Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Private Pilot Training, What is it?

I know a lot of people that follow this blog are not pilots yet, but want to be, so I thought I'd break down what the initial training will be like.  Keep in mind that every instructor can be a little different, but this was how I organized my lessons and taught my students.

Private Pilot training is designed to teach you the basics.  In my opinion, this is the most important part of training, because with out solid basics, the rest of your flying days will lack; because of this, you must find a good primary flight instructor.  This phase of training will be the foundation for the rest of your career.

I usually divided the private pilot training into 3 phases:
1: Preparing for Solo Flights
2: Preparing for Solo Cross Countries
3. Preparing for the Checkride

So what exactly is Phase 1?  As far the flight portion goes, it is mostly maneuvers.  You'll start off with the basics- straight and level flight, turns, climb/descends, and them move on to actual maneuvers.  They are not difficult, but it will take some practice to get them right.  In fact, if there was never any wind, you would probably master them after a couple of flights.  But, sadly, we have wind, which makes learning these a bit more challenging.  This phase of training is a good motivator because if you are flying 3 times a week (which is what I highly recommend... more if you have the time), you will see big improvements in your flying ability each time.  

During this phase you will also be practicing takeoffs and landings.  I usually had my students takeoff the plane on the very first flight (keeping my hands and feel close to the controls, of course).  Landing is a bit more difficult and takes some time to practice.  Every 2 or 3 flight lessons we would spend an entire day just in the traffic pattern, taking off and landing.  It is good to do 8-10 in a row because you can focus on your errors and correct them on the next takeoff or landing.  More than 10, I found, in a row becomes overwhelming and negative learning starts to occur.

During this phase, you will also be studying on the ground to learn the things you need to know to keep you safe when you solo.  Some of the things you will study are aircraft systems, airspace, airport markings and signs, and regulations.

When you complete this phase you are ready to solo.  Soloing is the most exhilarating and nerve-racking thing you will do.  But, it will also be the best confidence builder.  Remember, your instructor will not let you solo until they know you can do it safely... it is their license on the line, not yours.  So if they say you are ready, you are most likely ready.   I always took a picture with my student after they got done soloing so they could remember their accomplishment.  

Phase 2 is great because you'll be able to actually go places.  You'll learn how to plan a cross country flight and then you'll do it, during the daytime and nighttime.  On my first night cross country with my instructor, we saw some military aircraft practicing little bomb drops from their aircraft.  How cool!  I will definitely never forget that.  You'll do a few cross countries with your instructor, and then you will do a few solo.  I remember feeling so free during my first solo cross county- no instructor to tell me what to do.  :)  You will love this phase of training!

During Phase 2 you will also start (if you haven't already) flying a little bit with 'foggles' on.  What are foggles, you ask?  They are like glasses that aren't clear- essentially when you wear them you can't see outside the cockpit.  They simulate you flying in clouds.  No, you will not actually fly through the clouds, but if you inadvertently get into a cloud on your cross country, you'll be able to get out of it without putting the airplane in a spin.

Once you master your cross country flying, it's just a matter of reviewing for the checkride, which is Phase 3.  What you will be asked on the checkride is not a secret.  There is a book published by the FAA, Practical Test Standards, which details the checkride.  The examiner cannot ask you something if it isn't in this little book.  It's still a lot to know, but at least it gives you an idea of what you need to study and know for the checkride.  

I usually did a 'mock checkride' with my students before I ever sent them to the actual checkride.  The checkride explanation is a bit long, but don't worry- I'll do a blog post for that in the near future.  

I know this seems like there isn't much to it, but this is at least 30 flight lessons and around 16 ground lessons.  Depending on how often you fly and study, getting your license can take anywhere from 2 months to 10 months.  As a reference, the students that met with me 3 times per week and studied on their own for at least 3 hours a week, ended up taking about 4 months.  If you aren't super dedicated, it can take a while; but if you are, the time will fly by and you'll be holding your certificate in just a matter of months.   

If you have any other questions about Private Pilot training that wasn't answered in this post, feel free to email me at  I started this blog so I could continue helping students, even though I'm not currently flight instructing, so don't hesitate to ask.