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Pilot Training Frequently Asked Questions
By Kyle Garrett
Q. Is it hard to learn to fly?
A. No. People of all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities have learned to fly. It's fun, and from the beginning of your training, you get to do most of the actual flying!
On the practical side - While flying isn't a difficult skill to learn, you'll have to be willing to stick with it until you meet all the requirements. Also, you should consider the cost of becoming a pilot - you'll have to pay for your physical exam and your lessons.
Q. When can I start?
A. Right away. All you have to do is find a flight instructor and sign up for an introductory lesson. You don't have to have a student pilot's certificate or a medical certificate to take flying lessons. Of course, you won't be able to fly solo right away. That takes time and the paperwork described in this guide.
Q. How many lessons do I have to take before I solo?
A. It depends on you. There is no set number of lessons or hours of flight training.
Your instructor must make sure you have learned to perform certain maneuvers before allowing you to solo. These maneuvers include safe takeoffs and landings. You must use good judgment when flying and be able to keep control of the aircraft.
Also, you'll have to get a medical certificate and a student pilot's certificate to fly solo.
Q. Is flying safe?
A. Yes. A well-built and well-maintained aircraft flown by a competent and prudent pilot is as safe or safer than many other forms of transportation.
Q. If engine failure occurs, what will happen?
A. Modern aircraft engines are reliable and failure rarely occurs. However, your lessons will cover what to do in this situation, including selecting a good landing area and safely landing.
Student Pilot's Certificate Requirements
Q. When do I need a student pilot's certificate?
A. Before you can fly solo. You don't need a student pilot's certificate to take flying lessons.
Q. Am I eligible for a student pilot's certificate?
A. You are eligible if...
- You are at least 16 years old. If you plan to pilot a glider or balloon, you must be at least 14 years old.
- You can read, speak, and understand English.
- You hold at least a current third-class medical certificate. If you plan to pilot a glider or balloon, you only have to certify that you have no medical defect that would make you unable to pilot a glider or balloon.
Q. How do I get a student pilot's certificate?
A. Upon your request, an FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner will issue you a combined medical certificate and Student Pilot Certificate after you complete your physical examination. Student Pilot Certificates may be issued by an FAA inspector or an FAA-designated pilot examiner. Applicants who fail to meet certain requirements or who have physical disabilities which might limit, but not prevent, their acting as pilots, should contact the nearest FAA office. Click here to locate an Aviation Medical Examiner
Q. How long are my student pilot's certificate and my medical certificate valid?
A. They expire 2 years from the date they were issued.
Q. Can I renew my student certificate and medical certificate?
A. No, but you can get a new one.
Q. If my original Student Pilot Certificate has been endorsed for solo flying, do I lose this endorsement on my new certificate?
A. No, the endorsements are still valid. However, they are not transferred to the new certificate. Keep the old certificate as a record of these endorsements.
Q. Should my flight instructor endorse my student pilot's certificate before or after my first solo flight?
A. Before. The endorsement certifies that you are competent to solo.
Q. If I solo in more than one make or model of aircraft, must I have an endorsement for each on my student pilot's certificate? If so, who should endorse the certificate?
A. Yes. Your flight instructor must make this endorsement before you solo in each make or model of aircraft.
Q. Does the endorsement to solo allow me to make solo cross-country flights?
A. No. You also have to get a cross-country flight endorsement from you flight instructor.
Q. Must I carry my student pilot's certificate with me when I am piloting an aircraft in solo flight?
Q. Is there a charge for the student pilot's certificate?
A. Not when it's issued by an FAA Flight Standards District Office. However, an FAA-designated pilot examiner can charge for issuing student pilot's certificates. Also, an FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner can charge for your physical examination in connection with issuing the combination medical certificate and student pilot's certificate.
Medical Certificate Requirements
Q. When do I need a medical certificate?
A. You need a medical certificate before flying solo in an airplane, helicopter, gyroplane, or airship. We suggest you get your medical certificate before beginning flight training. This will alert you to any condition that would prevent you from becoming a pilot before you pay for lessons.
If you are going to pilot a balloon or glider, you don't need a medical certificate. All you need to do is write a statement certifying that you have no medical defect that would make you unable to pilot a balloon or glider.
Q. If required, how do I get a medical certificate?
A. By passing a physical examination administered by a doctor who is an FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner.
Q. Where do I get my medical certificate?
A. From any FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner. There are approximately 6,000 of them in the U.S..
Q. Where can I get a list of FAA-authorized aviation medical examiners?
A. The FAA publishes a directory that lists them by name and address. You can get a copy from any FAA Flight Standards District Office, air traffic control facility, or flight service station. Airport managers and some aviation businesses may also be able to supply this information. Click here to locate an Aviation Medical Examiner
Q. When required, what class of medical certificate must a student pilot have?
A. Third-class, although any class will suffice. Medical certificates are designated as first-class, second-class, or third-class. Generally, first-class is designed for the airline transport pilot; second-class for the commercial pilot; and third-class for the student, recreational and private pilot.
Q. If I have a physical disability, can I get a medical certificate?
A. Yes. Medical certificates can be issued in many cases where physical disabilities are involved. Depending on the nature of the disability, you may have some operating limitations. If you have any questions, contact an FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner before beginning flight training.
Q. Must I carry my medical certificate when I am flying solo?
Student Pilot Training and Limits
Q. Where can I get flying lessons?
A. Contact any airport that handles private aircraft or the nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office.
Q. Does my pilot training include a written test?
A. Yes. Before flying solo, you must be familiar with some of the FAA's rules and with the flight characteristics and operational limitations of the make and model of the aircraft you will fly. Your flight instructor will give you some materials to study, and then test your knowledge. If you pass, your instructor will endorse your student pilot's certificate for solo flight. The endorsement means that your instructor thinks you are competent to make solo flights.
Q. When do I have to get the endorsement?
A. Within 90 days of your first solo flight.
Q. After I've soloed, can I fly cross-country alone?
A. Not right away. Your instructor must review your pre-flight planning and preparation for solo cross-country flight and determine that the flight can be made safely under known circumstances and conditions. The instructor must also endorse your logbook before cross-country flight stating you are considered competent to make the flight. [Note: The relevance of the following sentence is not clear.]Under certain conditions, an instructor may authorize repeated solo flights over a given route.
Q. As a student pilot, can I carry passengers with me before getting my recreational or private pilot's certificate?
Q. Must I have an FCC radiotelephone operator's permit to operate an aircraft radio transmitter?
Q. What is the difference between a recreational pilot's certificate and a private pilot's certificate?
A. As a recreational pilot, you have to fly within 50 nautical miles of the airport where you learned to fly, you have to fly during the day, and you can't fly in airspace where communications with air traffic control are required. A private pilot doesn't have these limitations.
It usually takes fewer lessons to get a recreational pilot's certificate than a private pilot's certificate.
Recreational Pilot's and Private Pilot's Certificates
Q. How old do I have to be to get a recreational pilot's certificate or a private pilot's certificate?
A. You must be at least 17 years old. If you want to be a private glider pilot or be rated for free flight in a balloon, you must be at least 16 years old.
Q. What tests do I have to pass to get a recreational pilot's certificate or private pilot's certificate?
A. You have to pass both a written knowledge test and a practical (flight) test. See below for more information about these tests.
Recreational Pilot And Private Pilot Knowledge Tests
Q. How old do I have to be to take the recreational pilot or private pilot written test?
A. At least 15 years old. If you want to pilot a balloon or glider, you must be at least 14 years old. Before taking the knowledge test, you may have to show proof of age, such as a birth certificate.
Q. How should I prepare for the knowledge test?
A. You should study the materials identified by your flight instructor or included in a home-study course. For the recreational pilot test, the materials are based on section 61.97 of the FAA's rules. For the private pilot test, the materials are based on section 61.105 of the FAA's rules.
Q. What document or documents must I present before taking a knowledge test?
A. You have to present identification that includes your photograph, signature, and home address.
One of the following:
- A certificate of graduation from a pilot training course conducted by an FAA-approved pilot school, or a statement of accomplishment from the school certifying the satisfactory completion of the ground-school portion of such a course
- A written statement from an FAA-certified ground or flight instructor, certifying that you have satisfactorily completed the required ground instruction
- Logbook entries by an FAA-certified ground or flight instructor, certifying satisfactory completion of the required ground instruction
- A certificate of graduation or statement of accomplishment from a ground school course conducted by an agency such as a high school, college, adult education program, the Civil Air Patrol, or an ROTC Flight Training Program.
- A certificate of graduation from a home-study course developed by the aeronautical enterprise providing the study material
If you can't provide any of the above items, you can have the home-study course you have completed reviewed by an FAA inspector to assure you are competent to take the desired knowledge test. Contact the local FAA Flight Standards District Office to get an appointment with an FAA inspector. The inspector will review your study material and may question you on some of the material. If you are found qualified to take the test, the inspector will issue FAA Form 8060-7, Airman's Authorization for Written Test. You must present this form when you take your knowledge examination.
If you have to take the test over again, you must present either the unsatisfactory AC Form 8080-2, Airman Written Test Report, or an airman computer test report (if the test was taken at an FAA- designated computer testing center).
Q. If I fail the knowledge test, is there any way to determine the areas in which I need additional work so I can study for a retest?
A. Yes. You will receive either AC Form 8080-2, Airman Written Test Report, or an airman computer test report (if the test was taken at an FAA-designated computer testing center). The test report will contain your test score and will also list the subject matter codes for the knowledge areas in which you were found deficient. An outline of the subject matter codes is located in the appendix of each written test book. You may refer to the appropriate written test book to determine the areas in which further study is needed.
Q. If I pass the knowledge test, will I receive the same information concerning weak areas as I would if I failed the test?
A. Yes. (Refer to the previous answer.)
Q. How long is a satisfactorily completed knowledge test valid?
A. A satisfactorily completed knowledge test expires two years from the day it was taken. If a practical test is not satisfactorily completed during that period, another knowledge test must be taken.
Q. Will my instructor review the areas in which the test report showed I was deficient?
A. Yes. Your instructor must review the areas in which you were deficient and must endorse the written test report or provide a written endorsement indicating this review has been completed.
Recreational Pilot And Private Pilot Practical Tests
Q. Must I provide the aircraft for my practical test?
A. Yes. You must provide an airworthy aircraft with equipment relevant to the pilot operations required for the practical test.
Q. What papers and documents must I present to the FAA inspector or FAA-designated pilot examiner prior to my practical test?
A. You must have the following items available for inspection:
- The aircraft's registration certificate
- The aircraft's airworthiness certificate
- The aircraft's operating limitations or FAA- approved aircraft flight manual (if required)
- The aircraft's equipment list
- Weight and balance data for the aircraft
- Your FCC radio station certificate
- The aircraft and engine logbooks or other maintenance records
- Any applicable airworthiness directives.
You must present the following items to the inspector:
- Your FAA Form 8710-1, Application for an Airman Certificate and/or Rating, (with the flight instructor's recommendation)
- Your satisfactory grade on an AC Form 8080-2, Airman Written Test Report or an airman computer test report (if the test was taken at an FAA-designated computer testing center)
- Your medical certificate (when required) and student pilot's certificate endorsed by a flight instructor for solo, solo cross-country (when appropriate), and for the make and model of airplane to be used for the practical test
- Your pilot's logbook;
- Your graduation certificate from an FAA-approved school (if applicable)
Q. What does the practical test consist of, and how will my performance be evaluated?
A. The test standards are described in the Recreational Pilot or Private Pilot Practical Test Standards. Your instructor should have a copy of the practical test standards and should review them with you prior to your practical test.
If your instructor doesn't have them, you can buy them from the Superintendent of Documents or US Government Printing Office bookstores.
Q. When can I take the recreational pilot or private pilot practical test?
A. You can take the test as soon as, in your instructor's judgement, you are ready. By endorsing your test application, your flight instructor is making a written recommendation to this effect. Your flight instructor's written recommendation shows that you have met all the prerequisites for the practical test.
Q. Where can I take the practical test?
A. The FAA Flight Standards District Offices conduct practical tests for pilot certification either at the office's location or periodically in cities within the district. The offices are usually located on or adjacent to an airport. The FAA has also designated many flight instructors as pilot examiners. You should make an appointment for your practical test to avoid wasted time.
Q. Is there any charge for taking the practical test?
A. If you take the test from an FAA inspector, there is no charge. If you take the test from an FAA-designated pilot examiner, you will have to pay. This is because the pilot examiner conducts tests without pay from the FAA.
Q. May I exercise the privileges of my pilot's certificate immediately after passing my practical test or must I wait until I receive the actual pilot's certificate?
A. You don't have to wait. The FAA inspector or FAA-designated pilot examiner will issue a temporary pilot's certificate effective for a specific time period. The FAA will issue your permanent pilot's certificate after we have reviewed your qualifications.
Q. Is there a charge for issuing the pilot's certificate?
A. No. We don't charge for issuing the original pilot's certificate. However, we do charge to replace any pilot's certificate or medical certificate. As noted already, you may have to pay for certain other services, such as a physical examination.
Limits on the Recreational Pilot's Certificate
Q. As the holder of a recreational pilot's certificate, how do I ensure that I don't inadvertently enter airspace where I am required to contact air traffic control?
A. You must select readily identifiable landmarks that are well beyond the boundaries of the airspace where contact with air traffic control is required. During your training, your instructor will tell you how to identify this kind of airspace.
Q. I already have a recreational pilot's certificate, and I want to get an additional certificate or rating. For training purposes, can I fly beyond the 50-nautical-mile limit, after dark, or in airspace where I have to contact air traffic control?
A. Yes, if your instructor has given you the required instruction in these areas and has endorsed your pilot's logbook for each flight. You will have to carry the logbook with the required endorsements on these flights.