Read Part 1 of How to Become a Pilot, Step by Step here.

So you have figured out what you want to fly. Now let’s see how to accomplish this. I will mainly reference the private pilot path going forward since that is the most common choice but many of these steps will still apply.

To recap the steps required to become a pilot, I have relisted them below. This article will cover steps 2 to 4.

  • Step 1: Decide What and How you Want to Fly
  • Step 2: Take an Introductory Training Flight Lesson
  • Step 3: Apply for a FAA Medical Certificate
  • Step 4: Apply for a FAA Student Pilot Certificate
  • Step 5: Research Pilot Schools & Find an Instructor
  • Step 6: Start Flight Training Lessons
  • Step 7: Pass the Private Pilot Knowledge Test
  • Step 8: Pass the Private Pilot Practical Exam (Checkride)
  • Step 9: Get Your License


Step 2: Take an Introductory Training Flight Lesson

Taking an introductory flight lesson will give you first-hand knowledge that you won’t get by just reading.  You will get a feel for the type and quality of training you will receive through hands-on preflight activities such as checking the weather and the airworthiness of the aircraft. You will also get behind the controls and taxi the aircraft to the run-up area, run through final checklists and takeoff into the wild blue yonder. 

You WILL fly the airplane. The instructor will be there with you and talk you through maneuvers and manipulation of the controls (yoke/stick, buttons, switches, levers, etc.). This will also be the time where the instructor teaches you about the instruments and how to use them to get where you’re going safely.  It may sound like a lot, since it is the first time you are in the pilot’s seat, but you won’t care because you just flew an airplane!

Now that the intro flight is over, what did you think about it? I’m going to guess that you want to go ahead with training to become a pilot. 

Congratulations, you will love it!

With the intro flight behind us, it’s time to get some paperwork out of the way so you can concentrate on learning. You need two certificates in order to fly; the FAA Medical Certificate and the FAA Student Pilot Certificate.


Step 3: Apply for a FAA Medical Certificate

An aircraft requires an airworthiness certificate to make sure it is safe to take into the air. Well, so does a person...sort of. All pilots require a medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) to prove they are ‘airworthy’ (medically safe to exercise the pilot privileges they are seeking). There are three classes of medical certificates you can get depending on your goals. 

First-Class - Airline Transport Pilot

Second-Class - Commercial Pilot; Flight Engineer; Flight Navigator; or Air Traffic Control Tower Operator. (Note: This category of air traffic controller does not include FAA employee air traffic control specialists)

Third-Class - Private Pilot or Recreational Pilot

As a Student Pilot, you need to obtain the Third Class medical before you can solo the airplane. Solo flight can happen quicker than you think, so it's best not to put off the medical exam. Once you get your Private Pilot license there is no need to get another medical until your current Third Class FAA-issued medical certificate expires. The third class certificate is good for a maximum of 60 months for those under 40 and 24 months for 40 and older. 

To find an AME near you, go to the FAA’s Find an Aviation Medical Examiner page.

Step 4: Apply for a FAA Student Pilot Certificate

Student pilot certificate

If you already have a student pilot certificate, recreational pilot certificate, or sports pilot certificate, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you will begin by obtaining a student pilot certificate since you need it before you can fly solo.

You are eligible for a student pilot certificate if:

  • You are at least 16 years old. If you plan to pilot a glider or balloon, you must be at least 14 years old.
  • You can read, speak, and understand English 

As of April 1, 2016, you must complete an application through the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website or by paper using FAA form 8710-1 and submit it to a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), an FAA-designated pilot examiner, an airman certification representative associated with a part 141 flight school, or a certificated flight instructor. The authorized individual will process your application and submit the required documents to the Airmen Certification Branch. Once, reviewed by Airman Certification Branch, the student pilot certificate will be mailed to the address provided by you on the application.

In the next installment of How To Become a Pilot, Step by Step, I will discuss researching pilot schools and finding an instructor to take you through your training.