Private Pilot LicenseWhen you have your Private Pilot License, you'll be able to take friends and family on trips around the country or even internationally. Typically you'll fly a rented four seat airplane that flies at speeds in the 130 to 180 mph range. You might decide to own your own airplane, though most pilots do not. You'll have access to thousands of airports around the country and will be able to take trips in a weekend that would require days of travelling by car. Perhaps most important, though, you'll have the freedom of the skies, able to take off and enjoy the breathtaking scenery and freedom of the skies whenever you choose. You'll also have set yourself apart from the majority of the population, mastered a great challenge, experienced probably the greatest adventure of all, and have become one of the few who master the skies.
Private Pilot RequirementsTo become a Private Pilot typically involves betwen 50 and 100 hours of flight time, some ground training, and you must pass two tests. The law requires you must have at least 35 flight hours, but passing in such a short time is fairly unusual; the national average is around 75 hours. You might spend anywhere from a few months to a year to obtain the license depending on your other commitments; In the region of eight to twelve months is typical if you're working a full-time job and have a family. Most of your flight hours will be with an instructor, but part-way through your training, you will start to fly solo--entirely by yourself. The first solo flight is a great event in every pilot's career, regardless of whether that pilot becomes a military, airline, or other professional, or just flies for fun.
The tests are carefully controlled for fairness and consistency, and if you're a safe and competent pilot, properly prepared by your instructor, you should pass easily. One test is a multiple choice format, while the other is a practical test, often called the "checkride." In the practical test, your examiner will ask you oral questions, and take you flying to determine if your skills are up to the required standards.
Private Pilot CostsThe cost of obtaining your Private Pilot License is made up of airplane rental, instructor time, books and other study materials, pilot supplies, and the test fees. Obviously the final cost depends heavily on how many lessons you find you need before you're ready to take the tests. Another significant variable is the airplane you decide to fly while learning. Many people choose to fly a Cessna 172 while they're pursuing a Private Pilot license, and that will typically cost $115~$150 per hour to rent. If you're light and not too tall (perhaps less than 170 lbs and under 6' tall you might choose to fly the Cessna 150 instead, which is a little cheaper). Expect your instructor to bill time in the region of $45/hour, and to bill for ground time as well as flight time. You can minimize the costs of "ground school" by studying the bookwork by yourself as much as possible and turning up to each lesson well prepared.
For a reasonably realistic working budget you should consider airplane and instructor time, add perhaps $500 for books and materials, another $150~$900 for a headset (you'll probably want your own) and charts, and about $500 for the exam fees. The costs are spread over the time you take to complete your license, so typically expect to be paying this total over eight to twelve months. Budget for a regular monthly outgoing based on the amount you can afford, and schedule your flight time limited by that and what your lifestyle will allow. Look on this as a journey, rather than a single achievement, as you'll presumably want to continue flying after you have been awarded your pilot certificate. Some lenders offer financing for flight instruction, though this varies with the economic climate. Notably, if you're a Veteran, your benefits can be used for some aspects of flight training.
One small word of warning, however, flying often becomes something of a passion, and you might well find yourself adding to the costs by buying more and more toys, gadgets, books, videos, magazine subscriptions and other flying related items. Of course these are all in a good cause and easy to justify, for example, that $3000 GPS system will give you turn by turn guidance while driving in an unfamiliar city too and XM radio reception. See, it's easy to justify really--even if these extras are really quite unnecessary. You have been warned!
Your First LessonA first lesson is a flexible thing, your instructor will answer any questions you might have: about airplanes, about how to fly, about costs, and about what to expect for the rest of the time you're a student pilot. But rather than spend a lot of time on the ground, the main point of the first lesson will be to do some flying and get the feel for being in the air. If there's somewhere you'd like to go, ask your instructor, if it's reasonable, you can probably do that. I offer gift and introductory flight packages. In these flights, you can expect to do much of the flying, but if you'd rather just go along for the ride and get the feel for what's happening, perhaps even just to decide if you like the experience, you can do that too. Your instructor will try to find out what you'd like to do, but if you have a plan then it's easier if you just say so. It's your time, it's your first flight lesson, and the only important thing is that you should enjoy it.
If you take an introductory flight with me, bring your camera too; you can take pictures from the air, perhaps of your home or other favorite landmark, and I'll take a picture (or three) of you with the airplane on the ground afterward.