How to Learn to Fly a Plane

Written by jerry garner
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How to Learn to Fly a Plane
Plane (roblisameehan, Creative Commons License)

Learning to fly is a dream for many people around the world, but one that is only realised by a few lucky individuals. We are taught from an early age that flying planes is a good experience. Everyone reading this has surely seen a baby being told to open up the hanger for the aeroplane, as a spoon full of food is flown towards their mouth. Flying truly is a great experience, and one that brings a freedom that no other experience can match. If you have ever dreamed of sitting in the cockpit and taking control of an aeroplane, keep reading to find out how you can learn to fly a plane.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Familiarise yourself with the process. Learning how to fly a plane can seem like an enormous undertaking that is complicated and confusing. As long as you familiarise yourself with the process in advance, so that you know what to expect, the process becomes more simple and straightforward, not to mention a lot less stressful. You are already taking a step in the right direction just by reading this guide on how to learn to fly a plane.

  2. 2

    Make sure you meet the basic requirements for a pilot’s license. You must be able to read, write and speak English fluently, since English is the national language of aviation. There are also minimum age requirements. You must be at least 16-years-old to hold a student certificate, or at least 17-years-old to hold a pilot’s license. There are other minimum requirements detailed below, including being in good health, knowledge of the aviation regulations and set minimum hours of flight time, both solo and with an instructor.

  3. 3

    Save enough money to obtain your pilots license. There are charges for your medical exam, charges for instruction, charges for aeroplane rental or flight club dues, charges for your final test, among other fees. On average, you can expect to spend around £3,250 to obtain your pilots license. Most flight instruction schools allow you to pay as you go, so you do not need to come up with the full amount at once, but you may get a discounted rate if you can pay for the instructions in bulk payments.

  4. 4

    Obtain your medical certificate. You will need to obtain a medical certificate from an Airman Medical Examiner (AME) that is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The purpose of the examination is to demonstrate that you are in good health to fly a plane. This includes an examination of your vision, hearing, ears, nose and throat. The exam is also used to preclude you from more serious conditions, such as alcoholism, epilepsy, psychosis, chronic heart disease or diabetes. The exam costs an average of £48 to complete. The aviation medical exam must be completed every three years if you are under 40-years-old, or every two years if you are over 40.

  5. 5

    Locate a flight instructor or school. There are usually flight instruction schools listed in the yellow pages of your telephone directory. If not, a quick trip to your local airport is all that it takes to find the local instructors. Visit the business offices and ask around about where the instructors can be found. Take your time picking an instructor. You should feel comfortable and at ease with your instructor, particularly since you will be spending a lot of time with them during your training. When selecting an instructor, you should also ask about the costs of flight insurance and plane rentals. If the school has a flight club with it’s own plane, ask about the monthly and annual dues to be part of the club. You should also not be shy about asking what qualifies him or her as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), as well as how many students they have previously taught to fly. While you’re there, you may as well ask for a free introductory flight, just to get a feel for the aircraft you will be learning on. You should also clarify the instructor fees, which can be up to £16/hour for ground instruction and up to £19/hour for flight instruction.

  6. 6

    Complete the ground training course. Ground Training is essentially classroom study. This course of study will teach you everything you need to know about aerodynamics, aircraft systems, airport operations, FAA regulations, navigation, radio communications, and weather reports. There will be an extensive test on the materials covered, so pay attention, take notes and study hard. You will need your flight instructor’s written authorisation to take the exam for your private pilot’s certificate (pilot license), and you instructor will not give that permission unless they feel that you adequately know all of the material that has been covered in Ground Training. Ground Training is typically done on a one-on-one basis with your flight instructor, although you may opt to use a flight school that has a traditional classroom setting. Some community colleges also offer the course, allowing you to obtain student financial aid to cover the costs.

  7. 7

    Complete the flight training that requires an instructor to be present. Before you can take the exam for your private pilot’s license, you will be required to have a minimum of 40 hours of flight training. At least 20 hours of this has to be with an instructor present in the plain. Out of that 20-plus hours, you will need to have at least three hours of cross-country flight, three hours of night flight (includes 10 take-offs and landings at night), three hours of instrument training and three hours of preparation for your practical skills test. The remaining time will be used to focus on whatever manoeuvres your flight instructor feels you should be working on. Note that these are minimum flight times, and you will probably log more hours than this with your instructor sharing the cockpit.

  8. 8

    Complete the solo flight portion of your flight training. Out of the 40 hours of required flight training, a minimum of 10 hours must be done as a solo flight. Solo flight comes much faster than you expect; usually after 15 to 20 hours of instructor flight. Your solo flight time must include a minimum of three solo take-offs and landings, coming to a full stop at an airport with a control tower. You must also spend a minimum of five hours on cross-country flights, landing at least 50 nautical miles from your take-off point. One of these trips must be at least 150 nautical miles away, consisting of 3 landings at points that are a minimum of 50 nautical miles apart.

  9. 9

    Complete the airman knowledge test. This test is taken at a designated computer testing site. Upon arrival, you will need to submit proof that your flight instructor has authorised the test, and pay a £45 fee to pay for the test. The airman knowledge test will cover all of the items that you learnt during your ground training classes. There are 711 possible questions. The computer will randomly select 60 of these to make up your test, which will take an average of 2.5 hours to complete. You will need to have a minimum test score of 70 percdent to pass the knowledge test.

  10. 10

    Complete the practical skills test. The practical skills test is divided into two portions. The first is an oral examination lasting one to two hours. Be warned that the oral examination will focus heavily on the areas in which you displayed weakness during your knowledge test, so be sure to study. Following the oral examination is a “check ride”, where an FAA examiner will ride with you as you pilot the aircraft. The examiner will monitor your actions to make sure you follow all FAA regulations, and will ask you to perform a series of manoeuvres to see if you can properly manage the aircraft. Upon your successful completion of the practical skills test, you will be issued a temporary pilot’s certificate (license) that is valid for 120 days. Your permanent license will be mailed to you from the Oklahoma City office of the FAA sometime within the following two months.

Tips and warnings

  • You do not need to undergo ground training and flight training in consecutive order. They can be managed simultaneously.
  • Although a minimum of 40 hours of flight training is required before you can take your examinations, you should not feel pressured to take the exams at this point. The national average is 65 hours of flight training before the exam is taken, and many people undergo up to 80 hours of flight training before they feel comfortable taking the exam.

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