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Private Pilot Training... What is it?

I know a lot of people that follow me are not pilots yet, but want to be, so I thought I'd break down what your initial Private Pilot training will be like. Keep in mind that every instructor will be a little different, but this was how I organized my lessons and taught my students.

Private Pilot training is designed to teach you the basics. In my opinion, this is the most important part of training because without solid basics, the rest of your flying days will be a struggle; because of this, I cannot stress how important it is to find a good private pilot flight instructor. If you start with CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and you don't get along or he/she isn't teaching you in a helpful way, don't be afraid to find a new one. This phase of training will be the foundation for the rest of your career.

WhenI was a CFI, I divided the Private Pilot training into 3 phases. It's much less intimidating to look at the private pilot training in small goals/steps rather than one big one.

1: Preparing for Solo Flights

2: Preparing for Solo Cross-Countries

3. Preparing for the Checkride

So what exactly is Phase 1? As far the flight portion goes, it is mostly maneuvers. You'll start off with the basics- straight and level flight, turns, climb/descends, and them move on to more advanced maneuvers that require more precision in your flying ability. They are not too difficult, but they will take some practice to get them right. If there was never any wind, you would probably master them after a couple of flights. But, sadly, we have wind, which makes learning these a bit more challenging. This phase of training is a good motivator because if you are flying 3 times a week (which I highly recommend... more if you have the time), you will see big improvements in your flying ability and skill each time.

During this phase you will also be practicing takeoffs and landings. I usually had my students takeoff the plane on the very first flight, while keeping my hands and feel close to the controls, of course. Landing is a bit more difficult and takes some time to practice. Every 2 or 3 flight lessons we would spend an entire day in the traffic pattern, taking off and landing. It is good to do 8-10 landings in a row because you can focus on your errors and correct them on the next takeoff or landing. However, I found that doing any more than 10 in a row becomes overwhelming and negative learning starts to occur. There is a point where too much practice isn't beneficial anymore.

During this phase, you will also be studying on the ground to learn the things you need to know to keep you safe when you solo. Some of the things you will study are aircraft systems, airspace, airport markings and signs, an intro to aviation weather, and regulations.

When you complete this phase you are ready to solo. Soloing is the most exhilarating yet nerve-racking thing you will do. But, it will also be the best confidence builder. Remember, your instructor will not let you solo until they know you can do it safely... it is their license on the line, not yours. So if they say you are ready, you are most likely ready. I always took a picture with my student after they got done soloing so they could remember their accomplishment. Some instructors cut the back of their student's shirts off or dump a bucket of water over their heads. My hope is that your instructor will do something special for you to remember this day by- you only solo for the first time once in your life, so it is kind of a big deal.

Phase 2 is great because you'll be able to actually go places. You'll learn how to plan a cross country flight and then you'll do it, during the daytime and nighttime. This phase has a little bit more ground training too with a heavier focus on weather; you need to understand the weather and how to read the weather charts in order plan and safely execute a cross country. I have created an aviation weather book that simplifies all of the weather charts and gives you a good but shorter explanation (that most of the FAA books you'll use) of how to read the weather charts. Click HERE for more information or to purchase a copy of the eBook.

On my first night cross country with my instructor, we saw some military aircraft practicing bomb drops from their aircraft. It was such a neat experience and something I will never forget. I'm sure you'll have exciting experiences of your own during this phase of your training.

You'll do a few cross countries with your instructor, and then you will do a few solo. I remember feeling so free during my first solo cross county- no instructor to tell me what to do. Haha. I can't wait for you to begin this phase of training; I am confident you will love it.

During Phase 2 you will also start (if you haven't already) flying a little bit with 'foggles' on. What are foggles, you ask? They are like glasses that aren't completely clear- essentially when you wear them you can't see outside the cockpit. They simulate you flying in clouds and having to use only your instruments to fly the aircraft safely. No, you will not purposely fly through the clouds during your Private Pilot training, but if you inadvertently get into a cloud on a cross country flight, solo flight, or after you earn your license, you'll be able to get out of it without putting the airplane into a spin or a dangerous unusual attitude.

Once you master your cross country flying and complete your solo cross county requirements, it's just a matter of reviewing for the checkride, which is Phase 3. What you will be asked on the checkride is not a secret. There is a book published by the FAA, the Airman Certification Standards (ACS), which details the checkride. Click HERE to go the FAA's copy of this book. You can use this free digital version or purchase your own hardcopy from your local pilot store. The examiner cannot ask you something if it isn't in this little book. It's still a lot to know, but it does give you a very good idea of what you need to study and know for the checkride.

I usually did a 'mock checkride' with my students before I ever sent them to the actual checkride. The checkride explanation is a bit long for this blog post, so stay tuned for next week where I'll tell you all about it.

I know this might seem like there isn't much to a Private Pilot's License (as this post isn't too long), but it is a lot of work. I typically had around 30 flight lessons and 16 ground lessons with each of my students. Depending on how often you fly and study, getting your license can take anywhere from 2 months to 10+ months...if you are not going through an accelerated program (those accelerated programs can get you done in a matter of weeks). As a reference, the students that met with me 3 times per week and studied on their own for at least 3 hours a week ended up taking about 4 months. My students that weren't super dedicated took much longer.

If you have any questions about Private Pilot training that wasn't answered in this post, feel free to email me at I started this blog so I could continue helping the aviation community even though I am now an airline pilot and not a flight instructor; it is my passion and it brings me so much joy to help you out. So seriously- don't hesitate to contact me. Until next time, Happy Flying!

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