In this article I will discuss the steps you need to take to achieve a private pilot’s license in 4 weeks or less. You will see that with the right mindset and a few pre-requisites this goal is entirely realistic and will have the added benefit of saving you a lot of money while bolstering your self-confidence and self-esteem.
Regulatory requirements for private pilot licenses vary from one country to another but in general a minimum of 40 hours of flying is required, a written or computerised test of aeronautical knowledge, and a flight test. A medical certificate is also required.
Although I have held licenses from several ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) member states, I have done most of my flying on validations of my FAA license. Therefore, I will talk about the aeronautical knowledge, skill, and experience requirements to obtain an FAA private pilot’s license in the United States. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61 Certification of Pilots and Flight Instructors state that an applicant must meet the following requirements:
• Be at least 17 years old
• Be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language.
• Obtain at least a third class medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner
• Pass a computerized aeronautical knowledge test
• Accumulate and log a specified amount of training and experience, including the following:
• At least 40 hours of flight time, including 20 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight.
• 5 hours of solo cross-country time including one flight of at least 150 nautical miles with full stop landings at a minimum of three points
• Three solo takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating control tower.
• 3 hours of night flight training and 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport
• 3 hours of instrument flying training
• Pass an oral and flight test administered by an FAA inspector or FAA designated examiner.
A private pilot’s license allows command of any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings) for any non-commercial purpose, and gives almost unlimited authority to fly under visual flight rules (VFR). Passengers may be carried and flight in furtherance of a business is permitted. However, a private pilot may not be compensated in any way for services as a pilot, although passengers can pay a pro rata share of flight expenses, such as fuel or rental costs.
Many people, for one reason or another, qualify for a private pilot’s license over an extended period of many months. This leads to a blowout in training costs. Then there is another group of people who like to accomplish their objectives in the minimum amount of time possible. Here is an outline of the procedure for those wishing to qualify for a pilot’s license in four weeks or less:
• Obtain at least a third class medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner. The medical certificate you will receive is also a student pilot’s license which allows you to start flight training immediately.
• Buy a comprehensive ground school course which you can study at home on your computer.
• When you are doing well on the practice tests and are feeling confident, make an appointment at your local Flight Service District Office to take the computerized aeronautical knowledge test.
• After passing the test contact Fixed Base Operators at your local airport, ask for a quotation, and tell them that you have a student pilot’s licence/medical certificate, and that you have passed the aeronautical knowledge test and that you wish to complete your flight training in four weeks.
If you come across a training organization that tells you this is not possible, move on until you find a flying school with a positive and supportive attitude. You should also make it clear that you will be available to fly every day, weather permitting.
There will be a few days that you cannot get airborne because of adverse weather. This presents an ideal opportunity to revise certain areas of your ground course. You could also familiarize yourself with the Airplane Flight Manual for the aircraft you are flying. Many of the questions asked in the FAA oral examination are about the aircraft’s systems and performance. The other obvious reason for doing this is that you need to be knowledgeable about the systems and performance of the aircraft you are flying.
• This scenario assumes that you are able to finance the total cost of the flying and that you have 4 weeks available. Realistically you should allow for a 10% overrun. That is, budget on doing 44 hours of flying instead of the minimum 40 hours as specified in the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations). The national average in the U.S. is 60+ hours. One of the reasons for this is that people flying only 1 or 2 hours a week lose currency which results in them having to repeat maneuvers in order to satisfy their instructor.
• If we assume that adverse weather keeps you on the ground for 20% of the 28 days you have projected, that means that you will be flying 44 hours in 22 days. That equates to only 2 hours flying per day on average. This is eminently achievable and more particularly because you will not have the stress of preparing for the aeronautical knowledge exam which you would have already passed before stepping into an airplane. You are free to concentrate on the flying! I know from my own experience that concentrated flying results in a rapid development of self confidence.
Some years ago I was living on the Italian Riviera where I had the good fortune to meet an Italian crop dusting pilot who was spraying vineyards in Piemonte in northern Italy. He held an FAA commercial pilot’s licence with an Italian validation. He very kindly gave me the textbooks that he had used to get his commercial pilot licence at Ag Aviation Academy in Reno, Nevada. I studied the textbooks assiduously every day for about two months during the summer of 1969.
When I believed I knew the subjects well enough I flew to Frankfurt where I took an FAA first class medical examination. My medical certificate was also a student pilot’s license. It was during the Frankfurt Book Fair and there were no hotel rooms available. At the main railway station I was lucky enough to meet a train driver who rented me a room, and whose wife provided me with some good German food.
The next day I went to the Rhein Main Air Base where the FAA District office for Europe and the Middle East was located. I showed the FAA inspector my medical certificate and student license and told him that I wished to take the commercial pilot written examination. I had zero hours flight time but they weren’t concerned about that. They gave me the exam paper, told me I had six hours to complete it, and showed me into the testing room. At that time pocket calculators could not be used. Basic arithmetic was the norm for figuring out the weight and balance questions. I struggled for the full six hours then flew back to Italy to wait for the Airman Test Report.
After a couple of weeks of high anxiety I finally received my FAA Report with a passing score which was mainly due to good luck in getting the right questions rather than any innate ability on my part. The following week I enrolled in a CAA approved 35 hour PPL (private pilot license) course at Southend-on-Sea at the mouth of the Thames river in the United Kingdom. The technical papers were not too difficult because they were at a lower standard than the FAA commercial pilot written examination that I had just taken in Frankfurt.
Most days the weather was not good with low cloud bases and precipitation – typical late autumn weather in the U.K! This meant having to deviate from the course line I had drawn on my chart to stay clear of clouds and in so doing risk getting lost. Most of the time I found it was relatively easy to pick up railway lines, roads, reservoirs etc. to help get back on track. There were a couple of instances where I became disorientated while flying to grass airfields with no nearby navaids (navigation aids). My instructor told me that cross-country flying at the PPL level was supposed to be done by pilotage, that is by looking out the window and identifying objects on the ground, rather than by reference to radio navigation aids. That was all very well for him to say that as he had an intimate knowledge of the area, whereas I was seeing it for the first time in marginal weather. Airports such as Biggin Hill had a chaotic traffic pattern with tiger moths over from the Tiger Club in Red Hill spinning on the base leg and metal everywhere going in all directions. The airfield was probably more orderly during the Battle of Britain with a couple of spitfire squadrons.
I had some difficulty on the long triangular solo cross-country flight which was one of the requirements for the license. On the last leg from Biggin Hill to Southend-on-Sea I encountered a strong crosswind on landing and had to go around. During the go-around I flew over a cemetery which did nothing to ease my anxiety. On the second attempt I crabbed to a touchdown and nearly sheared off the landing gear. The problem was that because the training was taking place so rapidly, my instructor hadn’t got around to giving me any instruction in crosswind landing techniques, and I had no idea how to do a cross-controlled forward slip.
The problem with my GFT (general flying test) was that they rolled out an aircraft I’d never flown before – a fully aerobatic Beagle Pup with a joystick. It didn’t give me any joy! The examiner commented that he would make allowances for the fact that I’d never flown the Beagle Pup. After I had completed the required maneuvers including spin recovery, he took over the controls and demonstrated the limits of the flight envelope. By the time he’d finished barrel rolling around clouds and performing “chandelles” all over the sky, I was feeling quite nauseous and regretting having eaten that steak and kidney pie closely followed by an apple turnover with fresh cream. I knew the flight had been satisfactory because he sent one of the instructors into London with the paperwork and an application for the licence.
I started training on October 31, 1969 and took my General Flying Test at Southend-on-Sea airfield on November 10, 1969. Total time logged was 37 hours and 25 minutes. The only reason I mention this is to show that if an average person, who is not afraid of a little hard work, can complete a private pilot’s license in 11 days then you should have no difficulty in doing the same thing in 28 days, especially in a place with fairly decent weather.