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Private Pilot Training | Start to Finish

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Private Pilot Training – The Whole Process of Learning to Fly

When you first embark on learning to fly you can easily get overwhelmed as there seems to be so much to take in, remember and practice. It doesn’t seem to matter how sharp you are on the ground, it never ceases to amaze how your brain freezes once you get into the air. To give you a taste of what you might expect, I’ve provided you with a breakdown below of some of the main sections you will encounter and go through in your Private Pilot training.

Private Pilot Training – Your Choice Of Flying School

Right! Have you decided what kind of Private Pilot Licence you want? Yes – Good then carry on reading. If you haven’t then go and visit the Which Private Pilots Licence article here, read that and then come back.

Now we have got that little part out of the way, you need to consider how you’re going to fit learning to fly around the rest of your life. For most, it takes about a year to get a PPL and the majority of people try to fly twice a week. Personally it took me just under 2 years from starting to finally getting my licence. Most of which unfortunately I put down to the good old British weather and lack of flying days. Anyway moving on, even if you have no prior knowledge of flying whatsoever, most if not all flying schools will quickly get you on your way. It’s often a good idea to start by picking three schools near you and going to visit all of them before deciding where to fly. It is important that you talk to your potential instructor as you will be spending quite a bit of time together. On your first visit see how the road journey works out – you’ll likely be making that trip frequently over the next year or so.

Flying schools vary enormously in what they can offer. As I intimated earlier, probably the most important thing is the people. The aircraft and syllabus may all be similar but it’s the people that are going to make or break it. Finding an instructor you like and feel comfortable with makes all the difference. Some schools have the latest aircraft whereas others have older fleets that do the job just fine at a reasonable price. Decide what’s best for you and your budget.

On your visit, assess the atmosphere – some schools are friendly, others firmer and more business-like. If it seems like everything is rushed and unprofessional, look elsewhere. Also talk to other people who may have learnt to fly at the schools you’re interested in. After doing all this unless there is an obvious front¬runner, ask for a trial lesson with at least two of them.

I personally fly a flexwing microlight, but had a trial in a 3-axis aircraft first and decided I preferred the flexwing. Interestingly that was before flying through several British winters and freezing my proverbials off. I currently have a tendency towards giving the 3-axis, with all it’s creature comforts (heating) a try again. But may be not!! the summer is on it’s way, England will win the 2010 World Cup and all will be great again – Anyway the point is, don’t jump at the first opportunity, as tempting as it will be, don’t let the excitement take over. You are going to be spending your hard earned cash and need to make sure your choices are the right ones.

Its Time To Book A Trial Lesson

This is where it all starts and where every pilot begins. Most schools offer a trial lesson. This is when you’ll discover whether the dream of flying you’ve been harbouring really does live up to your expectations. The trial lesson is taken in the same aircraft in which you’ll learn to fly and most people are surprised when they get their hands on the controls during this first flight. You will fly out over the local area (and possibly even your house). The instructor will keep you safe but will also allow you to have a go at climbing, descending and turning. A note for budding flexwing microlight pilots – expect to take the back seat on your trial lesson and not have control. Most instructors like to take you up for a 30 or 45 minute flight to see if you like it and then will book you in for a full hour lesson, if you decide to take it up. See how you get on with the aircraft and more importantly, the instructor. The trial lesson is logged as the first of your 45 hours – it’s then up to you to go on and do more.

Starting Your Training

You’ll probably find the new environment of the cockpit bewildering and depending upon your choice of learning aircraft, a little more cramped/cozy than you expected. Don’t be too concerned that in those first lessons everything will seem to come quickly at you. There is a lot to learn, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Throughout all this you’ll have the excitement and buzz that comes with being up in the air. Booking your lessons is likely to be done either by phoning the school or using an online system. In the early stages, your instructor will decide if the weather is good enough to go flying and call you if there is to be any cancelled flying days. Eventually you’ll learn what to look for in the weather forecast and this will help you plan which days to book lessons. You may be advised to block book your lessons in advance on the basis that you will only achieve a percentage of them, due to weather. This is of course dependant upon which country you are flying. If you have booked an intensive private pilot training course, hopefully you will have done so in an area/country where you can pretty much guarantee good flying weather?

As you go through your private pilot training you will have times of pure pleasure and triumphs but then again you’ll also have occasional battles with self-doubt and possibly some fear. Just remember you’re not the first to struggle with landings or to mess up a radio call or even become uncertain of your location and you most definitely will not be the last. You get ups and downs frequently in private pilot training so staying positive and motivated is essential.

Perhaps one of if not the biggest frustration in learning to fly is the weather. As you can probably sense from this article and a number of others on this web site, the weather and in particular the UK weather has some of the best flying weather, but just nowhere near enough of it. You may have a lesson booked for the weekend or after work one night only to find it’s cancelled and rescheduled. Sometimes even the rescheduled lesson is rescheduled! Even though this may happen and possibly frequently depending upon the time of year, stay positive; as pilots we’ve all been there. Learning to deal with the weather is something you’ll become an expert in!

It may be the studying for the seven written exams that really make you struggle though. This Ground School preparation is the ‘bread and butter’ of your future flying so don’t think of it in terms of learning enough to pass the exams. The more you know off heart, the easier your flying will be. I often tell student pilots that its like learning maths at school. Don’t try to learn ‘Parrot Fashion’ get to understand what it is and why it is and you will be able to tackle any question in an exam. The same is to be said of all the flying topics, the more time you take to understand the subjects the better you will cope. Most flying schools will offer ground instruction for these exams, usually on weekday evenings and there’ll always be an instructor on hand to support you.

First Solo To Skills Test

Your first solo is a huge milestone in the learning to fly process. On average most people take about 8 to 10 hours of training before they go up alone. This will be very much dependant upon the type of licence you are training for and whether your instructor believes you are ready. The first solo will just be for a circuit around the airfield. It doesn’t sound much but you’ll remember this moment for the rest of your life – just ask any pilot. Although this is a huge achievement, the hard work really starts from therein. Every flight from now on will rely more on your new¬found skills.

Shortly after your first solo you’ll fly away from your flying school and make landings at other airfields. During your private pilot training you will be taught how to deal with emergencies and make precautionary landings. It’s a daunting prospect at first but fear not as its not as hard you first think. This is because the PPL syllabus is designed so you learn something new or gain another skill on every flight. Much of your progress through the private pilot training will depend on how well you consolidate what you have learnt in previous lessons. This can take a lot of ‘brain training’ and committing procedures to your memory, so time spent on the ground rehearsing what you’re going to do in the air will make what you learn stick, much easier.

At the end of your private pilot training you will come to the final hurdle – the PPL Skills Test or GFT (General Flying Test). You’ll fly with a CAA examiner (if in the UK) who will want to see your handling of the aircraft plus a navigational exercise. Often times the CAA examiner is likely to be the Chief Flying Officer (CFO) at your flying school.


As you study hard and practice to develop those handling skills you should also pay as much if not more attention to your attitude to flying and your thought processes.

This ‘airmanship’ is difficult to teach but you can learn by observing your instructor and seeing how they behave and perform. You know bad drivers when you see one, they cut you up, they undertake on a motorway, they basically have no care or respect for anyone else. You cannot afford to have this kind of mental attitude in flying. If you do, you will end up injured, injuring someone else or even worse being killed. Airmanship covers a whole range of desirable behaviours and is a measure of a pilot’s awareness of their aircraft, the surrounding environment (including other aircraft in the same airspace) and finally, an appreciation of your own capabilities. It’s equally about how you make decisions, learn from mistakes and think about others.

Too often airmanship is left by the wayside in favour of teaching pure aircraft handling but you should make it equally important. I strongly suggest that you read up on this subject as part of your private pilot training as much as you can – you should be as proud of your ability to fly as you are of your airmanship.

You can lean more about private pilot training and flying in the UK at the CAA’s website.


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