How to get a Pilot’s License

The Step-by-Step Guide

Ready. Set. Fly!

By the staff at MySkyForce

You look up into the blue sky and you want to fly. Maybe you are in the process of making a career choice. You have heard there is a pilot shortage and many high paying jobs are available now; and the demand for pilots will only become greater in coming years. Or maybe you are just one of those people who needs to know what it feels like to experience the freedom and thrill of flying.

Whatever your reason for wanting to fly, you can do it. The process can seem complicated, but we are going to break it down into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide that will have you heading down the runway toward an experience only a few get to enjoy.

Step l

See if an airport near you has a flight school that offers an inexpensive introductory flight. While this is not an essential step, if you have not flown in a small plane or had a chance to take the controls while with an instructor, this will give you the chance to be certain there is a pilot inside you waiting to get his/her wings. If you can’t wait to fly again proceed to step 2.

Step 2 

Select and start studying a Private Pilot or Sport Pilot training course. There will be a lot to learn. Learning it before you get in the cockpit will save you money. Time in the cockpit can be expensive, so learn the fundamentals before you fly. Don’t use your valuable time in the plane learning the things you could have learned on the ground. It’s a great way to accelerate your training. Select a comprehensive course that gives you the foundation you need to become a confident pilot – one that will give you all the information you will need to prepare for both your FAA tests. (Be aware that testing requirements are different for Private and Sport Pilot certifications. Some courses cover both, so you can study just the parts relevant to your desired certification.) You can start this part of your training even if you are not yet 16 years of age, the minimum age to apply for a Student Pilot Certificate. If this turns out to be something that doesn’t interest you, it’s better to find out before you spend money on airplane rental or flight instructors.

Step 3 

Select a flight school or a CFI (certified flight instructor). Compare instructors available at airports or schools near you. Meet with them to find an instructor you are comfortable with. Compare costs for renting a plane. Check to see if their pricing includes fuel, taxes and any special fees included with airplane rental (such as landing fees or overnight fees). Check CFI fees and determine if the rate includes flight briefings/debriefings. (Those are important!)  Then select your instructor.

Step 4

A medical exam is required to apply for a Student Pilot Certificate. Sport Pilots do not need a medical exam. A driver’s license is all that is required to demonstrate the Sport Pilot health standards have been met.  

If the certification you are seeking requires a medical, it is not complicated. The exam required is just a physical to check your basic health. You can choose to go to an FAA approved doctor. Since there are over 600 Aviation Medical Examiners (AME) in the country, there is probably one near you. (Check the FAA, AME Locator on the FAA website.)

Due to recent changes in the FAA regulations for pilot medicals, you now also have the option of visiting your own doctor who can complete an FAA approved form. If you choose this option, you will also need to complete an online medical course offered free through the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

Step 5 

Apply for your Student Pilot Certificate.  (While most people call it a Student Pilot License, the FAA calls the document a Certificate.  Pilots aren’t licensed. They are certificated.) You will need this certification before you can fly solo, and since it can take up to three weeks for the TSA to screen the application, it is a good idea to get this application in before you begin your training.  

If you have passed a medical exam, are 16 years of age and can speak, write and understand the English language; you can qualify.

The Certified Flight Instructor you have chosen to work with can accept your application. If you don’t have a CFI yet, your application can be accepted by a Designated Pilot Examiner, an Airman Certification Representative associated with a Part 141 pilot school, or an Aviation Safety Technician or an Aviation Safety Inspector at a local FAA Flight Standards District Office.

Step 6 

Work with your CFI to create a training schedule based on your budget and the time you have available to reach your goals.


You will need to take some tests to get certified as a pilot.

The FAA will require you to pass two tests before they will certify you: the FAA Knowledge Test and the FAA Practical Test.

The FAA Knowledge Test

The Knowledge Test is often referred to as the “written test.” It is a 60-question multiple choice exam for private pilots (40 questions for sport pilots). Many pilots prefer to study for their Knowledge Test before they begin their flight training to get the studying out of the way. That is good strategy because learning the material before starting flight lessons, will help you get the most out of your time with an instructor. Your instructor can determine if you are ready to get the written test done at the start of your training.

Although the test is called the written test (a name that stuck around from the days of paper and pencil testing) it is actually taken on the computer.

The FAA Practical Test

This is the big test. Although sometimes referred to as the “flight test” or “check ride,” it starts with a question and answer session on the ground. When the examiner is satisfied you have the required knowledge, you will move to the flight portion of the Practical so you can demonstrate your proficiency at the controls of the airplane. If all goes well your Practical Test will conclude with the FAA examiner issuing you a private or sport pilot certificate.

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