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Can I really become a pilot? YES!

How difficult is it?

How difficult is it?
As with any other skill you master, flying is learned step-by-step. It's a fascinating experience that's not particularly difficult. Flying can be learned by practically anyone who is willing to invest the right amount of time and effort.

Pilot training has two aspects: ground training and flight training. Learning the basics of flying while on the ground - either in a classroom or through a home-study course - is typically called "ground school." It covers flight rules and regulations, flight planning, navigation, radio procedures, and weather. There are also a variety of DVDs and videos available to help you understand the material covered in ground school.

In the next phase, flight training, a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) will be with you in an airplane and teach you how to fly it. First, you'll learn about the instruments, how to prepare your airplane for a flight and how to taxi. With your flight instructor, you will learn how to take off, land, and fly cross-country (from your home airport to another airport and then back again). Your plane will have dual controls so your instructor can always take control if necessary. Millions of people have learned to fly this way.

By the time you're ready for your private pilot certificate, you'll be secure in the knowledge that you're a safe and competent pilot.

How long does it take to learn to fly?

Most people receive their private pilot certificate after about 55-65 hours of flight time, including time spent flying with an instructor ("dual time") and time spent flying alone ("solo time"). Training will include night flying, cross-country flying and even an introduction into instrument flying (flying solely by reference to the airplane's instruments).

The minimum time required by federal regulation is 35 to 40 hours of flight time, depending on the type of school you attend. You can schedule your lessons any time during the day to fit into your lifestyle-early morning, during the day, or even on weekends. Scheduling your flying is up to you and your instructor.

How long it takes to accumulate flight time is largely up to you and your instructor. Usually two to three hours flying time per week is a good learning rate, with more hours during weeks when cross-country flights are made. Statistics indicate that the average student pilot completes the requirements for a private pilot certificate in four to six months.

Consistent lessons will help you complete your training faster-when you are flying regularly, you'll never have to go back and re-learn what you've forgotten during a lapse in training. Depending on the schedule and pace of training, some people will complete their training sooner than others.

Do I have to own an airplane?

Not at all! Of course, owning your own general aviation airplane will give you complete freedom to set your own schedule. You'll have pride of ownership like nothing you have known before. And, there are hundreds of types of airplanes to choose from: High wing, low wing, long-range, aerobatic and more-depending on your needs and interests.

Some pilots own an airplane in partnership with one or more pilots and share expenses for the airplane. But many pilots don't own their own airplanes. They may belong to a flying club-a group who pools their money to buy and share a plane. Most pilots rent airplanes. Rental fees are normally based on an hourly rate for actually flying time.

What kind of tests will I take?

A test is not required for a student pilot certificate. But before a private pilot certificate (license) is issued, you must pass two tests. One is an FAA "written" examination on flying rules and regulations that you'll take on a computer. You'll also have to work out the details of a hypothetical flight. But don't worry; you schedule the timing of this test for when you feel prepared. Besides, you will have done it all before in planning the cross-country flights you made as part of your training program.

Following this FAA written exam is a practical examination of your flying ability in the air. This is like the road test you took when you got your driver's license. Here you take a designated FAA examiner for a flight (a "checkride") to demonstrate your ability to maneuver the airplane safely and confidently. You will have practiced the maneuvers many times before, and your flight instructor will have prepared you thoroughly.

How much does it cost?

Flight training costs vary. Fuel prices, maintenance and insurance costs are but a few of the variables. Some regions of the country are just more expensive than others. You can expect to pay between $10,000 and $17,000 for a good private-pilot flight-training program. Most schools offer a "pay as you go" program so you do not have to have the full amount of money on hand when you begin. 

Becoming a licensed private pilot is a good value. Prorated over a lifetime, it's probably one of the best bargains you'll ever find. The cost of becoming a pilot is a solid investment in your future. And once you've earned your pilot's license, it's good for the rest of your life.

What will my first flight be like as a student pilot?

Your instructor will introduce you to the airplane you'll be flying. You'll probably learn to fly in an airplane that was developed for student pilots and designed to provide the best possible flight training environment. Before you take your seats in the airplane, you and your instructor will walk around the airplane inspecting specific items to make sure the aircraft is ready for the flight.

Once inside the airplane, you'll be briefed on the instruments, controls and equipment and on what to watch for when you're flying. After this preflight briefing, the two of you will taxi the airplane and then take off. Once you're in the air, your flight instructor will no doubt let you take control of the airplane by yourself. Of course, your instructor will be closely supervising you, but you will finally experience what it's like to fly an airplane by yourself. Soon, you'll feel the exhilaration and be impatient for the next flight.

Is flying Safe?

General aviation airplanes are built to rigid federal specifications, and they are constantly checked and rechecked to make sure they are mechanically and structurally safe. People who fly are safety-conscious. As the pilot-in-command of an airplane, you're also in command of most variables the affect flying safely.

Safety is the most important word in the general aviation vocabulary. Your flight instructor will focus on the training you will need to operate the airplane safely. Flying as pilot-in-command of the airplane puts you in charge. A well-built and well-maintained airplane in the hands of a competent, prudent and well-trained pilot makes flying safer than many other forms of transportation.

Where do I start?

To arrange for a flight, contact a local flight school. Ask about taking an introductory flight. Some schools call this a discovery flight. The flight won't be free, of course, but most flight schools price them at a very reasonable rate in order to introduce more people to the joys of flying.

Making the decision to learn to fly is obviously the first step and often the most difficult one. Before you decide, however, you may want to experience flying in a small airplane. Once you've had a bird's-eye-view of your hometown and felt the sensation of flight, you'll know whether flying is for you.