12 Steps to Get Your Private Pilot’s License


Have you researched how to get your Private Pilot’s license, and found that no one really explains the entire process in detail?  My name is Jamie and I’ve been a Flight Instructor in San Diego for more than 11 years. I have explained this process over and over to all my prospective students. Recently one of my students said, “it would be nice if this was all written down so I could go back and remember everything you told me!” Pretty good idea, so I’m finally writing it down! I hope this is helpful for all who are interested in learning to fly.

Below is the 12 step Process to getting your Private Pilot’s License:

1. Choose your Flight Instructor

Learning to fly is a very exciting and challenging endeavor, and it is very important to find a good instructor. There are a few things you should consider when choosing a Flight Instructor. The most important thing you should consider is their experience, attitude and motivation. There are a lot of instructors who have little experience and are just trying to build hours to move on to another flying job. Also, it’s key to find an instructor that has a good personality and works well with people. You should feel comfortable flying with that person, and they should allow the learning experience to be fun while also challenging.
For more detail choosing a flight instructor check out my page explaining Flight Schools Vs. Flying Clubs and click Choosing your Flight Instructor.

After doing some research on Flight Instructors and Flight Schools, and reading reviews online, schedule an introductory flight with a few different instructors. It’s good to compare the teaching styles of a few instructors to make sure they are a good fit.

Also, you will want to log your flight time. If you have a logbook ready to go you can credit the flight time and have your instructor sign the entry. You can either purchase one at the airport, the local pilot shop at the field, or order it online. They are all priced about the same. My Favorite Logbook is the blue one by ASA.

3. Become a member of the Flying Club or Flight School

Once you have chosen a Flight Instructor, they will help you sign up for the flying club or Flight School. This gets you on the insurance plan for rental of the aircraft, and allows you to schedule the plane using an online scheduling system. There are club dues which average $30 a month, and some flying clubs give discounts for flying more than a few hours a month. Once signed up for the flying club, you will be issued a key and allowed to rent the plane. For more information visit my page on Flying Clubs vs. Flight schools .

4. Buy your books and supplies

Once you are ready to begin your lessons, you should start accumulating your Flight Training Supplies. You won’t need to buy everything all at once, but there are a few things you will want right away, one thing being the primary knowledge book, which I recommend using the Jeppessen Private Pilot Book. I always send out a “get started” email that has information on what you need right away, vs. things you can get along the way. You can buy kits that include everything, the best one in my opinion is by Jeppessen. I like to pick and choose different brands of different items, and I provide a list on my page “Flight Training Materials

Flight Training books and supplies

5. Apply for your student Pilot’s License

The FAA now requires all Flight Students to apply for a Student Pilot Certificate. This was once combined with a Student Pilot Medical Certificate, but now it is separate. You must go to the FAA’s website, and sign up for an account. Your instructor can help you fill out the application and it is very important all of your information is accurate. Once you submit your application, it takes 2-3 weeks to process, so it’s best to get this done soon after you start your lessons.

Note: This is not required to start taking flight lessons, but must be completed and received before your first solo flight.

6. Get your Medical Certificate

A medical certificate is also required before your first solo. It’s a simple medical exam to make sure your eyesight is good, as well as your hearing and overall health. When you are under 40, you only need to get a medical exam every 5 years. Once you are over 40 its’ every 2 years. In addition, if you are over 35 you must have an EKG to test the condition of your heart.
For a list of medical examiners, you can visit the FAA’s website for a list in your area. For a list of AME’s in your area click here.

7. Set up a schedule for flights and ground school

It’s important for your success that you make your Flight lessons a priority. You need to have a consistent schedule set up for both flying and ground school, as well as time set aside for studying.
Flying 2-3 times a week or more is best for progressing quickly, but I have many students who fly much less, c’est la vie… Over the years, I have had a few students who can only fly once a month, or once a week. There are things you can do to make sure you keep progressing when you’re not in the air. Students who have taken my advice and prep between flights continue to progress, and those that don’t end up taking more flight hours to get their license. To keep your “head in the game”, you can visit my blog “5 Ways to Save Money on Your Flight Training” to learn more.
Ground School refers to all the book knowledge you will need to learn. There are CD courses and courses given by community colleges and local flight schools that can save you money. Even with those ground school courses, you will still need to prove to your Flight Instructor that you understand the information during your Check-Ride Prep, which is discussed in step 11.

8. Prepare for your solo flight and take a “Pre-Solo Written Test”

I like to break down the Private Pilot Training Course into three phases. “Phase 1” consists of learning all of the maneuvers, safely land and get your first solo done. There are several different publications that list the maneuvers required for the Private Pilot course. The ASA Visualized Flight Maneuver Handbook is what I recommend for my students to learn each maneuver, and it’s a simple way to see all the maneuvers required. This can be purchased online or at your local Pilot Shop.

A full list of all of the required maneuvers, as well as all of the knowledge you will be tested on, is found on the FAA’s website. This document is called the Airmen Certification Standards, (ACS) put out by the FAA. It’s very detailed and lists exactly what you will be tested on and the standards you will be held to. Your instructor should introduce you to this from day one so you can start to familiarize yourself with it.

The maneuvers are also explained in the Airplane Flying Handbook, provided by the FAA. It can be downloaded for free just click the link.

During phase one, you don’t need to have all of these maneuvers mastered, but you need to be familiar and proficient at them.

You must also complete a Pre-Solo Written test. This will be administered by your instructor. There are some things that you must know before getting up in an airplane by yourself! This list of questions is a take home questionnaire that you can work on at your own pace. It’s not really a “test” per say, more just a list of questions that you and your instructor can go over to make sure you understand the basics.

Your first solo consists of 2 touch and go landings, and then a full stop. A “Touch and Go” is a landing where you don’t come to a full stop. Once on the ground safely, and runway length permitting, you take off again without exiting the runway. If you take your training from a Flight School that operates part 141, you must make your landings all to a full stop. If not, and you are allowed to do Touch and Goes, and only your third landing is done to a full stop. Then you taxi back, pick up your instructor and kiss the ground! 

9. Study and Take your written test

The Private Pilot Written consists of 60 questions and is taken from a bank of 1000 questions. It must be completed before taking your Check-Ride. There are all sorts of written test prep books and CD’s, as well as APPS to help you study. I suggest the ASA Written Test Study Guide book, as well as the Study Buddy APP by Sporty’s.

The app is great because you can whip out your phone or tablet and take some test questions throughout your day. There are no surprises on the written test, as all of the study questions are identical to the actual test. Repetition is the key to a good score. If you are studying from a book, highlight all the correct answers and read only the correct answers to each question before taking a practice test. DON’T look at incorrect answers your first time through the study guide! If you’re using the APP, chose “show correct answers only”. Your brain will remember all the possible answers when you take the actual test and you will get confused, so for the first few times through, only look at correct answers. This really works!!

The test must be passed with a score of at least 70%, however 80-90% is best to show to your examiner that you have a solid understanding of the information. You must have an endorsement in the back of your logbook from your instructor before taking the written test. I require my students to get at least three 90%’s on their practice test before “I sign them off”. I do this so when they actually take the test they score around 80-90%. Like I said, if you do well on your written test, you will impress your examiner and he will take that into consideration during your Check-Ride.

10. Complete all your flight time requirements

After your first solo you have completed “Phase 1”. “Phase 2” of your flight training is the time where you can now start completing all of the flight time and requirements of the FAA. This is an exciting and challenging part of your flight training! During this phase, the training wheels start coming off and you take on a lot more responsibility, logging more solo time and leaving the traffic pattern. Once you and your Flight Instructor are comfortable, you will start your “Cross Country” flights. A Cross Country, for purpose of meeting the FAA requirements for your Private Pilot License, is at least a straight line distance of 50 miles with a full stop landing at your destination airport. You finally get to start going outside of your practice area and explore new airports and new areas. Also, you will start to chip away at your required 3 hours of instrument time. Instrument or “hood time” is flight time only looking at the instrument panel. This makes you a safe pilot and prepares you for flying at night, or any time you might lose visual reference to the horizon.

11. Prepare for your Check-Ride

Once you have completed your solo requirements, as well as the flight time required by the FAA, you will start “Phase 3”! In this phase you are now ready to start prepping for the big test, your Check-Ride! Your Instructor has taken many Check-Rides and will thoroughly prepare you so that you have the best chance of passing the first time. At this point, you will have completed all of the required flight time, your written test and your solo time. (10 hours total solo, 5 hours of Cross Country Solo). You should try and dedicate a few weeks of solid studying and 5-7 flights to perfect all of your maneuvers and landings. You will also need to apply to take the Check Ride on the same FAA Website you used for your student pilot application, IACRA. This needs to be carefully filled out with no mistakes, and your instructor will help you do this to ensure there are no errors. Now it’s time to Study, Fly, Study, Fly, Study Study!!!

12. Pass your Check Ride and get your Private Pilot’s License!

After all of your hard work and preparation, it’s the big day! The Check-Ride will take up most of the day. The first part of the Check-Ride will be going over all of the paperwork and your logbook, as well as reading your “Pilot’s Bill of Rights”. Once the paperwork is completed you will officially begin the exam. For 2-3 hours you will start with the “oral exam”. You will be asked questions that you learned in your ground school, from everything about your plane, weather, charts, emergency procedures, regulations, etc. After you pass the oral exam, you will have a short break and then you will go fly. The flight will cover all the maneuvers, emergency procedures and landings you learned during your flight training. It is usually 2 hours long. There are many “gauges” from people who have gone on Check-Rides, and you can learn a lot from other people’s experiences. If you meet all of the standards in the ACS, then you will be issued your temporary Pilot’s license! Your actual license will come in the mail about a month later, and that’s pretty exciting too!!!!!

If you are a student of mine you will get a party and the 94th Aero Squadron, where you will meet my current and past students, ready to congratulate you and welcome you to the elite Pilot Only members!

Flight Students with Fly San Diego

Hope to fly with you soon and get your adventure started!!

Call now to schedule your introductory flight and fly with the one of the best instructors in San Diego!! Jamie @ 858-414-9155

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