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Private Pilot License

Launch a new career or pursue a long-held dream when you obtain your private pilot license at Thrust Flight.

What is a Private Pilot Certificate?

The private pilot certificate, also called a private pilot license, is the FAA license that allows you to fly airplanes. You can’t get a job flying with a private pilots license, but you can rent or buy a plane and go just about anywhere you like.

It’s one of the most basic licenses, so for pilots looking to become professional aviators, the private pilot is just the first stepping stone. Plenty of pilots very happily operate as private pilots, and never want or need a commercial license.

airworthiness directive during preflight
Piper Archer Tail

Do You Want to Become a Professional Pilot?

If your ultimate goal is to become a professional pilot the private pilot certificate is the first step in your journey.

However, you’ll need several other certificates and ratings before getting the job as a commercial pilot.

Our Zero Time to Airline program is designed to launch your professional pilot career in as little as 9 months. Click the button below to learn more about this fast-paced program.

Steps to Become a Private Pilot

Step 1: Discovery Flight & Select a School

The first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is take a discovery flight so you can see what it’s like to fly in a small plan. If the weather is good the instructor will usually let you take the controls once you are in the air.

You also need to select a school to do your training. Often, a discover flight is a good opportunity to see the schools aircraft and get a feel if it is the right school for you. When choosing your flight school be sure to ask lots of questions and if possible talk to current students.

Step 2: Get your Medical

Once you’ve picked a school it’s a good idea to get your medical. You can get a 3rd class if you plan on flying as a hobby but if you want to fly as a career you should get a 1st class medical. The flight school can recommend an AME for your aviation medical.

Step 3: Study and Take Your Written Exam

Take an online private pilot ground school to prepare for your written exam. Once you are scoring well on your practice tests you can go to a testing center and take your private pilot written exam. Most people start their flight training while also studying for the written exam.

Step 4: Flight Training and First Solo

You’ll likely start flying before actually taking your written exam. Your instructor will guide you through everything you need to know and prepare you for your first solo. Once you’re ready, you’ll fly your first solo, a significant milestone in every pilot’s journey.

Step 5: Finish Training and Take Checkride

After your first solo you’ll need tom complete the rest of the required training with your instructor including more solo flights. And you’ll prepare for and take your checkride with a Designated Pilot Examiner. After you pass your checkride you are officially a private pilot!

Private pilot holder flying a piper archer

How Long Does it Take to Get Your Private Pilot License?

If you train 2-3 times every week it will take 4-6 months to complete your private pilot license.

With an accelerated private pilot program you can complete your training in as little as 3 weeks. But that will require full-time training and some diligent work and study on your part.

We typically recommend people train at least 2-3 times every week in our Piper Archer aircraft.

At this speed, it will typically take 4-6 months to complete your ppl license.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Your Private Pilot License?

The final cost of your private pilot will vary based on the number of flight hours you need and the number of ground hours you need.

This calculator can give you an estimate of how much it will cost to complete your private pilot. But keep in mind that this is just an estimate and the final amount will vary.

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Training Speed
Accelerated training is full time training, flying twice a day over the course of 2-3 weeks. Paced training is 2-3 flights per week.
The FAA minimum requirement is 35 hours of flight time under Part 141 training. However, the national average is about 60 hours of flight time to earn a Private Pilot Certificate.


Is a Pilots License Worth It?

All pilot licenses are expensive, so you may be wondering what use the private certificate would have for you.

If you’re comparing it with the less expensive and less time-consuming sport pilot license, the private license offers you more privileges. It allows you to fly bigger, faster planes on longer trips away from home. Plus, it allows you to fly at night, or internationally.

If you’re looking to make a career as a pilot, you’ll need to make the ppl license your first step. You’ll then have to earn your instrument rating and then your commercial pilot certificate.

If you just want to go flying to have some fun, then it’s a great way to do that too.

The pilot certificate itself never expires, but you must keep it current.

What Does Private Pilot Training Look Like?

Private pilot training is done one-on-one with a flight instructor. You’ll meet with your instructor for both ground training and in flight training.

You typically meet with your instructor for a few minutes to review your homework and see if you’re ready for the flight. During the flight, you’ll practice maneuvers or scenarios that help you understand how to better fly the plane.

Sometimes, you work on a particular skill like short field landings, steep turns, or touch and goes. Other times, you work on an entire set of skills, like navigating to a new airport.

Once the flight is over, you park the plane and debrief with your instructor. You review your performance and discuss the things that went well—and the things that went not-so-well. From this, you put together a plan for next time.

Most flight lessons are done in two to three-hour flight blocks, but you can customize your training any way you like. This one-on-one instructor time is often combined with a private pilot ground school course in a classroom, where you learn the book knowledge you need to pass the written exam.

Private Pilot License Program Overview

The Private Pilot Program Includes:

  • 35 hrs. – Total Flight Time
  • 30 hrs. – Dual Flight Training
  • 5 hrs. – Solo Flight
  • 39 hrs. – Knowledge (Ground) Training
  • 3 hrs. – Mock Oral Practical Test Prep
  • Jeppesen Pilot Training System
  • Pilot Syllabus

Private Pilot Privileges & Limitations:

  • Must hold BasicMed or a valid FAA Medical Certificate
  • May operate as pilot in command of any qualified aircraft
  • May fly solo or carry multiple passengers and share expenses (fuel, oil, airport expenses, and aircraft rental)
  • Fly in Class B, C, D, E, and G airspace. Class A airspace requires appropriate training (view guide on airspace classes).
  • Must fly in day or night visual conditions unless you also hold an instrument rating
  • May fly above 10,000 ft. and at night
  • May carry more than one passenger
  • May fly faster than 120 knots
  • May operate aircraft with retractable landing gear (with a complex endorsement)
  • May not carry a passenger or property for hire or another form of compensation
  • May fly outside the United States in US-registered aircraft
How to become a pilot

Private Pilot License Requirements

The requirements for a private pilot license are laid out in the Federal Aviation Regulations.

  • You must be 17 years old or older
  • You must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
  • You must hold a student pilot certificate available from the FAA or an examiner, or a sport pilot certificate.

There is bookwork to learn and a written exam to pass. There are also a minimum amount of flight hours you must log with your flight instructor.

Specifically, you need to log a minimum of 40 hours of flight training, possibly a few less if you’re training at a Part 141 flight school.

These 40 hours contain at least 20 hours of flight instruction and 10 hours of solo training. There are specific requirements for solo cross countries and nighttime flights, as well.

Once you’ve met all of these requirements for a pilots license, you take a practical exam that consists of both an oral question and answer session and a flight check.

If you pass both, you’ll earn a private pilot license.

Common Questions About a Private Pilot License

Ready to start your career as an Airline Pilot? Give us a call or fill out our contact form and we’ll help you decide if our Zero Time to Airline program is right for you.

What Tests Do you Have to Pass to Get your Pilot License?

In total, you must pass three FAA exams to get your private pilot license, though two of those are combined into one event.

Written Exam

The first exam you must pass is commonly called the written exam, but the FAA regulations refer to it as the “aeronautical knowledge exam.” This is where all your ground school knowledge and classes pay off. You must get 70 percent or more of the questions correct.

The test is a multiple-choice exam with 60 questions, and you are given 150 minutes to take the test.

The written exam is given at FAA-designated proctored testing centers. You can find them listed on the FAA’s website. You’ll also find sample exams and information about the tests there. Taking the time to effectively prepare for your written exams is key to passing on the first attempt.

To take the knowledge exam, you must have the endorsement of the flight or ground instructor who prepared you for the exam. After the exam is over, you need to sit down with your instructor to review the knowledge areas you missed.

You’ll likely be asked about them later on.

The written exam results are good for 24 months. So you must take your check ride to get your license within two years, or else you’ll have to repeat the written exam.

Flight Training Resources

Practical Exam or Checkride

Once you’ve completed your training and your flight instructor has found that you’re ready for the check ride, they will endorse your logbook and call an examiner. The “checkride” is known in FAA circles as the practical pilot exam, and it consists of two parts.

First, you must pass an oral examination, then you move on to the airplane and show them how well you can fly.

FAA employees give some FAA practical exams, but this is rare. More often than not, check rides are given by DPEs, or Designated Pilot Examiners. These are individuals from the aviation community with decades of flying experience who have earned the privilege to give check rides.

The items you’re tested on are outlined thoroughly in the Airman Certification Standards (ACS).

This document is used by your flight instructor to get you ready and your examiner on check ride day. It lays out the knowledge you need to have, the maneuvers you need to perform, and the completion standards.

There are no surprises on check ride day since everyone is using the same book.

What Are the Restrictions on a Private Pilot?

The private pilot certificate has many privileges for those who have earned one. There are no limits on where or when they can fly.

In essence, they can hop in a plane and depart on a trip across the country with no further training. They can operate at any public airport, regardless of size, and in almost every type of airspace.

But there are some significant limitations and restrictions to understand.

The first restrictions involve the word “private.” Private pilots fly for themselves; they are not professional pilots, and they cannot be paid for their flying or to take people flying.

Secondly, private pilots are limited to flying in VFR (visual flight rules) conditions, which means they can only fly in good weather. They cannot go inside of clouds, and if the visibility is low, they must stay on the ground.

VFR flying requires being able to see outside, to see visual references and landmarks. If you want to fly in low visibility, you need to get an instrument rating.

How to Get a Private Pilot License

Now that you’ve learned all the details about the ppl, you’re probably asking yourself how to get a pilot license. There are two aspects to ppl training, ground school and flight training.

Ground School

There are two distinct parts to pilot training. Most students and many flight instructors conduct these two items separately, but they are more connected than you might think.

The first part of training is commonly called ground school. This is where you get the book knowledge.

Many students have little experience in aviation before they set out to get their license. That means everything is new.

The exact knowledge areas that you learn about in ground school are listed in FAR Part 61. These are the areas that the FAA will test you on during the written exam.

  1. The Federal Aviation Regulations that relate to private pilots
  2. Accident reporting requirements
  3. FAA publications like the Aeronautical Information Manual and advisory circulars
  4. Charts, and navigation using pilotage, dead reckoning, and navigation systems
  5. Radio communications
  6. Weather theory and reports and forecasts
  7. Safe operating procedures
  8. Takeoff and climb performance
  9. Weight and balance computations
  10. Aerodynamics, engines, and systems
  11. Stalls, spins, and recovery techniques
  12. Aeronautical decision making
  13. Preflight actions to take

Some students complete ground school and the written exam before they even begin flying, while others fly while also taking ground school.

If you’re interested in flying but want to learn more, just taking the ground school class is a great way to get an introduction and learn a lot about aviation.

We recommend signing up for one of these online ground schools.

It’s important to note that all of the knowledge areas are important to your flying.

The bookwork you learn for your pilot license is valuable, and you’ll use the information again. You’ll build on this knowledge base as you fly, and you will need to know things from ground school to pass your check ride.

PPL holder flying Piper Archer

Private Pilot Flight Training

The flight training portion of your pilot license course is completely individualized. You train one-on-one with your flight instructor.

At some schools, you might fly with any flight instructor, but in most places, you work with only one primary person.

FAR Part 61 lays out the flight proficiency requirements you need to meet for getting your private certificate in a single-engine airplane.

  1. Preflight preparation and procedures
  2. Airport operations
  3. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds
  4. Performance and Ground reference maneuvers
  5. Navigation
  6. Slow flight and stalls
  7. Basic instrument maneuvers
  8. Emergency operations
  9. Night operations
  10. Postflight procedures

As was the case with the ground school requirements, this list only provides a very basic glimpse at everything you must learn. These are the chapter titles.

Each one of these headings represents numerous maneuvers or tasks you need to know how to perform.

Flight training is laid out in a detailed curriculum that you follow with your flight instructor’s guidance. You begin by learning the basics of operating an airplane.

As you get better, you build on your knowledge until you can conduct an entire flight with little or no help from your instructor. Once you’ve convinced your instructor that you can do it on your own, they let you take the plane up alone for some solo flying.

After you’ve soloed, you begin learning more about navigation and flying cross countries.

For the purposes of flight training, a “cross-country flight” is one to an airport more than 50 miles away. You conduct several of these longer flights with your instructor, and when they feel you’ve gotten the hang of it, they let you do a few alone.

As you follow your training curriculum, you are meeting other regulatory requirements.

The FARs lay out the specific number of flight training, solo, cross-country, solo cross-country, and night flying hours you must complete to be eligible for the license.

The last phase of your training is getting ready for the check ride. At this point, you’ve learned about all of the flight proficiency areas, and you have experience in them all.

On check ride day, nothing is new. You will have practiced everything with your flight instructor several times, so the check ride is a piece of cake.