Aviation – Where to Start

Obviously, your goals will largely determine your path.  I am not a career aviator and don’t plan to pursue a commercial certificate, so my goals are quite different from someone that wants to fly for an airline.  Also, I am based in the United States.  Despite that, most certified pilots in the U.S. start with their private certificate.

The way that I initially tested my resolve to pursue this undertaking was to get the ground work out of the way.  This can be done without much expense, since most of what you need to know is available from FAA publications (free in electronic form).  There is no need to invest in expensive training textbooks to get an overview of all of the required knowledge.  Studying to pass the exam is another story and there are different ways to go about that.  Also, taking a “discovery” flight with certified flight instructor is a good idea to make sure that you really enjoy it and don’t have any issues with nausea or the pressure changes.

These are the books that I read in the order that I read them:

  1. The Airplane Flying Handbook introduces the knowledge and skills needed to fly an airplane.
  2. The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge dives deeper into the basic knowledge needed to become a pilot.
  3. The FAA Aeronautical Chart User’s Guide provides the key to quickly demystify those sectional and terminal area charts.
  4. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) contains the information and procedures needed to operate in the U.S. National Airspace System.
  5. The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) contain the official rules that need to be learned through the course of a pilot’s training.

The FARs are more of a reference and are not something that can really be “read” (unless you like to read the dictionary).  If you get to that point, you will eventually need a physical copy anyway.  It can be acquired bundled with the AIM as the so-called “FAR/AIM” and will also provide a list of what sections of the FAR and AIM are relevant to a particular type of pilot license.

Now obviously, not everyone wants to do all the book work up front.  There are actually several tasks that can all happen somewhat in parallel or independently.  There are checkpoints along the way that will stop your progress if you are not ready for them, though.

  • You cannot solo without your medical and student pilot certificates.  It can take a while to get, especially if you need a waiver.  This will effectively stall your flight training, so start early.  Even after third class medical reform, you will still need that initial medical if you are pursuing a private pilot certificate.  Sport pilots do not need a medical.
  • You cannot take your check ride without having already passed your written test.  You will need to have the test certificate with you at the check ride.  Some flight schools will not let you solo cross country before you’ve passed your written test.
  • You cannot take your written test without an endorsement from your ground school or your flight instructor.

Outside of that, you can proceed however and at whatever pace you like.  Note that the medical certificate is good for 5 years if you are under 40 and 2 years if you are 40 or over.  The written test certificate is good for 2 years after you pass.


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