New Bucketlist Item: Get a Pilot License
Is skydiving on your bucketlist? Why jump off a perfectly good airplane when being Pilot-In-Command (PIC) gives thrills of its own?
What if I told you that piloting an airplane is so easy, you can actually do it today?
Don’t believe me? Call your local flight school and ask for an introductory flight. Most planes are actually equipped with two sets of primary flight controls, one for each pilot seat. This way, you can easily switch responsibilities between pilots. The Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) will take care of the takeoffs and landings, while you do the flying, literally on your first day. The cost of this flight should not exceed $200.
After the intro flight, if you’re not ready to move forward or you’re flat-out not interested, no harm. You can check off your list that you sat in the cockpit of an airplane and flew. If you’re ready to take on the skies, the CFI will tell you everything you need to know to move forward. However, I can give you a quick and dirty run-down, since I just finished my own Private Pilot License (PPL) training in December of 2021. The following represents some rough ranges based on my experience. (Hint: I maxed out all of these ranges but I am confident you can do better.)
Total Time: 2–6 months
Total Cost: $8,000-$15,000
Weekly Hours Dedicated: 5–15 hours (varies throughout training)
Logged Flight Time: 40–75 hours
Airplane Rental + Fuel Hourly Rate: $130-$160
Instructor Hourly Rate: $60-$70
Cost of Training Materials: $100-$200
One great thing about training is that you can be ready and approved to fly solo after around 10 flight hours or 5–10 lessons. I whipped out 75 takeoffs and landings in just a few days to prepare for my solo. You will quickly realize that simply flying the plane is just the beginning of being a good pilot.
Where do you begin? When I started, the first thing I did was get my medical certificate (third-class), my student pilot certificate, and study for the written exam. There are also paid video courses on Sporty’s and Fly8MA.
Be prepared to study. Many CFIs will tell you that flying is the easy part. But studying or “ground school” is what makes or breaks the student. I took several practice written exams and found this part to be very easy. But don’t underestimate the final practical exam, AKA the checkride. I needed a great CFI to help push me to the finish line, get the repetition and comprehension I needed and all the other things that would be important for the oral exam portion of the checkride. After passing the written very early in your training, it will be important to do your reading of the good ole’ Airplane Flying Handbook and your PHAK (Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge). Oh yeah. Of course, you’ll need one of these, preferably tabbed. Thank me later.
Did you ace physics class and want to try a practice exam right now? Here’s where to get it free.
How I got into it: My dad, my grandparents, and my great grandfather are/were all pilots. Only one of them was a professional pilot. They all flew for fun. In 2019, I landed an internship in Business Analytics for Aftermarket Parts at Textron Aviation in Kansas, where they make Cessna airplanes, the world’s most popular training aircraft, the Citation Jet, and Beechcraft models. I began training at the employee flight club during that summer, but I did not get very far, and quit flying for 2 years. In 2021, I moved to Florida and committed to finish what I started. 6 months, 4 instructors, 30 weather/maintenance/scheduling cancellations, 4 training hiatuses, and 3 paperwork problems later, I scheduled my checkride and passed on the first try.
Fun fact: You might be surprised to know that most of my flight instructors were younger than me. Let’s say they’re not hitting the bars yet. Many of them are young college students on a path to the airlines.
Regarding the cost of training: it’s not different at all from the cost of a semester of college. There are not many financing options available for Part 61 students, but it is possible to apply for general aviation scholarships. The general advice is to focus on ground school studying first, which is very cheap, until you have all the funds available for uninterrupted flight training. You want to knock it out fairly quickly while keeping your memory fresh, or you will end up spending more money and energy on your license.
I will say what I say to everyone: If you are remotely interested, you should absolutely take an intro flight once in your life. Bring your friends along to take pictures. This will warm you up to the fantastic world of general aviation. I believe anyone can be a pilot. It is one of the most rewarding personal achievements (albeit expensive) to be had.
Now that I’m addicted to flying, what’s next for me? I am pursuing my IFR Instrument Rating (flying with low cloud ceilings, low visibility and fog), then Commercial (250 total flight hours), and then CFI so I can teach people to fly (and fly for free). A nice-to-have would be to get training in aerobatic spins and barrel rolls. Reach out to me in 1–2 years for a lesson! I am slow but I will get there.