Learning how to fly a plane for beginners

Driving by a small airport can make you wonder who the people who fly those airplanes really are. While passing by, you wonder if you could be one of those people. Viewing the airplanes take off sparks a certain romantic imagining of soaring over mountains and through clouds, and you suddenly imagine that they are off to exotic places around the globe that you could only dream of. You think they must be somehow a special breed of man. But they aren't! They are just like you and I. They took the time to learn how to fly, and the made their dream a reality.

Practically, recreationally flying is becoming more and more relevant for the individual traveler. Sometimes those two to three hour drives get really old, and you think flying there might be the answer. Flying removes the traffic from the equation, and going slow really does mean you are in the way. There are no speeding tickets when you fly. Moreover, pilots come from all income levels. The basic graphic artist to the CEO of major companies are all pilots. Sports figures and janitors have all had flying lessons, and they all become better people because of it. Here are some tips to get you in the cockpit and off into the stratosphere on your own aviation adventures.


Cartoon with check mark

  • take an introductory lesson
  • choose the license you want
  • find an instructor who is compatible with you
  • some research
  • continue learning

Cartoon with x mark

  • give up
  • be afraid
  • let money be the obstacle
  • get over your head
  • let medical conditions stand in your way

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do take an introductory lesson

Almost all flight schools offer an introductory flight lesson, at a reduced price. There are no commitments, and you will actually fly the airplane. The instructor will take you out and show you the airplane, you will inspect the airplane with the instructor. The instructor will explain how the airplane flies, and what the controls do. The instructor will take away some of the magic, and make flying very real.

After the lesson the instructor will ask you if you want to keep going. They will explain the whole process; starting with ground school, and the flying lessons, when you will solo, and what it will take to pass the final test giving you your pilots license, so you may join the ranks of individuals qualified to fly the planes you see at the airport.

You will need to take a ground school. The ground school can be at home video lessons, computer based training, or in classroom with an instructor lessons. All the lessons will teach you what you need to know about flying, including weather, airport procedures, and other rules of the air, similar to driving lessons.

Your instructor will work with you to make you safe. When they feel you are ready, they will let you fly by yourself, or solo. One lesson will start with them in the airplane. You and the instructor will land, and they will get out, and tell you to go fly the plane with them watching from the ground. You will have your log book endorsed for solo flight, meaning you can go practice by yourself.

The lessons will continue, and your instructor will want to participate in the flying every 3 or 4 times you go flying. They will teach you about fine airplane control, cross country navigation, and other techniques that will make flying fun. When you are close to the time needed to have your final check out by the FAA, the instructor will start working with you on the items that will be checked.

Do choose the license you want

Do you want to fly for fun, or do you want to be a professional pilot? There are different tracks that you should consider before starting. Currently there are three levels of beginner pilot; Sport Pilot, Recreational, and Private.

The Sport Pilot is limited to flying during daylight, with only one passenger. The sport pilot can only fly a specific type of aircraft called a Light Sport Aircraft. The sport pilot can use a state issued drivers license for a certificate indicating medically fit to fly. The sport pilot will need at least 15 hours with an instructor, and 10 hours solo time.

The recreational pilot also is limited to flying during daylight hours with only one passenger. The recreational pilot can fly any type of up to 4 seat aircraft, but is limited to only 50 miles from their home airport. The recreational pilot must have a third class medical indicating fit to fly. The recreational pilot will need 15 hours with an instructor and 15 hours solo time.

The private pilot is not limited to how many passengers they can fly. The limits on the basic license are single engine airplanes up to 12,500lbs, with fixed landing gear. Additional training can get a private pilot endorsements (no FAA test required) to fly high performance, retractable gear aircraft, tail wheel aircraft, and high altitude aircraft. The private pilot must have a third class medical indicating fit to fly. The private pilot will need at least 20 hours with an instructor, and 20 hours solo time.

To go on to professional pilot will generally require starting with the private pilot certificate. Any training can be applied to further ratings and endorsements. There is no wrong choice, other than to not make a choice.

Do find an instructor who is compatible with you

You will spend many hours with your instructor. If that person isn’t compatible with you, it may cause you to give up on your dream. Look at their temperament, and skills. If they are type-A and you are more laid back or the other way, that may not work out. If you are flying with them, and don’t feel you are learning, ask to maybe have a review with another instructor.

Most instructors will teach concepts of cockpit resource management, where you will work together. If you are uncomfortable with something, say something, in case the instructor missed it. The two people in the front seat make a team, and it is important you both work together well.

Do some research

Go to the airport, and visit the various businesses out there. There will be Fixed Based Operators (FBOs) that will sell fuel, rent aircraft, and offer lessons. There may also be clubs that will offer lessons, sometimes at a lower price.

On a nice Saturday, wander around the airport, and talk to the folks in the hangars. You can wait until after you’ve started lessons, but it allows you to get to know the atmosphere of the airport. You may meet some other instructors pilots that will be resources to bounce off ideas with.

It is best to know what kind of aircraft and lessons are suitable for the type of flying you are considering.

Do continue learning

After you get your pilots license, keep learning. Go with an instructor when ever you can, and they will help you be a better pilot. Seeking additional ratings will allow you to be able to fly larger and faster aircraft. An instrument rating will allow you to fly in weather, so you can fly more often. A multi-engine rating will allow you to fly with more people and more stuff in a larger aircraft.

People get set in their ways. One instructor will teach things different than another. Having different perspectives will give you additional food for thought should choices be placed in front of you.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not give up

There will be days where you don’t feel like you are up to the task. Everyone has those days. Take that as a lesson, and talk to your instructor, your spouse, another pilot, tell them what you are feeling. They will probably tell you, they feel that way sometimes, and that you are going to get over the stumbling block. Maybe take a short break, nothing more than a week, and then go again. If you quit or don’t go back you will never know if you can do it.

Do not be afraid

Your instructor and you are supposed to be a team. If the instructor isn’t clear in their instructions, ask to have things repeated. It is your money they are working with, so they need to make you comfortable. If you aren’t getting what you want from the lessons, ask for a new instructor, or change to another facility.

Do not let money be the obstacle

Airplanes fly because of money. Most hobbies take money, take fishing. Fishing only costs $15 dollars for a rod, and some more for a license, and that boat and the SUV used to tow it cost way more than a pilots license. You can buy smaller airplanes for less than an SUV. (many 2 seat used aircraft can be bought for under $20,000). You don’t have to buy an airplane, most people rent. When you take the rental airplane on a trip, you only pay for the time the engine is running, so it can be very reasonable.

Do not get over your head

The basic lessons showed you what the instruments in the airplane are for, but not how to fly solely by reference to them. Stay out of weather, or heavy winds until you’ve had some training.

Do not let medical conditions stand in your way

You are never too old to learn how to fly. People with all kinds of ailments are pilots. There are many resources to get around most medical conditions, if you are serious about flying.

There are limits, and professional pilots cannot have certain conditions. Talk to a doctor familiar with aviation requirements about such conditions. Your family doctor may not be familiar with the limitations.


Flying is a great vocation, and can make you a better person. The skills and lessons learned can be applied in everyday life, even if you don’t continue flying. The places you can go and the things that you can see will make all the challenges worth it. You will seek out more challenges once you have mastered flying.

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