Private Pilot Rating
Since the 1950s this has been the entry level pilot rating you would acquire. This rating allows you to take several of your friends flying most anywhere in the United States. As with all ratings, this one is acquired with a ‘building block’ approach; simple and basic things first and more complex later.
What a person needs to know to become a pilot is found in the Federal Air Regulations (known to us in aviation as the FARs) under Part 61. The first thing you are is a Student Pilot and Part 61.83 to 61.95 states what you need to qualify, learn and log as a Student Pilot. Such things as
- Taxiing and Surface Operations around the airport
- Takeoffs and Landings both Normal and Crosswind
- Climbs, Straight and Level flight, Turns and Descents (the 4 Basics)
- Airport air traffic patterns and departure and entry procedures
- A written test on the aircraft, airport and operations supplied by the instructor
This phase ends with you taking the airplane solo (by yourself with no instructor or passenger on board) around the local airport traffic pattern and make several landings. It is a day that all pilots remember. There is still more to learn locally (short and soft field operations) but now we start teaching you how to take the airplane to other airports. This is known as the Cross-Country phase. Requirements for this phase and the next steps are listed under FAR 61.102 to 61.117. Specifically 61.109 is Private Pilots, Aeronautical experience.
Any flight to an airport other than your own is a cross-country but for the purposes of getting the rating, only flights to airports at least 50 miles away count. A 50 mile flight in a Cessna takes a little more than half an hour. You have to have at least 5 hours of doing this by yourself (solo). Before flying the cross-country, we will work on
- Weather briefings and understanding conditions to decide to go or not
- Route planning, both there and back
- Complying with the FARs impacting the flight
- Radio communications at the airports and with Air Traffic Control
In short, flight planning so that you can make the trip safely and return to Sky Manor. This phase usually ends with a solo cross-country of at least 3 legs and 150 total miles in length.
After this, the last phase is putting it all together to pass the check ride, of which there are two parts
- Oral portion – about an hour and a half discussion with the FAA Examiner showing that you know the rules, the airplane and flight conditions and prove you are thinking safely
- Flight portion – where you show to the Examiner that you can operate the airplane safely to its maximum capabilities
Along the way, prior to soloing, you will have to pass an easy 3rd class medical given by an FAA designated medical examiner (they are everywhere) and also pass an FAA Written Test of 60 questions with a 70% passing rating.
The minimum total flight time required is 40 hours (at least 10 solo) but the national average is more like 70 hours. The variation is based on several factors but mainly how much time and effort the student is willing to put into it. If you study, come prepared and fly often, it will take less time (and money) than if you drag the process out over several years.