How to Become a Private Pilot - Step By Step

  • June 27, 2023

Become a Private Pilot

You can become a private pilot! Getting a private pilot license (PPL) is fun and accessible to most people. It involves classroom training, flight training (actual flying), and a some self study. The most dedicated students can complete the process in about 8 weeks, but most people take 6 months or longer. Here are the step-by-step instructions to get a private pilot's license, or as the FAA calls it Private Pilot Certificate.

Eligibility Requirements to become a private pilot

2018-1207-FlexAir_022According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), before starting training, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old (16 for a glider or balloon rating).
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.
  • Pass a physical examination to obtain a Third-Class Medical Certificate.

If you want to become an airline pilot we recommend getting your First Class Medical certificate from the start. This will not only save you money, but it will avoid any unpleasant surprises in case there is some reason you don't qualify for the more stringent first class license.

Learn more about FAA Medical Certificates

Choose a Flight School

FlightSchoolLocationYou'll need to find a flight school. There are two types of FAA-approved flight schools: Part 141 and Part 61. Each type of school has its advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice depends on your specific needs and circumstances. Check out the FAA's tips on choosing a flight school. If you are going to build a career as a commercial pilot, consider an accelerated flight training program.

Begin Ground School

FlightSchoolCalendarGround school covers all theoretical aspects of flying, including navigation, meteorology, and aviation regulations. This training can be completed in-person, online, or through a home study course. Students who do their training one on one with a CFI have higher checkride pass rates, but you can save money if you do ground school with a video course, but remember the goal is NOT just to pass the FAA written exam, it is to develop the knowledge to make you a safe pilot. The more you are prepared the easier the rest of your flight training will be.

Start Flight Lessons

FlightSchoolPropellerBegin your practical flight training. This will include a minimum of 40 flight hours in a variety of conditions and tasks, split between solo and instructor-led flights. When looking at flight school pricing, be aware that 40 hours is the minimum FAA requirement but most students will need 50 or more hours to be ready for their checkride.

Pass the FAA Written Exam

FlightSchoolTicketAfter ground school, you'll need to take and pass the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam. This exam covers topics like regulations, aircraft operations, and navigation. Check out the FAA's sample questions to help you prepare. You need a 70% to pass, but be aware that any area where you do poorly will almost certainly be a focus in your checkride oral exam.

Complete 3 Solo Flights

FLightSchoolNavigationOnce your instructor (CFI) is confident in your ability to fly alone, you'll complete a 3 or more of solo flights. These flights are an opportunity to gain confidence and demonstrate your piloting skills. Soloing for the first time is a big deal. It can be exciting and sometimes a little scary. Don't worry your CFI won't give you an solo endorsement if s/he doesn't think you are ready.

Complete Cross-Country Flights

FlightSchoolTravelAs part of your flight training, you'll complete cross-country flights, which involve flying at least 50 miles from your starting airport. These flights will test your navigation and planning skills. Learning to plan for weather and diversions outside your home airport is a big part of progressing as a pilot, but the best part of flying is going places. These skills are a major focus of your checkride.

Pass the FAA Checkride

FlightSchoolTakeOffThis is the final step in earning your private pilot's license. The FAA checkride is a two-part examination that includes an oral exam and a flight test with an FAA examiner called a DPE. The FAA’s Private Pilot – Airplane Airman Certification Standards outlines what you’ll be tested on.

Get Your Private Pilot License

FlightSchoolSoloOnce you've passed your checkride, you'll receive a temporary pilot's certificate while waiting for your official license to arrive in the mail. You're now a private pilot! You can fly solo or bring your friends, but there are still restrictions on the types of aircraft you can fly and when you can fly. The next step is to get your Instrument rating. This will allow you to fly under much more diverse conditions like in weather that limits visibility and at night.

Getting a private pilot license requires effort and a high degree of responsibility, but is very attainable.  If your interested in becoming a private pilot, Flex Air's San Diego Flight School and our Kansas Flight Schools offer accelerated flight training and can help you become a private pilot.

Related Pilot License Questions

If you want to become a private pilot or to  become a commercial airline pilot, there is more information Flex Air Flight School can help.