Commercial Pilot Training
Now that I’ve talked about the requirements for a private pilot, you may want to know about the training process for your pilot certificate. Remember, you need a total of 40 hours to get a your private pilot certificate, but the average person takes about 50-60 hours.
Typically flight training takes about 5 stages for the private pilot:
- Pre-solo training
- Solo maneuvers
- Cross country training
- Solo cross country flights
- Checkride preparation
In addition to flight training, there is going to be a lot of ground training to prepare you for the FAA Written Exam (60 questions, minimum passing grade is 70%), and to teach you about aircraft systems, aerodynamics, weather theory, airspace, navigation, etc.
The goal of this phase is to prepare you for your first solo flight. Your first flight you will learn how to taxi, takeoff, fly straight and level, and make turns to headings. You may also do climbing and descending turns to specified headings and altitudes. Mostly the object of the first flight lesson is to help orientate you to the plane, and start learning how the instruments work.
Over the next few flight lessons you will be learning maneuvers such as steep turns, slow flight, and stalls. You will also be learning how to land throughout every lesson. On average it takes about 15-20 hours to solo, although it’s possible to solo with as little as 10 hours (there is no minimum hour requirement to solo). Just remember that the time it takes you to solo will vary based on a lot of factors: weather, the amount of time and effort you put into it, the frequency of your flight lessons (someone flying 5 times a week will solo with less hours than the same person only flying once a week), and natural ability. Some people pick things up quicker than others; that doesn’t mean that you are not meant to be a pilot if it takes you 25 hours to solo, it just means that you need a little more time and experience.
When your flight instructor feels that you are ready to solo, he will sign you off, and you will fly by yourself for the first time!
After your first solo, you may go a number of different directions, depending on your instructor, and what airport you fly out of. After I soloed my students, we would start flying to towered airport to teach them how to talk to air traffic control. During this phase I would also send them solo into the practice area so they could further practice maneuvers on their own, as well as introducing more advanced navigation (VOR, GPS, and NDB). After doing a few solo flights, and soloing at a towered airport, you will move on to the cross country phase.
Cross Country Training
When we talk about cross countries, we’re not talking about literally flying across the US. A cross country flight is defined as a flight beginning at an airport and having a point of landing greater than 50 nautical miles from the departure airport. Click here for the hour requirements for cross countries.
You will do several cross country flights with your flight instructor to teach you about navigation by reference to ground points (pilotage), navigation by reference to winds and time (ded-reckoning) and radio navigation (VORs, GPS, and NDBs). After you’ve gained proficiency in these areas, you will be ready for solo cross country flights!
Solo Cross Country Flights
This phase is pretty straight forward; you will do a couple of cross country flights to build the 5 hours of solo cross country time that is required for your license. One of the cross country flights must be a total distance of at least 150 nautical miles.
By this time you should have already taken the FAA Written Exam, and you will spend the remaining flight time in your training preparing for the private pilot checkride. The checkride consists of 2 parts: an oral exam, and a practical exam.
During the oral exam (which is given by a Designated Pilot Examiner; your flight instructor will set all this up for you) the examiner will spend a couple of hours asking you about the aircraft systems, aerodynamics, weather, regulations, etc to test that you have adequate knowledge of these areas. Once you pass this, you will proceed to the practical portion of the test
During the practical test, you will fly a portion of a cross country to test your navigation skills, you will perform all of the maneuvers (slow flight, steep turns, stalls, and ground reference maneuvers), and landings. As long as all of these maneuvers are satisfactory, the examiner will sign the paperwork, and you’ll go home as a private pilot!
One Last Note:
Probably the hardest part about flying is learning how to land. You’ll be doing the takeoffs without the instructor helping you, probably by the 2nd lesson, but it takes a lot longer to learn how to land! As the saying goes: “flying is the 2nd greatest thrill known to man: Landing is first!”
After you get your private pilot license, even if you do not plan on becoming a commercial pilot, I would highly encourage you to pursue an instrument rating.
An instrument rating will not only give you much more flexibility in the conditions that you can fly in, but will further hone your flying skills and make you a much more competent pilot.
The Training Process
Remember, to get an instrument rating, you need 50 hours of cross country time, and 40 hours of “instrument time”. You can get the 40 hours one of 3 ways: Simulator time, hood time, and actual instrument time.
- The majority of instrument time will be spent using a view limiting device called a hood (picture below). The hood blocks your view outside the cockpit and forces you to fly solely by reference to the instruments. Hood time is also referred to as simulated instrument time.
- The second way to build up to the 40 hrs needed is to use an approved flight simulator (with an instructor, through your flight school).
- Finally you can get actual instrument time. Actual is basically time when you’re actually in the clouds.
The hardest (and most expensive) part for most people is getting the 50 hours of cross country time required to get your instrument rating. That being said, those 50 hours will be some of the most valuable time you get in an airplane. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing at least 20 hrs ON YOUR OWN, without an instructor. This doesn’t have to be all at once; by all means, fly cross countries with an instructor to build up experience, but still make sure you do some on your own.
The reason I say this is because when you are with an instructor, you subconsciously depend on them, and it places you in a position where you are not fully in charge. By flying cross countries WITHOUT an instructor You are in charge of the flight, and are the final decision maker. If a question comes up in flight that you’re not sure about, you can’t lean on your instructor, you have to figure it out yourself.
It’s still good to mix up your flying; flying regularly with an instructor and also flying on your own. The idea is to get a healthy mix between learning from an instructor, and learning to fly on your own and deal with situations without an instructor on board.
Details of Training:
Here’s what you’re going to be doing during the 40 hours of instrument time needed for your instrument rating:
At first you will just be doing basic maneuvers under the hood (straight and level flight, climbs, turns, descents) and probably some VOR navigation under the hood. As you progress you will do more and more VOR navigation and start doing VOR approaches, GPS Approaches, and ILS Approaches.
One of the most critical skills you need to develop is Situational Awareness. In short situational awareness is your mental picture of where you are. This involves knowing how high you are, in what attitude (rightside up, upside down, etc) what direction you’re flying, as well as where you are on the map! As you get more experience it will become more second nature to mentally picture your location by using VORs and GPS.
As you get better at navigation and instrument flying you will spend the majority of your time flying approaches. Also you will start putting together the skills of instrument navigation together with flying cross countries. Part of the time requirement for the instrument rating is to fly a 250nm cross country with an instrument approach at each airport, and 3 different kinds of instrument approaches.
As a quick tip, You can combine much of the 40 hrs of instrument time with the 50 hrs of required cross country time. This will drastically cut down on the cost of getting your instrument rating because you’re knocking out 2 birds with 1 stone.