There are several avenues available for flight training, and in some respects, the best choice depends upon the person and his or her goals. For people who have sufficient financial means, practically every airport in the country harbors a Certified Flight Instructor that is willing to give lessons. The CFI may only be able to instruct for the Private Pilot’s license, or he or she may be able to instruct for every conceivable license and rating—it tends to be a mixed bag and the quality of the instruction ranges from the finest available to abysmal.
The fact that a pilot is a CFI does not necessarily mean that he or she will be a good instructor, nor that he or she will be able to teach in a manner most conducive to the particular student’s needs. Fortunately, most airports have more than one instructor available and the vast majority of CFI’s are competent teachers who work hard to teach their students. As for the author’s personal experience, this is how I learned to fly and my CFI, while a gruff old codger who hardly ever smiled, taught me how to fly like nobody’s business. If a potential pilot wants to get a license at their own pace, this very well may be the perfect route to flight training.
For younger students desiring a professional career as a pilot, the aforementioned method may work well if the CFI can instruct them through the appropriate licenses and ratings. To illustrate, let’s review what licenses and ratings a professional pilot needs. We won’t go into the exact requirements of each license and rating, as they sometimes change and instructors can readily identify those requirements. Instead, we’ll consider a broad overview. The first license most will obtain is a student pilot license which will allow the prospective pilot to receive flight instruction and fly solo when the CFI endorses such flight. A student pilot cannot carry passengers and may not receive compensation for flying.
The Private Pilot’s license is the next step for most, it allows the pilot to carry passengers but not to fly for hire or fly under Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). It takes most pilots at least 20 hours of dual instruction and 20 hours of solo flight to get this license, though most students have 50-60 hours logged before obtaining this license. The private pilot may not fly at night unless he or she has a night endorsement, which is easily obtained and usually considered a basic part of the Private Pilot license. There is also a Sports Pilot license which allows flight under more restrictions but which is in many respects, similar to the Private Pilot license.
Beyond the basic flight training, the Instrument and Commercial tickets usually come next. It takes most pilots several hundred hours of logged time to get these and they are licenses and ratings that separate Sunday fliers from more professional pilots. The instrument rating allows flight in instrument flight rules (IFR) and the commercial license allows the pilot to be compensated for his or her flying. The ultimate license for a pilot is the Airline Transport Pilot which requires at least 1,500 hours of logged flight time. It is the “doctorate” degree of flying and all pilots flying for major US airlines have one. Usually one gets a multi-engine rating during this advanced training which allows the pilot to fly aircraft with more than one engine.
As one might suspect, going from no flying to being an ATP takes time (years) and much money. Many four year universities now offer a degree that gets the pilot close to being ready to fly for the airlines, and unless one is independently wealthy, these programs may be the perfect solution to a college degree and pilot training all rolled into one. By the way, most airlines require a college degree for employment. Military flight training is also an option.
Beyond the hardcore “professional pilot” licenses and rating, there are several others that are just—pardon the pun—plane fun to get. Seaplane ratings allow pilots to operate specialized aircraft on water, gliders, rotorcraft, lighter-than-air (usually meaning balloons but blimps too) all can be licenses and ratings that are pursued mostly for personal enjoyment. Rotorcraft pilots tend to be a specialized breed, either flying helicopters professionally (helicopters are generally far too expensive for private use) or gyrocopters for fun.
Flying also requires a level of medical fitness that for most young people is not much of a consideration. However, colorblindness, deafness and serious medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions and other conditions can prevent one from becoming a licensed pilot. The person likely can still fly, he or she will just have to take a flight instructor along with them.
In any event, learning to fly whether professionally or just for fun is a challenging but fun endeavor. Being a pilot sets one apart from the rest of the world. If one is serious, check out the FAA’s latest requirements for basic flight training. The go to the airport and start asking questions or get on the internet and check out universities that offer flight training or the military. Pilots come in all stripes, colors, creeds and gender, from student pilots to ATPs.
Here is a video that explains the airplane flight panel.
Here is a 5 minute clip on VOR navigation.