How to get a Private Pilot Licence? | Full Process Explained

January, 3, 2022
How to get a Private Pilot Licence?

Perhaps one of the most asked questions I get as a pilot is how do I get my license so I’ve decided to basically share my story and explain in my own experience from start to finish what the process is and what you may need to do in order to get your license.

Whether you’re pursuing a career as an airline pilot a corporate pilot or maybe you want to fly floatplanes or bush planes or maybe you want to own your own airplane or maybe you just want to fly get your license for fun. 

The reason I made this article is what’s called your private pilot’s license or ppl for short. This license is the starting point of your aviation journey and is where you will learn all of the essentials required to operate an aircraft safely under your own authority. 

Once you’ve completed your private pilot’s license you can then continue your training to attain other licenses and ratings such as the multi-engine rating or the IFR instrument rating and even the commercial pilot’s license which allows you to fly for higher as a professional working pilot but you must first attain your private pilot’s license.

Now the prerequisites for the private pilot’s license are as follows:

  • At least 17 years old (to hold the licence)
  • Category 3 medical
  • Demo flight / Introductory flight

You must be at least 17 years of age in order to hold the license. However, you can start your training at a slightly younger age.

You must also pass a category three medical exam obtained from a certified aviation medical examiner and although not required I also recommend going on what’s called a demo flight or an introductory flight where you get to go with a flight instructor and kind of fly around for a little bit to take you on a short flight. 

You can kind of test the waters to see if flight training is something that you really want to do.

The timeline required to complete your private license ranges anywhere from one to six months depending on how frequently you fly and how quickly you are progressing.

If you fly three times a week you’re likely to finish much sooner than someone who only flies say for instance once a week, for example, it took me five months to complete my private license but I was under no immediate time or strength and I flew approximately once-twice a week. 

There are two primary components of the private pilot’s license that must be completed in past.

The written exam and the practical flight test ground school whether done in class or as an online platform is where you will learn everything from aircraft systems.

Weather and navigation to general information as well as air law. The ground school prepares you with all the information required to complete and pass your written exam

When I started my private pilot’s license ground school consisted of two classes per week with each class running approximately three hours in length. 

At first, it was a lot of new information in a short period of time, especially for a new pilot. 

So I found it useful to review the material after each and every class and in any spare time, I had to make sure I retained as much of the information as possible.

I would even recommend supplementing your ground school training with other online courses or books to assist in furthering your understanding of the material.

Your flight school will have a specific curriculum to follow and it should cover all the topics required for the written exam.

Then the fun started actually learning to fly just like the ground school portion there is a curriculum to follow for the private pilot’s license practical training. 

As part of your private license training, there are minimum flight hour requirements that must be met. You must complete a total of 40 hour total flight time before you can take the practical flight test.

Of these 40 hours, 20 hours must be dual instruction time with your flight instructor which must include the following:

  • three hours of cross-country flight
  • three hours of night flight instruction
  • three hours of instrument flying relying on your aircraft instruments only
  • and three hours of flight test preparation. 

  You must also complete a minimum of 10 hours of solo flying and that means exactly how it sounds flying by yourself for a minimum of 10 hours of which five hours must be cross country time.

Keep in mind that these are the absolute minimum flight hours required in order to qualify for the flight tests.

It is up to your instructor and when they feel comfortable determining how well you are progressing through your training and when they think you are ready for the test.

It is likely you will need more than 40 hours of flight time before you are even ready and confident enough. Looking at my logbook I had approximately 60 flight hours actually closer to 70 hours logged before I took my flight test.

There are always components of your training that will require you to dedicate additional time for me, it was landings I spent an additional 10 hours actually even close to 15 hours of flight time just practising my landings probably an additional five hours of upper air work and a few hours here and there practicing other parts of my flying before i felt confident enough for the test. 

As part of your flight training budget don’t forget to consider this add a little bit extra in there for the additional training. 

I don’t think there’s anyone out there who can confidently say they aced every single part of their flight training without having to put in a little extra time and a little bit of extra practice here and there. 

Also, I should mention that different countries have different minimum flight training requirements.

Canada for instance is slightly different from the US so make sure you consult your flight school on what the minimums are for your specific training.

Now your flight school should have a specific curriculum to follow for the in-flight training just like the ground school each flight starts with a pre-flight briefing where you and your instructor sit down and discuss what the plan is for that particular lesson and ends with a debrief after the flight is completed.

Your first few flights will be focused primarily on the basic handling and maneuvering of the aircraft.

First Flying Lessons

My first two lessons involved learning the basics of straight level flight climbs descents as well as turns coordinated flight and really jus getting comfortable at the controls. 

After that the next few lessons focus on learning upper air works such as slow flight stalls steep turns and a number of other maneuvers in different aircraft configurations.

Like monkey see monkey do my instructor would demonstrate a particular maneuver and then I would perform it under their watchful eye your instructor will coach you throughout and don’t be discouraged if some maneuvers take several attempts usually on the flight back to the airport your instructor will likely quiz you on in-flight emergencies and have you performed some basic navigation using the maps.

There are always things to be learning and practicing even when just flying to and from the airport in the practice area.

Once your instructor feels confident in your ability to control the aircraft in the different phases of flight throughout the first few lessons that’s when they start teaching you how to land. 

For me learning how to land started on my sixth flight lesson but like I said this is dependent on your confidence in the aircraft and how comfortable your instructor is with your flying progression. 

Just like the lessons before my instructor would first demonstrate a perfect landing and then give me control of the airplane and talk me through the process.

After talking me through a few more landings I was able to get at least a good grasp as far as how to do a normal landing without too much difficulty of course there was always a lot of room for improvement but the subsequent lessons would offer me ample time for practice.

For the next few flights after my first few landings, we would spend all of our time in what’s called the circuit practicing takeoffs and landings and doing touch and goes.

The circuit is essentially a pattern flown in the vicinity of the airport and it allows you to practice your takeoffs approaches and landings several times in a shorter period of time.

It also helps you get very comfortable with your checklist as you are doing them repeatedly every time you fly once around the pattern. 

In fact here’s my actual logbook showing just how many times I actually went up and practiced takeoffs and landings in the circuit with my instructor.

By now you’ve actually come a long ways you can safely take off perform all the basic maneuvers communicate a little bit with air traffic control navigate around the local area and land the airplane without too much difficulty.

First Time Flying Solo

However one of the most notable times around all of your private pilot’s license training is about to happen your first solo ask any pilot today what they remember from their flight training and I guarantee you they won’t be able to remember many specific days of their flight training but they will for sure be able to recall almost every detail about their first solo flight.

Like I said your takeoffs and landings are feeling pretty good by now but you are about to fly the plane for the first time completely by yourself.

From takeoff to landing and everything in between while you’re in the circuit. This doesn’t mean you have your license yet however but it is the first time that you will be completely alone in the airplane.

Nobody besides you take control if things get a little bit hairy and it is a true sign that your instructor has confidence in your flying abilities to that point.

It is also a critical part of building your confidence for the rest of your training. My first solo started with my instructor and me first practicing a few takeoffs and landings just to get in the swing of things before she told me to taxi to the ramp area where she could get out from the ramp area, she stood with a two-way radio to watch me for the first time in my life taxi, the plane takes off to fly a circuit and land completely by myself. 

Although my first landing flying solo wasn’t the prettiest and actually resulted in me having to circle around again and attempt a second landing, I tell you what, there is nothing more gratifying than when you accomplish your first solo.

Flight upon completing your first solo you’ve reached an important milestone and at this point training becomes even more interesting.

After I completed my first solo subsequent lessons consisted of more advanced skills such as navigation shortened soft field takeoffs and landings basic instrument flying some night flying among other things as part of the curriculum and even a little bit more advanced communications and airport operations.

We also practiced diversions forced landings in the event of an engine failure and several other emergency procedures in between the dual lessons with my instructor. 

I would also fly solo in order to practice the lessons that I had already learned.

This of course after already had proven that I could operate the airplane safely by myself having completed my first solo being able to fly solo in combination with my dual training was also really beneficial because I could take the things I was learning with my instructor and apply them to my solo flying.

First Solo Cross-Country Flight

The next part of my training was cross-country flying because I needed my cross-country flying hours completing. 

The cross-country portion of the training was when I found that all

my training was starting to come together cohesively up to that point, i was always flying to and from the same airport to and from the practice area or flying in the circuit practicing takeoffs and landings.

Cross-country training teaches you to fly to different airports and introduces you to new flying environments every airport offers. 

Its new set of challenges add weather navigation different air space different air traffic control and everything else that you’ve learned. 

So far I personally found this to be one of my favorite parts of the train because I was now applying my flying skills to actually fly somewhere different. 

In order to be efficient with the training my instructor and I would fly triangle cross-country flights where we would stop at two other airports along the way.

This gave me more opportunity to practice my landings and expose me to some other airport environments.

The next cross country I flew the exact same trip but this time did it solo a few more cross-country trips with my instructor after that and a few more trips solar provided me with a lot of practice and not to mention it.

Also contributed to my solo and solo cross country hour requirements.

Keep in mind there’s also a solo cross country that is required that must be at least 150 nautical miles you can do a stop in between as long as those stops are at least 50 nautical miles. 

First Instrument Flight Lesson

The instrument portion of the training was next and involved practicing flying using your aircraft instruments only. 

This basically trains you to maintain control of the aircraft in the event that you accidentally fly into the cloud and lose visual reference to the horizon.

My instructor simulated several different scenarios where you might enter into the cloud accidentally and I had to practice maintaining control of the aircraft while wearing a pair of what’s called foggles basically glasses that block out your view of the outside horizon to simulate flying and cloud. 

We practiced the instrument flying over a couple of flights out to the practice area and while we were in route on our cross-country flights.

A few hours of training using just your instruments gives you a small taste of the much more advanced training required in IFR flying but it’s just that a taste.

First Night Flight Training

Next was the night training portion in completing my night hours my instructor had me fly a triangle cross country again, where we practice

night landings at different airports and practice night navigation.

This of course had to be done during night hours in more northern latitudes. 

The sunsets much later during the summer and much earlier in the winter. I was lucky enough to be doing my night hours during the winter otherwise I may have had to wait till 10 o’clock p.m before the sun would set before i could start my training. 

To this date night, time is still perhaps one of my favorite times to fly.

The visibility is usually great you can see cities roads and the view is spectacular of the stars once you’ve reached this point it’s time to review everything that you’ve learned.

The only thing standing in between you and your license now is the practical flight test.

In order to meet the three-hour flight test preparation requirement hours I went back through my training log with my instructor and she highlighted things that we could go review together before she would recommend me for the test. 

Now there are two portions to the practical flight test the oral and the in-flight portions. 

The oral portion is done on the ground with the examiner before your flight, where they quiz you on everything from weather aircraft performance and navigation to the flight plan details and everything in between pertinent to that day’s flight and conditions once that is completed.

You then get on the airplane and perform the practical portion of the test.

This involves completing all of the flight maneuvers within certain tolerances of altitude airspeed and performance as well as proving your competence in cross-country flying, navigation communication and aircraft handling.

They will simulate some emergencies in flight and grade you based on your performance.

Although this may sound daunting right now, remember this is after all of your training is completed. So you’ll have practice and be confident in everything you need to know.

When I did my flight test I remember feeling a lot more nervous than I probably looked but remember you’re basically just performing the things that you have already practiced many times over.

So don’t let the nervousness diminish your confidence also you are human I remember my examiner was more impressed if I knew where and how to find the information I didn’t know rather than just trying to remember everything. 

My flight test took a little under two hours of flight time and the ground portion was maybe over an hour before I knew it I had passed the exam and was back on the ground and officially a private pilot.

After signing some paperwork with the instructor and the examiner. They gave me a temporary license to hold me over until my official license arrived in the mail. It looks like a passport but a heck of a lot cooler if you ask me.