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Getting Your Pilots License

So, you're thinking you want to learn to fly and get your pilot's license.
The FAA rules for getting a pilot's license (certificate) are different depending on the type of aircraft you want to fly. You can choose among airplanes, gyroplanes, helicopters, gliders, balloons, or airships. Pilot certification is required for an individual to fly an aircraft. If you are interested in flying ultra-light vehicles, you don't need a pilot's license.
The type of flying you want to do will determine the type of pilot's certificate you will need to qualify and train for. Here is an overview of the pilot certificates or licenses that are issued by the FAA.

  • Student pilot for which no minimum aeronautical knowledge or experience is required other than medical requirements, but there are minimum aeronautical knowledge and experience requirements for student pilots to solo. A student pilot certificate is issued by an aviation medical examiner (AME) at the time of the student's first medical examination and is valid for 24 months (older than 40) or 60 months (younger than 40) from the time of issue. Once a student has accumulated sufficient training and experience time, a Certified Flight Instructor can endorse the student's certificate to authorize limited solo flight in a specific make and model aircraft and additional endorsements must be obtained for each specific airport that a student will operate at while solo.

  • The sport pilot offers limited privileges mainly for recreational use and does not require a medical certificate but a driver's license may help as proof of medical competence. Before a trainee can start the solo phase of flight training, a Student Sport Pilot Certificate must be obtained. The sport pilot certificate was created to lower the barriers of entry into aviation and make flying more affordable and accessible, but is restricted to aircraft that are either certified specifically as light-sport aircraft (LSA) or were certified prior to the LSA regulations. There are also numerous other flight restrictions.

  • A recreational pilot has many of the same restrictions of the sport pilot certificate and was originally created for flying small single-engine planes.

  • The private pilot allows command of any aircraft of appropriate rating, for any non-commercial purpose and gives almost unlimited authority to fly under visual flight rules. A private pilot may not be compensated in any way for services as a pilot, but may carry passengers that can share the costs involved in a flight.

  • The commercial pilot focuses on a better understanding of aircraft systems and will often reduce the pilot's insurance premiums, as it is evidence of training to a higher safety standard. The commercial pilot may be compensated for flying, but cannot carry passengers because it is governed by other regulations.

  • An airline transport pilot (called an "ATP") tested to the highest level of piloting ability, including instrument operations, and is prerequisite for acting as a pilot-in-command (Captain) in scheduled airline operations. There are quite a few other requirements for this certification.
There are also Non-pilot certifications, such as Flight Navigators, instructors, engineers, maintenance workers and Air Traffic Controllers that are issued by the FAA.
Medical Certification
As one might expect, all pilots' certifications, except for sport pilot, have medical certification requirements that have to be maintained as part of a pilot's ongoing certification. The Aviation Medical Examiner performs these examinations based on the pilot's class of certification. These are divided into three classifications.
  • Third class is required to operate an aircraft under the Private or Recreational pilot certificates or while exercising solo privileges as a student pilot.
  • Second Class is usually for the Commercial pilot certificate.
  • First Class is for those intending to be pilot-in-command for a carrier or Airline Transport Pilot.
Each classification has varying degrees of requirements. Waivers may be issued under a special issuance for a disqualifying medical condition and these are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Restrictions may also be placed on a pilot's certificate such as night flying restrictions for color blindness.
Training
Each type of pilot's certification or licensing requires some degree of training or learning and there are requirements to log a minimum number of flight time hours. Some of the in-flight training may be done in simulators and there are courses available online about Getting Your Pilots License that are complete with manuals and study guides.

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