Q: What is a private pilot certificate?
A: The private pilot certificate is one of three types of aircraft certificates available to aspiring pilots. As of this post, this certificate is the most commonly pursued, the most "upgradable," and the most flexible certificate of the three. Obtaining a private pilot certificate allows you to fly and carry passengers in good weather conditions during both day and night.
Additionally, you can travel across the United States or other countries with certain limitations. With a private pilot certificate you are prohibited from flying for compensation or hire. That requires an advanced certificate.
Q: Why the word "private" in the certificate name, private pilot?
A: In this context, the word "private" is not used to imply that only select individuals are allowed in. Rather, it is simply used to differentiate from the other two common types of certificates, the sport pilot certificate and the commercial pilot certificate.
There probably is an interesting story behind the origin of that name but as of this writing I am not aware of the specifics.
Q: How long does it take to learn to fly?
A: There are a lot of variables that affect the length of time it takes to learn to fly. Among these are individual aptitude, weather conditions, frequency of flight lessons, the kind of aircraft in which you are training, and its availability for scheduling. The FAA requires a minimum number of flight hours needed to obtain a certificate. If you take lessons at the most common type of flight school, the minimum total hours is 40 hours for a private pilot certificate.
A reasonable estimate that an average student might expect is between 50 and 60 hours. These flight hours can be spread over a time span of several months or a year or more (the more frequently you fly, the less time in total hours it will take).
A person able to fly three days a week could expect to complete the program in two-to-three months.
Q: How much does it cost to learn to fly and receive a Private Pilot certificate?
A: The same variables that affect the time to complete the private pilot instruction program (frequency of flight lessons, weather conditions, the kind of aircraft in which you are training and its availability for scheduling, and individual aptitude) also affect the cost of the training needed to earn your certificate.
Given these variables a rough estimate of the cost of a private pilot certificate ranges between $6,000 and $8,000 (US dollars).
Q: How old do I have to be before I can start flight training?
A: You don't have to be a particular age before you can start flight instruction. However, at current the FAA does require that you do have to be at least 16 years old before you can solo.
Normally a student will solo within 12-20 hours of training, so the most practical time to start lessons for 15 year-old students is about two months before his or her 16th birthday.
Q: How old is too old to begin flight training?
A: When thinking of "student pilot" most people think of a youngster chasing a dream. In reality, today's aspiring pilot is more likely to be a middle-aged adult who's not only chasing but actually fulfilling a lifelong ambition to be a pilot. The ages of today's student pilots average in their thirties and today's average active pilots are in their forties. In addition, more than 25 percent of all U.S. pilots with current medical certificates are in their fifties. Some pilots learned to fly after they retired.
Here is one such example of an 83 year-old woman who just completed her first solo flight as a student pilot back on December 1, 2009: http://www.aopa.org/training/articles/2009/091208solos.html
Q: Is the private pilot training schedule flexible?
A: Waypoint Flight School instructors certainly understand that many of our students have varying commitments each week. School, work, and family obligations take priority. Our online scheduling system provides each student with the means to schedule their flight lesson (aircraft and/or instructor) from their home or work at their convenience. The private pilot instruction program is designed to fit your schedule, whatever that may be.
Q: Will I fly with the same Instructor for most of my flight training?
A: Typically, for continuity you will fly with the same instructor for most of your training. You are, however, welcome to switch instructors at any time for any reason.
Q: What do I need to begin taking flying lessons?
A: All you need is proof of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate and driver's license or U.S. issued passport). Prior to your first solo flight (normally between your first 12 and 20 hours of instruction) you will need a medical and student pilot certificate.
Q: How and where can I get a student pilot certificate and medical?
A: An AME (aviation medical examiner) will give you a student pilot certificate to fill out as part of the 3rd class medical exam. There are several in the area to choose from and cost is between $50-$100. A student pilot certificate is valid for 24 months and a 3rd class medical is valid for either 24 or 60 calendar months depending on age.
Visit this site to find an AME near you: http://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/
Q: What are the vision, hearing, and general medical health requirements that must be met in order to obtain a third class medical for Private Pilot certificate?
A: Your vision must be at least 20/40 corrected, and you must be able to tell the difference between red and green. You should not have a nose or throat condition that would be aggravated by flying; you must have proper balance, and you must be able to hear a voice at a normal conversational volume at 6 feet. You can't have any mental/neurological problems, such as psychosis, alcoholism, or epilepsy; any unexplained loss of consciousness; any serious medical condition such as heart attack or chronic heart disease, diabetes mellitus, or other debilitating illness.
If you do have a medical problem, it is not necessarily the end of your flying career. Depending on the problem, your medical certificate will be deferred until further testing is done. If you and your AME can prove to the FAA that your condition will not make you unsafe to pilot an airplane, chances are good that you'll get your medical. If you have a condition that automatically disqualifies you, such as chronic alcoholism, history of heart disease, or loss of consciousness, you can still petition the FAA for special issuance of your medical.
AOPA (a nationwide aircraft owner and pilot organization) has an excellent webpage answering any question you might have about your particular health-related issue: http://www.aopa.org/members/pic/medical/certification/
Q: Do small airplanes fly in the winter/Do you instruct in the winter?
A: Absolutely! Assuming there isn't a combination of heavy snow, low visibility, and/or low clouds, small airplanes actually fly BETTER in the winter months than they do in the summer. The cold air is thicker, which provides the airplane with more lift to climb quicker. Just like your car, closed cockpit aircraft like our C172s are comfortably heated. And finally, the runways and taxiways at all airports we use are routinely plowed, very much the same as the local interstate highways.