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How to Become a PilotFollow this easy five step plan to train to be a pilot.
By Matthew Everett
You've made the decision; you want to become a private or commercial pilot. You know flying is in your future, but now what? How do you get started? What's the next step? The good news is that the road to becoming a pilot is very defined. Unfortunately, sometimes the road is a little hard to find. If you're not sure how to become a commercial pilot, keep reading for an easy five step 'flight' plan that will see you through to your pilot qualifications.
1) Test the waters
Don't immediately run out and sign up for the career program of the first school you find. Start with a small step; find a school or independent flight instructor that will take you up for an introductory flight. These are usually pretty inexpensive, maybe $100 to $150 for an hour. The benefit to introductory flights is that you get to experience flight in a small plane with an instructor. You'll definitely learn a lot in that hour and you should actually get to take the controls. The key takeaway for this exercise is to establish whether you actually like controlling the plane.
2) Make sure you're medically qualified*
Ask any pilot and they'll tell you that the hardest part of flying isn't actually controlling the aircraft, it's the paperwork. The truth is, there is a lot of paperwork, but no more than any other licensed profession. The paperwork creeps in a little bit early in flight training, but for the most part it's just you and your instructor and eventually just you flying free. Now, this may come as a shock, but there is one vital piece of paperwork that should be handled very early, maybe right out of the gate -- the medical certificate. The process isn't terribly different from a typical doctor's visit, but you have to select from a list of specific doctors, known as Aviation Medical Examiners, and you have to fill out a form. The doctors typically charge a fee for the visit, but they give you a pretty thorough physical and if you pass you'll be issued a student pilot /medical certificate. You can find out more about specific requirements on the FAA medical certification FAQ. This isn't meant to scare you away, but flying is serious business and everyone wants to make sure everybody is safe. Getting your medical out of the way early on will keep your training from being interrupted while you have to sort out a medical issue, like switching medications, or worse finding out you'll never be able to solo.
* a medical certificate is not required for those earning a Sport Pilot Certificate. However, Sport Pilots must have a valid state driver's license
3) Consider your goals
You need to be honest and ask yourself a few questions. First, what are your goals; what's your plan? Maybe you're looking for a new hobby. Perhaps you're tired of booking airline tickets last minute and you're looking to fly yourself to that next business meeting. Why does this matter? Flight training isn't one-size-fits-all. The program that is perfect for the twenty year old future airline captain isn't necessarily perfect for the fifty year old bank CEO. So, as boring as it sounds, take a few minutes and ask yourself what your intentions are.
4) Find the right flight school
The next step is to find flight schools, whether large or small, and contact them. Whether you actually visit the schools or you call or email, you want to get a little bit of information before you commit yourself. You want to talk to them about your goals. You also want to talk to them about their school and staff. If you're looking for a school that will let you zip through the ratings on your way to a job interview, you want to know how many instructors they have on staff, how many other students they have, and how many aircraft they have available. All three of those items will directly effect the speed with which you can complete your flight training. You should also ask whether you will have one instructor or several. It may seem strange, but you may have chemistry with a certain instructor that will benefit your learning more than finishing faster. If you are looking to get into an airline and you don't already have a four-year degree, you may want to look for a university program, such as the University of North Dakota's Commercial Aviation Degree, that will let you complete your flight training and four-year degree at the same time.
5) Enjoy your flight training
The final step is to pick a school and have fun. Learning to fly is incredibly rewarding. You will learn a lot about yourself and meet some of the most interesting people. The most important things are that you understand that no one wants to see you fail and remember that any flight school can provide the same result; the difference is in how well it fits you and your goals.