Most folks start by learning to fly a conventional light aircraft. These are usually fixed gear single-engined two seaters such as a Cessna 152 or a Piper Tomahawk. There are some lovely new aircraft becoming available for flight training too, such as the Diamond Katana. If you prefer, you can also learn on four seat aircraft such as the Robin, Pa28 or C172. These aircraft are of course more expensive to fly per hour but are far more comfortable and probably more like the type of aircraft that you will eventually choose to fly. It is worthwhile to mention that in many countries; larger aircraft are permitted that operate under the microlight category. Some of these aircraft are effectively indistinguishable from conventional aircraft and may even have better performance. Costs of maintenance and training are significantly less when operating a microlight.
The majority of private pilots maintain a simple PPL which entitles them to fly most types of single engine aircraft. If your ambitions are to fly aircraft with retractable landing gear and/or variable pitch propellers, (complex air craft) you must undertake a further few hours training to familiarize yourself with the extra complications. Some pilots go on to learn to fly aircraft with a tail wheel (tail draggers) or aircraft with more than one engine (multi) or even flying boats or seaplanes. In every case, further training and certification is needed. To a lot of people, obtaining new qualifications is a great pleasure which offers new and exciting challenges.
A straight PPL does not entitle a pilot to fly in cloud or lose sight of the land. Flying at night is also not allowed unless under special circumstances. To do this, you must go on to take an instrument rating and night flying qualifications. The (JAA) instrument rating is difficult and very expensive to get. What is more, unless you intend to fly many hours in instrument conditions, you will very quickly 'get rusty' and be less than capable to meeting the demanding conditions.
In the United Kingdom, a 'half way house' instrument rating is on offer called the IMC rating, (instrument metrological conditions). This rating is much easier to obtain and permits private pilots to fly in clouds in the U.K. only. This rating is highly recommended even if you do not intend to 'fly blind' just in case you inadvertently fly into poor visibility. This rating is comparable with the FAA private instrument rating, although the FAA rating gives us a better understanding of the theoretical demands.
Keeping in practice is a very important part of maintaining your license. The aviation authority of your country of license issue will have strict requirements that you must fulfill in order to remain 'current'. If you lose currency, you will have to go back to school and spend some time with an instructor. For instance, the European JAR requires you to fly a minimum of 12 hours every second year. You will also have to have at least one hour of time with a qualified instructor, who will check that you have not fallen into bad habits! Any additional rating you gain will also require further checkouts. Flying aircraft requires that you maintain your skill level, so it is always highly desirable to continue to spend a few hours with your instructor who will help you to hone up your skills. If you don't use it, you will lose it!
Many folks take up flying in their later years and enjoy every minute of it. Of course, the younger you are, the quicker you learn. Factor an extra ten hours of training for every decade you carry after 35. Old dogs do learn new tricks, but just take a little longer! Medical checks become more frequent as you get older.
Being a pilot does not necessarily mean that you have to look like something out of Bay Watch. There are many disabled pilots out there. There are even a few quadriplegics! Many disabled pilots will tell you that flying is one sport where they have no disadvantage over able bodied people. The aviation authorities for the most part are very helpful and offer good advice. Special adaptations can be used to help you control the aircraft, although your choice of type is likely to be much more limited.
You may suffer from certain illnesses which will prevent you flying solo. Diabetes is one of these. However, you will still be able to train as a pilot, but will have to carry a 'safety pilot' at all times, just in case things go pear shaped. This is not at all such a big problem as it may appear, as flying is a very social thing, and you will nearly always be able to find another pilot to go with you. He might even share costs with you!
You can learn to fly in most countries. There are some differences of approach depending upon where you learn.
Flight training in the US is a lot cheaper compared with Europe, so students from overseas often come to the US for training. You may consider though, that if you intend to fly in Europe, learning in the clear skies of America may not prepare you for European weather. You will also find some procedures are different and well as some terminology. Since Sept. 11, the United States is much more sensitive about foreign pilots and entry into the States through 'Homeland Security', has been described as a nightmare by some. You are advised to check with your local US consulate before booking US training. But one thing is for sure. The training in the USA is one of the most efficient in the world in you can get your license in short period of time for almost half the price as you have to spent in Europe. We from AFTC can assist you by going though the TSA procedures so the nightmare becomes a dream. A FAA private pilots license from the USA will entitle you to fly US registered aircraft in all the World and if equated with a JAA license to fly European registered aircraft too. Most ICAO countries will give an equivalent license based upon a FAA license to fly their own registered aircraft for private use.
Flight training in Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Europe
Although flight training is more expensive in Europe, you will at least train in typical North European conditions and learn radio and flying procedures that you will contend with in Europe. As a general rule, training in Europe is very much on a 'one on one' basis, while many US flight schools appear to operate as a 'sausage factory'. You get what you pay for. You will earn a JAR private pilots license in Europe, which will entitle you to fly aircraft registered in other European countries. Remember that the JAR license takes a long time classroom (about 300 hours) study while the FAA theoretical examination can be learned in a couple of weeks. Also the examination is a lot easier and straight forward. But it might be very well worth your while to train in Europe, and then spend time hours building elsewhere in the World where it is cheaper to rent a plane and instructors don’t ask so much money because they are only instructors for time building.
Flying in some areas will also offer you breath-taking scenery. Or even better learn to fly in the USA and take some familiarization lessons in Europe. With the new JAA regulations it is fully possible to get a JAR equivalent private license after some theoretical questions and a flight check.
To obtain your license you will be required to have logged a certain minimum number of flight hours (depending on country - 30 to 40 in the USA, 45 to 70 in Belgium for example), and you must have satisfactorily performing a number of tasks, typically including emergency procedures, engine failure simulation, unusual attitudes, cross-country navigation and others. You will also have to pass some written exams, typically on the Theory of Flight, Human Performance Limitations, Meteorology and Navigation, although the exact ground syllabus will vary from country to country. Many papers will be multiple choice. A new simplified license system has been out in place in the USA (sports pilot license) and Europe (National pilot license). There are certain restrictions, but for many it will offer a much cheaper entry into flight.
So you have you new license...what now? First, fly as much as you can and to new and distant places. Having just got your license, you are probably more up to speed with flying than you will be in a year. This is really the time to spread your wings. So many folks just fly around their home field, lose confidence and then quit the sport. What a shame after so much hard work and investment.
You may decide to enter into a specialist field such a aerobatics, precision flying or rallying. The choice is yours, stay with it and get flying!
Before you start to learn to fly, it might be worth considering social implications.
Does your partner enjoy flying? Would they fly with you? Many relationships have gone sour because of incompatibility here. Learning to fly is a big investment in money, commitment and time. It is also more addictive than crack cocaine. You may find that your chosen subject of conversation becomes aviation, followed by aviation, and when you get bored.....more aviation. For some, a reasonable life-style become one of aviation induced poverty.