A Practical Study Guide to Becoming a Private Pilot

What is the FAA Private Pilot License?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are the ones responsible for civil aviation in the country. They are the ones who license pilots depending on their capability and knowledge to fly certain aircraft. The more complicated it is, the harder the pilot license test requirements are. 

According to the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, there are different types of pilot certifications: Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, and Airline Transport Pilot. With these different types of  FAA licenses, each has its own limitations and privileges. 

One of the most common licenses would be the private pilot license. It permits individuals to fly recreationally without compensation, and with it, a pilot can fly any aircraft with a single-engine without any distance or weather restrictions.

How to Become a Private Pilot?

  1. You must first obtain your student pilot certificate and  FAA medical certificate. Apply for it by electronically completing your application at the FAA MedXPress system. You can then schedule your appointment with an FAA-approved medical examiner. You’ll have to pass the FAA medical exam to be able to move on to the next steps in getting your license. 
  2. After getting your third-class medical certificate, you must be ready for the cost of training. Most often than not, aspiring pilots go to flight schools.
  3. You must also get your ground-school training. It will help you learn the FAA rules and regulations
  4. After knowing more about the flight rules, you must also take flight training. You need to learn the basics, and as you get a handle on it, you can then learn the more complex maneuvers.
  5. You are now ready to take the FAA knowledge test. You must be able to pass this written test to be able to do the second one, which is the practical test, also called a check ride. 
  6. If you pass the two tests, you can now hold a private pilot license.  

Format and Content

What is the test type of the FAA exam?

FAA’s private pilot test is divided into two. You have to pass the FAA written test, which is also called the knowledge test and the practical test. 

The knowledge test is objective and has a multiple-choice type. As shown in the table below, most private pilot tests have a number of questions between 30 to 60 with most of them containing 60 items. To pass the test, you must have a minimum passing score of 70. You’ll also receive your Airman Written Test Report or Airman Computer Test Report. It will help you learn which knowledge areas you should focus on.

The table below shows the recent Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Recreational and Private Pilots ( FAA-CT-8080-2H):

PAR Private Pilot Airplane 60 15 2.5 70
PAT Private Pilot Airplane/Recreational Pilot – Transition 30 15 1.5 70
PBG Private Pilot Balloon – Gas 60 14 2.5 70
PBH Private Pilot Balloon – Hot Air 60 14 2.5 70
PCH Private Pilot Helicopter Canadian Conversion 40 16 2.0 70
PCP Private Pilot Airplane Canadian Conversion 40 16 2.0 70
PGL Private Pilot Glider 60 14 2.5 70
PGT Private Pilot Gyroplane/Recreational Pilot – Transition 30 15 1.5 70
PHT Private Pilot Helicopter/Recreational Pilot – Transition 30 15 1.5 70
PLA Private Pilot Airship 60 15 2.5 70
PPP Private Pilot Powered Parachute 60 15 2.5 70
PRG Private Pilot Gyroplane 60 15 2.5 70
PRH Private Pilot Helicopter 60 15 2.5 70
PWS Private Pilot Weight-Shift-Control 60 15 2.5 70
RPA Recreational Pilot Airplane 50 15 2.0 70
RPG Recreational Pilot Gyroplane 50 15 2.0 70
RPH Recreational Pilot Helicopter 50 15 2.0 70

If you want to get your license as a private pilot, the topics that you must focus on are found in the 14 Code of Federal Regulations, specifically Part 61, Section 61.105 (b). It pertains to Aeronautical Knowledge.

As shown in the Code of Federal Regulations: Aeronautics and Space, these are the Aeronautical Knowledge areas you must study: 

Aeronautical Knowledge
  1. Federal Aviation Regulations that you can apply that is in relation to private pilot privileges, limitations, and flight operations
  1. Requirements of the National Transportation Safety Board for Accident reporting
  1. Use of portions of the “Aeronautical Information Manual” and FAA advisory circulars that are applicable
  1. For VFR navigation using pilotage, dead reckoning, and navigation systems, the utilization of aeronautical charts
  1. The procedures for radio communication
  1. The ability to recognize risky weather situations from the ground and in flight, windshear avoidance. To also procure and make use of aeronautical weather reports and forecasts
  1. Operation of aircraft that is safe and systematic to avoid collision and wake turbulence
  1. Density altitude on takeoff and climb performance effects
  1. Computation of weight and balance
  1. Aerodynamics, aircraft systems and  powerplants principles
  1. For the airplane and glider ratings, recovery techniques for spin entry and spins, and  stall awareness
  1. Decision-making and judgment for aeronautics
  1. Preflight action which includes the following:
  1. How to get information regarding runway lengths at the airport, landing distances, weather reports and forecasts, takeoff data and requirements for fuel.
  2. How to plan for other alternatives if the flight that was planned was not completed or was delayed.


FAA Registration, Costs and Policies

How can you register for the knowledge test to get your FAA pilot license and be a part of the FAA registry?

First. You must register for the FAA test either through FAA-designated computer testing centers (CTDs), or yourlocal Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs). If you are enrolled in a flight school, they often administer the test during the curriculum. 

Second. You must know the requirements because it varies depending on the FAA certification.

Third. You must pay the appropriate fees for getting the pilot certificate. Generally, it is free since the FAA doesn’t charge for any original certificate. But, there are fees for the FAA-approved aviation medical examiner and the FAA-designated pilot examiner for the practical test. Also, the costs for taking the written test may vary between FAA testing centers, but the FAA written exam usually costs $90 to $150. You must also provide proper identification that includes your photograph, signature, and address.   

Also, these are some of the forms of authorization you have to bring:

  • graduation certificate from an FAA-approved pilot school or a statement of accomplishment that certifies completion of the ground school portion of a course
  • graduation certificate from an FAA-approved pilot school or a statement of accomplishment that certifies completion of the ground school portion of a course from an agency. Examples are colleges, high schools, education programs, Civil Air Patrol, ROTC Flight Training School or the U.S. Armed Forces
  • authorized instructor’s written statement or logbook endorsement that certifies that you have completed a ground training or home study course for the applicable rating needed. Also, he/she certifies that you are ready for the knowledge test.
  • If you  need to retake it, you must bring your unsatisfactory Airman Knowledge Written Test Report (it can either be a failed one or an expired one), or an Aiman Knowledge Computer Test Report.

Fourth. After paying the fees and obtaining the required documents, you can now schedule for the date and time when you will take the test.   

What are the eligibility requirements for private pilots?

  • You must be at least 17 years old for a rating in aircraft other than gliders or balloons.
  • You must be at least 16 years old for a rating in gliders or balloons.
  • You must be able to speak, write, read, and comprehend the English language. If you are unable to meet these requirements because of medical reasons, the FAA Administrator may be able to place your limitations on your pilot’s certificate. It is required for your safe operation of the aircraft.
  • You must obtain a logbook endorsement from your authorized instructor who:
  1. Supervised your training and reviewed your understanding of the Aeronautical Knowledge areas in Part 61.105 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). It must apply for the aircraft rating needed.
  2. Certified that you are prepared for the knowledge test.
  • You must pass a knowledge test on the Aeronautical Knowledge areas of Part 61. 105 of the CFR.
  • You must obtain flight training and a logbook endorsement from your authorized instructor who:
  1. Supervised your training in the areas of operation in Part 61.107 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). It must apply for the aircraft rating needed.
  2. Certified that you are prepared for the practical test.
  • You must have the requirements for the aeronautical experience. It must apply to the aircraft rating needed before applying for the practical test.
  • You must pass the practical test on the areas of operation in Part 61.107 of the CFR.
  • You must comply with the proper sections that apply to the class rating and aircraft category needed.
  • You must have a U.S. student pilot, sport pilot, or recreational pilot certificate. 

3 Things You Should Know to Get Your Private Pilot License

  1. Enroll yourself in a ground school course. In FAAcertified flight schools, you must always listen to your instructors. You are provided with so many opportunities, and through classroom instruction, you’ll be able to understand better the many topics that comprise the exam.
  2. If you can’t enroll yourself in a pilot school, then self-study is appropriate too. You can make use of so many study materials. You can prepare for the test with the help of FAA practice tests or FAA private pilot practice tests. With these resources at hand, you’ll be able to figure out which subject matter needs more emphasis. 

You can find Private Pilot Sample Questions at www.faa.gov. Here are some:

1. PLT025 PA.I.F.K3

Which statement relates to Bernoulli`s principle?

  1. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
  2. An additional upward force is generated as the lower surface of the wing deflects air downward.
  3. Air traveling faster over the curved upper surface of an airfoil causes lower pressure on the top surface.
  1. PLT168 PA.I.F.K3

The term `angle of attack` is defined as the angle between the

  1. chord line of the wing and the relative wind.
  2. airplane`s longitudinal axis and that of the air striking the airfoil.
  3. airplane`s centerline and the relative wind.
  1. PLT243 PA.I.F.K3

In what flight condition are torque effects more pronounced in a single-engine airplane?

  1. Low airspeed, high power, high angle of attack.
  2. Low airspeed, low power, the low angle of attack.
  3. High airspeed, high power, high angle of attack.
  1. PLT290 PA.III.A.K1

While on a VFR cross country and not in contact with ATC, what frequency would you use in the event of an emergency?

  1. 121.5 MHz.
  2. 122.5 MHz.
  3. 128.725 MHz
  1. Thoroughly study and prepare for both the knowledge test and the practical test. The written portion goes hand in hand with the practical part of the exam. If you already have the necessary knowledge in the first part, then the next one would come easily. 

If you are also competent when it comes to actually fly the aircraft, then the FAA private pilot written exam will make sense. You won’t have to do much reviewing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is the FAA, and what is its function?

The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA is an agency of the government of the United States. Its function is to regulate and administer civil aviation in the country and its surrounding international waters. They are also responsible for approving pilot certifications. 

How to become a certified drone pilot?

You need an FAA drone license when your drone is for commercial use. Otherwise, if it’s for fun or recreational use, you won’t need one. So, to fly your drone commercially, you must pass the FAA’s Part 107 test. The FAA Part 107 is also called as the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule. It contains the FAA drone rules and FAA drone regulations that will help you be a certified drone pilot. 

How long is a private pilot written exam good for?

If you passed the knowledge test, then your results will last for 2 years starting from the day it was taken. If you didn’t take the practical portion within that period, then you must take another knowledge test.

Is it illegal to fly a drone without FAA registration?

It depends. If you are using the drone for recreational use, then it is not necessary to get the license. But, if it’s used commercially, then you have to have the FAA drone pilot license. You might get your license revoked or suspended, and you might even have to pay for the fines that might be imposed on you. 

Where can you take the knowledge test for a private pilot license?

You can take them at FAA-designated Computer Testing Centers. As an applicant, you’ll be charged a fee for the administration of the FAA written test. You can find a complete list of the testing centers at http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/media/test_centers.pdf. You can also contact your local FSDO.

Is it easy to get FAA approval for drones?

It could be as long as you are prepared for the necessary requirements. If it is for Part 107, you must pass the knowledge test and get your remote pilot license. But, if it is just for fun, then you won’t need to get a drone license. 

If you fail the knowledge test, will you be able to know which areas need to be studied more for your retest?

Yes, you will. You will obtain your Airman Written Test Report or Computer Test Report. It will show your test score and a list of the subject matter codes for the knowledge areas. Through the list, you’ll be able to see the parts where you are lacking.