Kevin Morisette, CFII
Sacramento Flight Lessons
Kevin Morisette, CFII

Frequently Asked Questions

How hard is it to learn to fly?

Almost anyone can learn to fly if you are willing to work towards it. There are several aspects that are required including "book knowledge" from aerodynamics to federal regulations, physical motor skills, and other things such as decision making skills.

What can I do to minimize flight training costs?

Here are a few things you can do that will help make your flight training take less time (and therefore less money):

- Fly frequently. The longer time between flight lessons the harder it is to continue where you left off. Flying about 2-3 times per week with studying on your own between lessons usually works best. Only flying once a week is doable, but your flight training may take longer. If you fly only every few weeks you typically spend most of your time brushing up on what you've learned before instead of learning new material. This is especially true if you haven't put a thought into anything flying related since the last lesson either. Also, saving up enough money for flight training before you start is better than running out of funds part way through because of this reason as well.

- Take a ground school course (such as at a community college or if your flight school or instructor does group ground training classes). This is can be significantly cheaper and minimizes the more expensive one-on-one time with an instructor.

- Pass your written exam (FAA knowledge test) before hand or as soon as possible. The ground school should prepare you well for this test and with some self-study, you should be ready to take it. Knowing as much of this material beforehand allows you to spend less time with a Flight Instructor going over it.

- Ask questions, you may want to make a list of questions or items that aren't clear when you're studying on your own and take that with you the next time you meet with your instructor.

- Do your homework so that your instructor can follow a "plan of action" or syllabus for your upcoming lessons. Your instructor should have a plan for the next lesson and give you a homework assignment (ie: reading up on stalls before practicing them on the next lesson, or planning a cross country flight that will be flown on the next lesson, etc). If you don't, it can increases costs by not being prepared and unable to stick to a syllabus's schedule.

- Be ready to fly when your instructor arrives. Depending on the instructor, they may charge their hourly rate when they arrive. If your instructor is comfortable with your preflighting abilities, preflight the plane and have enough fuel to be ready to go so your instructor isn't waiting for you.

- Use the same plane or at least the same model of plane during your training. Switching to another model will usually slow down the learning process.

- Chair fly by visualizing the flying maneuvers and other procedures. After your instructor has demonstrated a new maneuver (ie: a soft field takeoff), practice that procedure at home. This can be something like "For a soft field takeoff I will set flaps (as recommended) and taxi onto the runway without stopping with the yoke/stick aft, align with the runway then smoothly apply takeoff power. As takeoff power is applied, release back pressure and keep the nosewheel in the air. When the airplane lifts off, gently lower the nose to stay in ground effect until 60 knots is achieved, then climb out at Vx or Vy as appropriate.

Note that the Airplane Flying Handbook goes over these maneuvers and the Practical Test Standards explain what will be required for each maneuver on your practical flight test. You can use these as a template for your "chair flying".

- Airport choice can sometimes affect costs, usually if it's a busy airport with delays. You will want to experience busy towered airports with airline traffic to quiet small and short strips. If there is less traffic you will save money as you won't be waiting with the engine running.

- Don't buy unnecessary items such as large "learn to fly" kits or purchasing a lot of gadgets sold by pilot shops. You don't necessarily need expensive kneeboards, fuel testers (when your rental plane has one), etc. I would hold off and see what you really need as you fly. For IFR training, you can find a $5 timer at Wal-Mart that doesn't cost $50 that pilot shops sell.

If I get training for a Sport Pilot can I apply that toward a Private Pilot certificate if I want to obtain that later?

Right now the FAA will only count training time received from a Subpart H instructor (an instructor that can teach Private and Commercial students in addition to Sport Pilots) toward a certificate higher than Sport Pilot. If you're thinking of upgrading from a Sport Pilot in the future, you may want to make sure the instructor is a Subpart H instructor and not a Sport Pilot only instructor (Subpart K).

How long will it take?

This is a difficult question to answer as it depends a lot on the student, the plane, airport, etc. The minimum FAA requirements are 20 hours for Sport Pilots and 40 hours for Private Pilots. However, it usually takes longer (the Private Pilot average is around 60-70 hours). You can do things to minimize that time as much as possible (see minimize flight training costs above). Sport pilots have restrictions over Private Pilots but they do also require less time. Light Sport Aicraft (LSA) for Sport Pilots can be more difficult to find to rent and they may also cost more than a typical Cessna 152 or 172. However, a lot of the LSA's are newer with fancy avionics. I wouldn't base the decision solely on saving 20 hours of flight time from the minimum requirements.

How much money will it cost?

Estimating the cost is difficult because there are a lot of variables (how often you fly, etc). The minimum flight hours are 40 for the Private, but almost nobody finishes it in the minimum. When comparing prices, be sure to note how many hours they're quoting you for. The average student takes around 60-70 hours or so of flight time. You'll want the CFI to give you a "briefing" before and a "debrief" after the flight at a minimum, so figure about an hour ground per flight lesson. Lessons are usually around 1 to 1.5 hours flight time, cross countries may be longer.

Take the airplane rental rate and add the CFI's rate (except for your solo time, including solo cross country) multiply this by total flight hours, and then add in the ground time at the CFI's ground rate.

What do I need fitness-wise?

For a Private Pilot (or higher), you will need to obtain an FAA medical certificate (3rd class in this case) to exercise the privileges of your Private Pilot (or higher) certificate. You don't need a medical certificate to operate as a Sport Pilot as long as you have a driver's license.

If you are questioning if you will be able to pass the FAA medical exam, speak with someone who specializes in obtaining medicals in special circumstances. If you attempt to obtain a medical and don't pass, you may not be able to use your driver's license in lieu of a medical for a Sport Pilot.

If you will be needing a medical for your training, it is required by the time you fly by yourself (solo).

These are the current regulations. There are changes being made that will eliminate the need for the 3rd Class Medical for Private Pilot's.

What is required to become a Sport Pilot?

Sport Pilot - Minimum Flight Training Requirements*

20 hours of flight time which must include at least:
15 hours of dual instruction
5 hours solo
2 hours cross country flight training
10 takeoffs and landings
1 solo cross country flight of at least 75 nautical miles total distance (with one leg of the cross country trip at least 25 miles in length)
3 hours dual flight training in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months

* Note these are the minimum times required by the FAA §61.313

What is required to become a Private Pilot?

Private Pilot - Minimum Flight Training Requirements*

40 hours of flight time which must include at least:
20 hours of dual instruction
10 hours solo
5 hours solo cross-country time (including a cross country >150 nautical miles total distance, full stop landings at 3 points and >50nm between takeoff and landing locations)
3 hours cross country flight training
3 hours night flight training (including a cross country >100 nautical miles and 10 takeoffs/landings to a full stop in the pattern)
3 hours instrument flight training
3 takeoffs and 3 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.
3 hours dual flight training in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months

* Note these are the minimum times required by the FAA §61.109

What books and supplies do I need to start training?

Once you've taken an "introductory flight" and decide you want to pursue becoming a pilot, there's a few things that you will need as you progress through your flight training:

  • Books, DVDs - I prefer to use the flight training books published by the FAA as they're available for free and you can't go wrong during a checkride with FAA materials. If you want further resources, there are companies such as ASA and King Schools that sell books and DVDs.
  • Headset - You will need to either rent a headset or purchase one. If you're going to purchase one, you may want to look at ANR (Active Noise Reduction) headsets. They cost more, but the noise reduction is well worth it. Also, higher-end aviation headsets tend to have better headphone speakers and microphones which give more clarity to radio communications.
  • Charts - You will need a Sectional chart and Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) for flight planning purposes.
  • Plotter - Once you start your cross-country training, a plotter is needed to measure distance and calculate your course headings. Get one that rotates instead of the fixed version, it makes it easier.
  • E6B - An E6B is a rotating card "computer" that is used for flight planning calculations such as fuel burn usage, time enroute, etc. used in cross-country flight planning.
  • Tablet with aviation Apps? - More and more pilots are switching towards EFB (Electronic Flight Bags) which contain the Sectional charts, AF/D's and perform flight planning calculations all in one. Ask your CFI if they still want you to learn and use the paper charts in case your EFB fails, though.

What is required to get an Instrument Rating?

Instrument Rating - Minimum Flight Training Requirements*

50 hours of cross country time as PIC (10 hours in airplanes)
40 hours actual or simulated instrument conditions
15 hours actual or simulated instrument training with an Instrument Instructor involving:
1 cross country under instrument flight rules that includes:
  - A flight of 250 nautical miles along airways or by directed routing from an air traffic control facility
  - An instrument approach at each airport; and
  - Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems.
3 hours dual flight training in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months

* Note these are the minimum times required by the FAA §61.65

What is required to become a Commercial pilot?

Commercial Pilot - Minimum Flight Training Requirements*

250 hours total time**
100 hours PIC time, including:
  - 50 hours cross country time
20 hours of Commercial training including:
  - 10 hours of instrument training
  - 10 hours of complex aircraft training
  - 1 two hour cross country in day conditions of more than 100 nautical miles
  - 1 two hour cross country in night conditions of more than 100 nautical miles
  - 3 hours dual flight training in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months
10 hours of solo time including:
  - 1 cross country flight of at least 300 nautical miles total distance, with a landing at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point
  - 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower

* Note these are the minimum times required by the FAA §61.129
** These are the general requirements that are most common, please see Part 61 or 141 as appropriate for more details.

What is required for a flight review (BFR)?

The regulations specify a minimum of one hour of ground and one hour of flight is required for a flight review. The link below has good information for pilots looking for a flight review:

AOPA ASF Pilot's Guide to the Flight Review

When should I take the knowledge test (written test)?

To take the knowledge test you'll need to get a sign off from a CFI, but you can do it in a classroom setting, online, or even self-study (and then the CFI will question you on several topics to be sure you have a good understanding before giving the sign off). Going over the material would be a great head start even if you don't take the knowledge test before you begin training, which you may want to wait some as the test results are only valid for 24 months. After the 24 months you would need to retake it so it's valid when you take your practical test (check ride). It'd probably be good to go over the material and then when you start training the CFI can fill you in on any uncertain areas, then take the test.

About Me

I hold the following FAA certificates and ratings:
Some of the types of aircraft I've flown: