mere 40 hours of flight time (minimum) to earn a PPL but there’s a lot more to it than visiting your local airport and surfacing 40 hours later with a brand new Private Pilot Certificate. It’s never that easy.

If you want to be a pilot – a safe, competent pilot, it’s time your questions are answered. Truth is, earning a private pilot certificate is not something to be taken lightly. Earning your PPL is one of the ultimate BIG deals. The skies await and the earthbound will never experience the joy we pilots rejoice in. With that joy comes responsibility; to ourselves as pilot in command (PIC) and to our future passengers. Once signed off by your CFI (certified flight instructor) for your very first solo flight, it will be just you and the aircraft aloft. The hours of ground school and study, the hours flying with your instructor, all lead up to the moment when it’s all up to you. Prepare well and revel in the exhilaration of solo flight!

So what are the secrets to becoming a living, breathing, pilot? Here’s my list of 10 things I believe you should know. You can read the official FAA requirements on How To Become a Pilot but that’s only the beginning.

From this point on, we’ll assume you’ve flown in a small plane at least once in your life, you loved it, and now you want to be a pilot!

1. You’ll need a Medical
If your intent is to earn a Private Pilot Certificate then get a FAA Third Class Medical Certificate before you begin flight lessons. You cannot solo an aircraft until you have your medical so get it out of the way. Individuals who want to earn the limited privileges of Sport Pilot are not required to get a 3rd Class Medical, they only need to hold a valid U.S. driver’s license.

2. Get an Attitude
The single most important thing you can do is have a CAN DO attitude. Yes, you can do this. Any person of average intelligence has the smarts to fly an airplane but it takes the right attitude to get the job done. Earning a PPL can be a challenge and your likelihood of succeeding increases with the right mindset. As a student pilot you’ll push the boundary of your comfort zone. There will be moments when new information comes at you like a fire hose. Relax, do your best and know that over time, you will absorb it. Repetition is key and those that stick with it succeed. Self doubt is a normal part of this learning process and an “I can do this” attitude will get you over the humps.

3. Commit 100%
Getting your PPL is going to take time, determination, and money. Commit 100%, then do it. Take that first flight lesson, stick with it, and don’t drag it out any longer than necessary. Fly as often as you can afford – it’s ultimately the most efficient path to earning your ticket.

4. Aircraft Options Abound
If you choose to pursue getting your pilot’s certificate, your options are

  • renting an aircraft from a FBO or flight school
  • purchasing block time; hours in an aircraft that are paid in advance at a discounted rate
  • joining a flying club. Some flying clubs allow members to learn to fly in club airplane(s), others do not. Verify first. Clubs generally have a joining fee and a small monthly membership fee. Dollar for dollar, they’re usually less expensive than learning to fly through a FBO. They often have flight instructors who are members and have been pre-approved to provide instruction. Flying clubs also have a social aspect that will introduce you to like-minded aviation enthusiasts. The more pilots you know, the greater your chances for a successful flying career.
  • buying a partnership in an aircraft
  • and the ultimate commitment, buying your own aircraft

5. Instructors
Keep in mind, it’s up to you to select a CFI (certified flight instructor). You’re footing the bill and accepting the “available” CFI assigned to you may not be in your best interest. Your options include

  • using a CFI affiliated with your local FBO (fixed base operator) or flight school
  • using a CFI affiliated with a flying club (often on the club’s insurance policy)
  • hiring a freelance flight instructor you know or has been recommended to you.

    Whichever route you take, make sure you’re compatible with your CFI’s instruction style. That may sound simple but there are a few key things you should know. Not everyone completes their instruction with the same CFI they begin with. A high number don’t. It’s entirely possible for a student pilot to not feel comfortable with a CFI; differences in personality, the way we learn, and scheduling conflicts can be issues. Believe it or not, SEX can be a factor – men and women frequently learn in different ways and, just as important, communicate in different ways. The subject is book worthy and we don’t have space here, just know I’ve received enough unsolicited feedback from pilots to know Men really are from Mars and Women are from Venus. My message is, it’s OK to move on to CFI 2, CFI 3 and beyond to find the right fit.

    Another aspect of selecting your CFI relates to that person’s flight time and experience as a CFI.  A 250 hour flight instructor, fresh out of flight school, may know her/his stuff and may be able to transfer that to you – but maybe not. They may also be building time for the airlines and will be gone before you’ve finished your training. Consider the seasoned instructor who has already signed off dozens, even hundreds of students, and has figured out what it takes to make you an excellent pilot. That person may be the best choice.

6. Ground School
Ground school options are everywhere. Flight schools may offer their own course and many communities have courses available as college evening classes. Consider taking an on-line course like ASA’s, an onsite weekend course like King Schools’ Pass Your Written Exam , buy a bundled course like Sporty’s Learn To Fly Course or borrow a friend’s books/CDs and study on your own.  The bottom line is, you’ll need to pass a FAA written exam – how you gain the knowledge is up to you.

A small amount of instructional time in an aircraft can make ground school study much easier. If you’ve never seen, touched or tuned flight controls, radios or instruments in an aircraft, it can be much harder to comprehend ground school instruction. Of course, timing is everything and you may not have the luxury of delaying your ground school. Just keep in mind, getting a little tactile time in an aircraft can go a long way.

7. About the Money Thing
So where’s your money for flight training going to come from? I don’t know. What I do know is flight training, for most, has to be their #1 priority. It may even take a hard-nosed, Dave Ramsey, approach to make it work, but I believe today’s self-denial will be worth the end goal. Don’t forget to look beyond traditional flight training options. There are bargains, even freebies, for a fortunate few. Friends and family really do offer up their aircraft to their friends and families for training. CFI’s just might offer you a great deal. I’ve even heard stories of aircraft owners who are out of medical and just want somebody to fly their airplanes! And the old ace-in-the-hole is getting a part-time job at the FBO and trading hours worked for flight time. Don’t forget, scholarships are everywhere, especially for the young. You would be amazed to know the low number of applications received for many aviation scholarships. The odds are excellent you can win one – but first you must apply!

8. Flying is a Community
I can’t say this strongly enough. Get to know your aviation community! Meeting fellow aviators who share your love of flying are likely to become the best friends of your life. Spend time at the FBO, with pilots in their hangars, with the line crew, at the maintenance shop, and become a known face in your aviation community. Go to local, regional and national fly-ins. Visit fly-in/drive-in pancake breakfasts where you’ll see different types of aircraft and the pilots who fly them. You’ll meet people just like you who have accomplished your goal – all aviators who can help you succeed.

9. Be a Joiner
Join the EAA and AOPA, two organizations that will encourage you, support you, and fight for your rights as a private pilot in the U.S. Each deserves your support. Each refuses to cave to bureaucrats willing to initiate user fees, restrict your airspace, and deny your freedom as a general aviation pilot.

10. Passion. Live it and show it!
When you are passionate about flying, people can’t help but notice. Pilots are the greatest people on the planet and will be the first to encourage and support new student pilots. Your attitude and passion can be a game changer and unexpected doors can open. Anything is possible. A passionate and determined attitude is the true secret to succeeding in aviation.

That’s it. Be patient with your progress while training. This stuff takes times to learn and learning comes with repetition. Fly often and don’t drag it out. Schedule your flight training as often as you can afford to. The more you fly, the more you will retain, and that’s the goal. Best of luck to you!





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