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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why would I want to learn to fly?
  2. Why should I use Robert French as my instructor?
  3. What is required to get a private pilot's license?
  4. How much time and money is it going to take?
  5. What kinds of airplanes will I be flying?
  6. How do I get started?

Why would I want to learn to fly?

There are as many reasons to learn to fly as there are potential pilots. Some of the more common ones are:

Why should I use Robert French as my instructor?

A flight instructor and student work together in close quarters and occasionally stressful situations. It is very important that the student and instructor be properly matched. Because of that, I can't say that I am the right instructor for you. Instead I will say that I'm happy to talk with you about your desires, personality, and learning style, and see if we might be a match. If for some reason we are not a match, or if we discover after a few flights that we're not a match, I will happily help you find a more appropriate instructor. Here is some more information about me to get the process started.

What is required to get a private pilot's license?

Generally speaking, you can earn your pilot's license if you speak and understand English and are in reasonably good health (a medical exam is required). You must also be at least 17 years old to receive your license, although you can start training earlier.

Earning a private pilot's license consists of both a knowledge portion and a flight portion. The knowledge portion includes the study of topics such as aerodynamics, weather, and FAA regulations. You must pass (70% or better) a written exam at some point during your training. Most people study for this test on their own using readily available books, videos, or computer-based training, although instructor-led training is available in either group or one-on-one settings.

The flight portion is generally divided into three phases: pre-solo, cross-country, and final preparation. During the pre-solo phase, you will learn basic aircraft control, aircraft systems, and handling in-flight emergencies. You will also learn how to land, arguably the most challenging part of learning to fly. Once you are able to safely fly the aircraft on your own, you will be able to "solo" (fly the airplane by yourself) for the purpose of practicing on your own without an instructor. You will then start on the cross-country phase where you will learn navigation skills, including radio navigation, and fly several flights out of the local area, both with and without an instructor. Finally you will polish your skills in preparation for an FAA checkride. Once the checkride is passed, you are a licensed pilot!

How much time and money is it going to take?

Learning to fly does take time and money, usually more than people plan for. The FAA-imposed minimum flight requirement is 40 hours, but it is not realistic to expect to complete your training in that amount of time. The current national average is over 75 hours, and the average for the Bay Area is even higher. The Bay Area requires more time because it is busy, more complicated, and practice areas are farther away. However, once you learn to fly here, you will be able to fly just about anywhere in the country with confidence! In addition to the airplane rental, you will need to pay an instructor for both flight and ground instruction, pay for various training materials, and pay for your medical exam and FAA checkride. The cost is also affected by how quickly you learn, and what type of airplane you choose to fly in (the smallest, cheapest airplanes may be too small for some people to fly comfortably). Here is a first pass estimate assuming 85 hours of airplane rental in a small two-seat airplane and 110 hours of instructor time:

Cessna 152 rental 85 hours * $92/hour $7,820
Instructor 110 hours * $70/hour $7,700
Flying club membership 9 months * $50/month $450
Training aids and exams   $600
FAA checkride   $450
Total   $17,020

While $17,000 may seem like a lot of money, it's important to realize that you pay as you go. You can fly as little or as frequently as your time and budget permit. Most people take 4-12 months to finish their training, depending on how often they fly. But for best learning efficiency, it is generally recommended that you fly at least twice per week.

You may find other sites that claim that you can get your pilot's license for $7,000 or less. Before deciding to go with one of these organizations, I heartily recommend that you have a serious, in-depth discussion about the assumptions that they are making and decide for yourself if those assumptions are reasonable. Many organizations base their cost quotes on the FAA minimum of 40 hours, despite the fact that basically noone is capable of getting their license in that amount of time, at least in this busy area. My numbers above are realistic based on my experience of teaching in the Bay Area. I would rather be honest with you upfront than have you budget for the wrong amount and be disappointed part way through your training.

What kinds of airplanes will I be flying?

People generally learn to fly in one of three types of airplanes. The Cessna 152 is a small 2-seat trainer. It is the smallest and cheapest airplane available in most cases, with a price of around $92/hr. However, if you are more than 5' 8", or weigh more than 170 pounds, you may not fit in the airplane comfortably. The Cessna 172 is a 4-seat airplane, and is used by people who are not comfortable in a Cessna 152. It is also a little faster, and generally has better equipment. A Cessna 172 will cost around $110/hr. Finally, a Piper Warrior is also a 4-seat airplane. It generally costs around $105/hr. Whether to fly in a Cessna or Piper aircraft is a matter of personal choice. I recommend you spend some time sitting in each one to see which one you are most comfortable in. Your choice will not fundamentally affect your flight training.

How do I get started?

The best way to get started is to try a demo flight. A demo flight is an inexpensive introduction to flying where you get to meet with the instructor, learn about the airplane on the ground, and try your hand at flying to see how well you like it. You will have taken your first step towards becoming a licensed pilot! The demo flight counts as your first real lesson, and the time is logged in your new FAA logbook.