How To Become A Pilot

How to become a pilot – 9 steps to getting your wings

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If you’ve ever wondered how to become a pilot then these 9 steps sum up the process of obtaining a private pilot certificate.

This is a guide to become a private pilot. The steps to becoming a professional pilot, either as a commercial pilot or as an airline pilot, are a little more complex, but it all begins with flight training for the private pilot license or certificate.

Step 1:  Go for an introductory flight

Get up in the air with a flight instructor and find out if you enjoy being in a light aircraft.

Do this and do it soon.   Go and enjoy that first flight experience. You’ll be shown some of the basic flight maneuvers and you’ll get a chance to try some of them yourself.

Don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t actually like being airborne as you may find that you grow to like it in time. It’s not unusual to feel slightly overwhelmed by the physical sensations and what appears to be a complex cockpit full of unfamiliar dials, screens, and instruments.

But do at least contact your local flight school or flying club and book a 30 minute or more flight.

You need to have the experience of taking off, flying around the local airspace, feeling the controls, and landing the aircraft.

Don’t worry, the flight instructor will land it, not you, but you need to experience that bump as you land on grass or tarmac. One day you’ll be doing that too. First, under the watchful eye of your instructor and then much later on, you’ll fly solo for the first time.

Top Tip for Aspiring Pilots: Always ensure the number of landings equals the number of takeoffs.

Alternatively, or maybe as well, try this FREE private pilot ground school introduction video course from the Pilot Institute:

Free Private Pilot Ground School Introduction Video

Step 2:  Go and get a medical

You need to know if you’re fit to fly, or more to the point, fit enough to train for a private pilot certificate.

Different licences enable different privileges so even if you’re not fit enough to fulfill your dreams of becoming a commercial pilot you may still be able to fly for recreational purposes. A recreational pilot certificate still allows you to do a lot of flying, enough to keep you busy and entertained for years.

Recreational pilots licences or certificates also come in several types depending on which country you’re in so check with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) or the civil aviation authority in your country for details.

To embark on this training requires a certain standard of good health so get the medical check up done first by a registered aeromedical examiner and you’ll then know where you stand.

Step 3:  Do some research about flight schools

When you’re ready to to begin flight training, do some research on the flight training programs available to you within an acceptable traveling distance.

Flight schools and flying clubs come in all sizes. They might consist of a single aircraft and a portacabin based in the corner of a grass airfield in the countryside. Or they might be a fleet of smart new aircraft with plush offices on the edge of a regional airport.  

You’ll need to shop around for what suits you best.  Perhaps you would prefer to learn on a grass airstrip, away from the distractions of a busy airfield, but one day you’ll have to land at that busy airfield so that challenge will only be deferred, not avoided altogether.

On the other hand, perhaps you would prefer the modern flight school operating from an equally modern and large airfield. Some pilots begin join a pilot school like this and continue with the same school until they become an airline pilot, your but you’ll probably pay a premium for the flight training and the facilities.

Research pilot schools and find out what suits you before parting with any money.

Step 4:  Buy the training material that will make the theory easy and fun to absorb

There’s a lot of new information to absorb when you’re learning to fly. The ground school subjects provide the knowledge needed to understand many aspects of flight planning and flying under visual flight rules (VFR).

How To Become A Pilot - Rod Machado'S Private Pilot Eground School

This is where Rod Machado’s material puts you at a distinct advantage.  There’s plenty of it, it’s kept bang up to date, and he writes, narrates, and illustrates in an engaging style that makes it easy to absorb.

Before online learning or even CDs, some of us had to learn using textbooks that were dry and humorless.  You on the other hand can learn using a variety of aids, on your laptop, phone, tablet, or in a good old-fashioned book.  

I strongly recommend his 40-hour Private Pilot eLearning Ground School Course as it comes with a host of bonuses, including the PPL handbook.

Rod Machado’s Private Pilot eLearning ground School Course

Step 5:  Decide which aircraft you want to learn to fly in

This is the kind of decision you may have already made when doing your research in step 3.

One of the wonderful things about aviation is the variety of aircraft available to you. It’s easy to become a little envious of what other people are flying but don’t get too hung up on it.  Choose what you like and stick to it.  

Maybe you prefer a taildragger to a tricycle undercarriage.   Maybe you prefer high wing to low wing.  Maybe you prefer modern to vintage. It doesn’t matter, there’s no right answer to this except to choose what you prefer.

Once you’ve got a pilot’s license you can do a little extra training and get checked out on a different aircraft. The more complex the aircraft, the more flight training you’ll need.

Step 6: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

You’ve chosen the flying school and the aircraft but don’t hand over all your cash in return for the promise of a discount.

Hold onto your money while you take the first few lessons.  You may find that you don’t get on with the instructor, or the school isn’t as well run as you imagined, or there may be all sorts of reasons why you would like to change your choice of flight school.

Flight schools are like any other business. Some are managed well and stay in profit. Others are run not so well, but they won’t tell you that when you hand them your money.

Don’t be shy to say goodbye.

Step 7:  Invest in your pilot supplies

Having got this far you’re now in possession of a student pilot certificate, so if you haven’t done so already buy or complete your collection of pilot supplies. 

Your instructor will be able to explain what you need. Some pilot supply shops sell collections of suitable kit, all in a flight bag designed to carry it all.

Carrying that bag around also makes you feel a bit more like a pilot.  

Step 8:  Be proactive with your instructor

Student pilots are often in awe of their flight instructors, and sometimes (though not always) for good reasons. 

Your instructor might be someone who has retired after a career as a commercial airline pilot and has amassed thousands of hours in his or her logbook on a wide variety of aircraft types.

Or they may be comparatively low-hours pilots who have recently gained a certified flight instructor certificate and are using their time teaching flight training as a means to log the hours required to one day gain a commercial pilot certificate.

Whatever or whoever they are, you’re the one paying for it so don’t be afraid to ask for things to be repeated until you’re comfortable with the lesson.  

If you’re not sure about anything, ask.  And ask again if it still doesn’t seem clear.

Step 9:  Be the best student

I’ve covered what the flight school and the instructors should provide for you but equally, you’ll need to add your commitment and enthusiasm for this project to succeed.

In the days preceding your next lesson, study Rod Machado’s training material and you’ll find the practical exercises make so much more sense.

Demonstrate to your flight instructor that you’re determined to achieve your goal by showing diligence in your studies.

Confidence in the cockpit comes from practice but also plenty of knowledge about the aircraft, airspace, weather, and the principles of flight.  

How To Fly An Airplane Handbook

Rod Machado’s How To Fly An Airplane Handbook


What qualifications do you need to be a pilot?

You don’t need any formal qualifications to begin flight training, but you should have an aptitude for basic maths and you should be fluent in English.

You don’t need a batchelor’s degree or any kind of college degree to train for a private pilot license, but it might help if you plan to become a commercial pilot or an airline transport pilot.

The more advanced the flying, the more you’ll need to understand the maths behind it. So if you want to fly using instrument flight rules (IFR) then you’ll need to study harder but you don’t need formal qualifications before you start studying.

Is it hard to become a pilot?

It’s impossible to give a definitive answer to this question as it can depend so much on the student pilot and the quality of the flight instruction. At any point during ground school and gaining the practical skills involved in learning to fly, it can seem like you’re stuck and not making any progress, but persistence pays off in the end.

Can anyone become a pilot?

Almost anyone can learn to fly. Age is not a barrier as long as the candidate can obtain a medical certificate. Physical ability is not a barrier and many people with all kinds of disabilities fly light aircraft.

How long does it take to train to be a pilot?

It depends on how many flight hours and flight training you can do each week. It’s possible to complete the syllabus and sit all the exams within a matter of weeks but most people spend on average several months on it. For others, it can take years to see the successful completion of the pilot training program.

How much does it cost to be a pilot?

The answer to this question and others on the flight training cost can be found in this post. I go into detail and point out some of the hidden costs.

Can I continue to become professional pilot?

What does a commercial pilot, an airline pilot, and a flight instructor all have commmon? The answer is that they were all at one time a rookie with an FAA student pilot certficate who had to attend flight school, study the ground school, pass the exams, and then build up flight hours.

So yes, an airline transport pilot license (ATPL) or any kind of job as a professional pilot starts on the nursery slopes of a flight school.

How can I study for the private pilots exams?

  1. Buy the good quality study materials
  2. Set aside time for regular, undisturbed study
  3. Attend ground school lessons provided by your flight school
  4. Make use of online ground school
  5. Ask questions in online groups and forums
  6. Take practice exams and note the ones you get wrong
  7. Ask your flight instructor to explain anything you don’t understand

What can I do with my certificate?

Gaining a certificate will benefit you in many ways. You will be able to hire light aircraft and fly in visual flight rules (VFR) almost anywhere. Some people have flown around the world within months of passing the knowledge test in each subject and the practical exam.

Without any prior flying experience, James Ketchell learned to fly a gyrocopter and soon after flew around the world in one.

Others have used it as a starting point for other pilot licenses. If you have ambitions to become a career pilot you would progress to a multi engine rating, an instrument rating, and build up the flight time required to become a commercial pilot.

Once suitably qualified they can search for pilot jobs with regional and major airlines. A few lucky ones may find a position with a major airline that sponsor some or all of their training toward a commercial pilot license.

Some embark on pilot training programs because they love flying and already work in the aviation industry, as flight engineers or in air traffic control for example.

And learning to fly, which you fly a fixed wing aircraft, a helicopter, or even a gyrocopter, can be of benefit in many areas, not just aviation. To gain flight experience is to change one’s perspective and broaden the mind.


This post is based on a script I wrote for YouTube video designed to inform anyone interested in pilot training about Rod Machado’s products. As such it contains affiliate links but having bought some of his products myself I can justify the endorsement.

If you do buy any of Rod Machado’s products through my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission but it makes no difference to the price you pay.

Who is Rod Machado?

Rod Machado is a certified flight instructor and author who has been teaching people how to fly for over 40 years. He is also a private pilot and has written numerous books on aviation.

In addition to his work as an instructor, Machado is also a successful author and speaker. Machado’s passion for flying is evident in everything he does, and he continues to inspire new generations of pilots.

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