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How to Become a Pilot

Being above the clouds and looking at the city below brings a sense of excitement to anyone. Flying high among the clouds staring out through the window makes anyone feel calmed and relaxed. You trust the pilot to get you to your destination safely and on time.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to actually fly a plane? Whether you are interested in becoming a commercial pilot, helicopter pilot, or flying in the military, our guide on how to become a pilot gives you all the details you need to know to start your career.

What Is a Pilot?

A pilot is someone who has a pilot license and is able to control and fly aircraft.

What Does a Pilot Do?

A pilot is responsible for flying aircraft and making sure all safety procedures are in place. They may fly planes, helicopters, or military aircraft and they may transport goods, do aerial photography and more.

Commercial Pilot

Commercial pilots transport goods and passengers. They are also qualified to do aerial firefighting, crop dusting, and search and rescue.

Airline Pilot

An airline pilot regularly transports passengers to and from different places.

Military Pilot

Military pilots are responsible for flying large, military-grade aircraft that transport soldiers and military equipment.

Helicopter Pilot

A helicopter pilot operates helicopters for the purpose of transporting goods, passengers, conducting tours, engaging in aerial photography, or for military purposes.

Essential Pilot Skills

There are many skills that you must master to become a good pilot. Some essential skills for a pilot are:

  • Teamwork skills
  • Communication
  • Able to think quickly and come up with solutions during complex situations
  • Good leadership skills to give clear instructions to employees on the plane and passengers to ensure a safe flight
  • Good knowledge of math and physics
  • Awareness
  • This one is common sense, but a good understanding of how a plane or helicopter works is a must

Pilots Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, airline and commercial pilots in the United States make an average of $147,220 per year.

Job Outlook for Pilots

The job outlook for pilots is estimated to grow 6 percent in the period 2018-2028, which amounts to 7,000 jobs.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot?

It takes about 3 months to obtain a private pilot license. To become a pilot, you need about 1,500 hours of flight time, which is about 2 years.

How to Become a Pilot: Step by Step

Becoming a private pilot entails several steps. While you do not need a college degree, some airlines may require one, although they don’t care about what you majored in. Here is the step by step guide on how to become a private pilot to fly single-engine planes.

Step 1: Find a Flight School

The first step is to find a flight school near you with a reputable program that fits what you are looking to do. Once you find your school, you will need to do an introductory training flight to learn the basic controls of the aircraft.

Step 2: Get an FAA Medical Certificate

There are different levels of the FAA Medical Certificate, a certification you need to prove that you are in good medical condition.

The first level is for people who fly for scheduled transports. This certificate must be renewed every 12 months if the pilot is under the age of 40 and every six months if over 40.

Commercial airline pilots—the professionals qualified to transport cargo and passengers, and conduct crop dusting, among other activities—must obtain a second class FAA Medical Certificate. This certificate is valid for 12 months.

Finally, the third class FAA Medical Certificate is mostly for student pilots and private pilots. These are people who fly for fun or for personal reasons and are not employed as pilots. If they are under the age of 40, this certificate is valid for 60 months. If over 40, it is valid for 24 months.

Step 3: Get a Student Pilot Certificate

Although you do not need this certificate to start flying lessons, you will need it to start solo lessons. You can obtain this certificate by applying on the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website.

Step 4: Start Flight Lessons

You can now start taking flight lessons. You will be learning about aeronautics and undergoing pilot training. After these classes, you will need your instructor’s approval to take the FAA Private Pilot exam.

Step 5: Take the Private Pilot Test

The last step to earn your private pilot certificate is to take the final exam, which is made up of a flight test and an oral exam.

How to Become an Airline and Commercial Pilot: Step by Step

To become an airline pilot, first you need to obtain a private pilot license. Through this process, you will also receive your commercial license. This is how to become a commercial or an airline pilot.

Step 1: Receive an Instrument Rating Certificate

Getting an instrument rating certificate allows you to fly in any weather. It is under the Instrument Flight Rules.

Step 2: Get a Commercial Pilot Certificate

While getting your airline certificate, you will also get your commercial pilot license, which allows you to get paid to fly. You must meet specific requirements to obtain this license. Going through commercial pilot training will help you become a better pilot.

Step 3: Get a Multi-Engine Certificate

After getting your commercial pilot license, you go on to learn how to fly planes with multiple engines. With this certificate, you qualify for most airline jobs.

Step 4: Get Flying Experience

With your certificates in hand, the next step is to accumulate flying experience. You are required by the Airline Pilot certificate to do 1,500 hours of flight training.

Step 5: Get a Job

After completing all the required training and certificates, you are ready to begin applying for jobs.

How to Become a Helicopter Pilot: Step by Step

Getting a helicopter license is slightly different than getting a regular pilot license and takes less time. Here is a step by step to getting a helicopter license:

Step 1: Become a Private Pilot

As usual, the first step to becoming any type of pilot is to become a private pilot. This requires you to take classes and log about 40 hours of flight time. Twenty of those hours must be done with another pilot in flight lessons and the rest must be solo.

After that, you need to take a written, oral, and flight exam to earn your private pilot license.

Step 2: Become a Commercial Helicopter Pilot

With your private pilot license, you can work to obtain your commercial certificate. This requires a little more training and time. You need to do 100 hours of flight time. Ten of those have to be a cross-country flight and another five have to be night-time flying.

Once you complete your flying time requirements, you need to take a written, oral, and flight exam. Only after your pass these tests will you become a licensed commercial helicopter pilot.

Step 3: Get a Certificate for Instrument Rating for Helicopters

The certificate for instrument rating for helicopters allows you to fly in any weather. To earn it, you need 40 hours of instrument flying; fifteen of those hours have to be with an instructor.

Step 4: Get an Airline Transport License

Obtaining this license takes years and requires a lot more training and hours. To become a licensed helicopter airline transporter, you need 1,200 hours of flight training. It requires 500 hours of cross-country flying, including 75 during night time.

You must also pass a written, oral, and flight exam.

Should You Become a Pilot in 2020?

Getting your license is exciting but it takes time. However, it is worth it because flying is a very rewarding experience in itself. As you have read above, different certifications—whether it is a private, commercial, or helicopter license—require different steps.

There is a wide variety of jobs you can get as a pilot. Check them out here!

If getting a pilot license interests you, this guide is right for you.


How old do I have to be to get my pilot license?
To get your private pilot license, you need to be at least 16 years old. To become a commercial pilot, the minimum age is 18. You must be 23 years old to get your Airline Transport Certificate.
How many hours do I need to log for a commercial flying license?
You need 1,500 hours of flying experience to get your commercial license.
Do I need a college degree to become a pilot?
Generally speaking, you don’t need a college degree. While some airlines may require one, they generally don’t care about the major.
How much can I make as a pilot?
On average, pilots in the US earn $141,220 per year.
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