What is the process of learning to fly?

There are a number of different paths that you can take, but all of them usually include the same checklist of things.  To get started with this process, talk to a handful of pilots.  They can either be friends of yours, folks from a local aviation club, or pilots in a trusted online community.  Ask them about who they’d recommend that you learn from in your area.  Interview the candidates that surface and choose one.  Then ask that instructor to guide you through the rest of these points on the checklist.  (Note: These are things that you will need to address for your Private Pilot certificate, the most commonly sought.)

  • Take an introductory flight. For a nominal fee, you’ll get to fly a plane under the direction and supervision of a certified flight instructor. This step will give you a very real sense of what it will be like to learn to fly. If you enjoy the flight, you’ll have some strong validation that you’re onto a wonderful experience. If you dislike the flight, it’s better to find out at this stage, rather than sometime later.

  • Get a flight physical exam. A minimum level of physical ability is necessary to be a pilot. An Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) is a specially certified doctor, who can give you the medical exam you need to get the thumbs up for your pilot credentials.

  • Complete ground school training and testing. This step can be done independently or simultaneously while you’re taking your air lessons.  Ground school is training that focuses on the book knowledge of flying.  You can get this in a number of different formats: book, lecture, video and/or software.  Choose one according to your learning style. At the end of your ground school, you’ll take the Knowledge Exam proving you understand the materials.

  • Air lessons with your instructor. Similar to ground school lessons, you get hands-on experience in the air applying your knowledge and learning techniques. According to the FAA, a minimum number of hours must be spent on instruction in the air, but most people take more time in order to master their skills.

  • Solo air time in the plane. After the instructor deems you skilled enough, you will make solo flights practicing what you’ve learned. Your flight instructor will still work with you at this point, including in-flight instruction.

  • Get your final exam called the Check Ride. A designated pilot examiner (DPE) will give you what amounts to a final exam.  There is an oral exam portion and flying portion.
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