Your flight instructor
should keep you informed as to what's next in your training. Here is
an outline giving answers to the questions starting students typically ask.
The main three things you need to successfully complete flight training are
There are no requirements to begin flight training. You can
walk into a flight school today and have your first lesson.
You do not need to have achieved any grade level in school.
Don't worry if it has been many years since you learned anything in
school. Your enthusiasm for flying will carry you through. Plenty of
high-school dropouts complete flight training.
Before you receive your licence you will need to complete
aviation groundschool, but it's not necessary to complete it, or even start
it, before your first lesson. It is useful to attend groundschool during
the same months as your flight training because the ground and flight training
reinforce each other, but if you only have time for one at a time, the order
is not that important.
Eventually, you will need certification that you are medically
fit to fly. It's not necessary to obtain that before your first lesson,
either, but if you have any doubt of your medical fitness, you may want to
do that before spending any money on flying. Information
on medical certification is here.
What to Wear
You don't need a leather bomber jacket nor gold bars on your shoulders. Wear
comfortable clothing that is not too tight, but nothing too loose or flowing.
You will need to bend down and inspect underneath the airplane as well as
climb on top of it to check the fuel. Don't wear expensive, hard to clean
clothes, as you may occasionally get some oil or grease on yourself while
inspecting the airplane before flight.
On your feet, wear solid shoes, not sandals or high heels. Avoid wide
heavy boots, or any shoes with extremely thick or wide soles. You need to
be able to feel your feet on the rudder pedals and not get your boots stuck
against one another. Tennis shoes are good, but not high technology running
shoes. The latter can be too spongy for you to get a good feel for the rudder
pedals, and sometimes they have treads that can get stuck on the pedals.
Dress warmly enough that you will be comfortable standing outside inspecting
the airplane in the day's weather, but have a coat you can take off or open
easily if you feel too warm during the flight. It is colder at altitude
than on the ground, but most aircraft have heaters.
You need to write down the time you take off and land, and some other in-flight
information for navigation. You can buy a fancy fifty-dollar kneeboard to use in flight, but
a fifty-cent notebook that fits in your shirt pocket works as well.
You might also want a school notebook to take notes on what your instructor
tells you during the ground briefing. Bring your Aircraft Checklist, your
copy of the Flight Training Manual, your aircraft POH and your local charts
to every lesson.
The number one factor that determines a student's progress is preparation
for the lesson. Have adequate rest, good nutrition, no medication, drugs or
alcohol in your system, and do the reading your instructor assigned. My once-a-week
students who prepare thoroughly progress faster than my every-day students
who party instead of reviewing.
Preparatory Ground Instruction
Most lessons will start with a short classroom briefing from your instructor
on what will be covered during the flight. You'll talk about what the exercise
to be learned is, why you're learning it, the theory behind it, and the practical
steps in the manoeuvre. If there's anything you don't understand, be sure
to ask at this point, so as to get the most value out of the time in the
Every flight will start with a preflight briefing, discussing the weather,
route of flight, any special conditions, and outlining your responsibilities
The airplane you train in has two complete sets of controls, one for you,
and one for your instructor. Your instructor will let you learn by making
mistakes, but can easily correct your mistakes.
After the lesson, the instructor should tell you how well you met the lesson
objectives, what you need to improve, and what you will do next time. If you
don't receive this information, ask for it. You will probably be assigned
some reading or other preparation for the next lesson. The instructor will
also fill out your PTR (pilot training record), a booklet recording your
The content of all your lessons is prescribed by Transport Canada. Your flight
instructor had to pass a written and practical test to ensure that he or
she could follow the approved training methods, and every so often a flight
instructor must take another test or attend a course in order to keep his
or her flight instructor rating valid.
You will work through the exercises bit by bit and will not proceed to the
next one until your instructor is happy with your understanding and performance
on the preceding one.
The exercises that you will learn are described in the Flight Training Manual,
a book that you will need to buy as you begin your training. You will learn
the basics about your airplane, how to ensure it is ready for flight,
how to use the main and the anciliary controls, and how to "taxi"
(drive) it on the ground.
You then learn the attitudes and movements of the airplane, essential
background for flying the airplane straight and level, climbing,
descending, and turning. You also learn how to fly
the airplane to maximize range and endurance.
There are special exercises that prepare you for safely landing the airplane:
slow flight, stalls, spins, spiral dive
recovery and slips. You will spend some time learning to safely
take-off, fly a circuit, and land. Once
you can do this safely, use the radio properly, if your airplane has
one, and know the emergency procedures, you will go solo. Then you
will learn specialized take-off and landing techniques for short or
unpaved runways with obstacles around.
You will learn about the illusions caused by wind when you are flying
at low altitude.
You will learn how to make a precautionary landing in case you cannot
reach an airport, and how to land safely even if your engine quits
while you are flying. You will learn how to navigate from one place
to another, and also how to divert to an alternate airport if there
is some problem.
As part of your Canadian private pilot licence you will also receive five
hours of instruction in instrument flying, flying by reference to the
instruments only, in case something happened where you could not see anything
out of the window.
Once you have learned all the exercises, you will review them and practise
them until they are up to the flight test standards. You may be asked
to do a flight with your school's chief flight instructor or another instructor,
as a sort of a mock flight test.
When your instructor is sure you are ready, he or she will book a test with
an examiner. Usually the examiner will come to your school. You will be asked
to prepare a navigation plan for the flight, along with all the other required
documentation. You will spend an hour or more on the ground answering questions
about your preparation and your airplane's performance. Your examiner will
ask you more questions about your preflight
inspection, then you will take the examiner flying. The flight itself
takes about an hour and a half.
One of the requirements of flight training is 40 hours of groundschool. You
can fulfill this in a number of ways. Your school probably offers a course.
If the time is not convenient, check your local community college.
There are also online courses, and a self-study option is available, under
an instructor's supervision. The groundschool prepares you for the written
test. It is best to take the groundschool at the same time as the flight
training, because they reinforce each other, but if scheduling is a problem,
groundschool can be taken before or after the practical training. You can
also arrange to take groundschool by private tutoring.
Once you have completed groundschool, and usually a practice exam, so your
instructor can tell you have studied, your school will give you a letter
of recommendation so you can go and write the government exam. You can write
it at a Transport Canada office, where in most places it is no longer a "written"
exam, but a computer administrated one. Questions appear on the screen, and
you select a multiple choice answer using the mouse. For admission to the
examination, you'll need a minimum of ten hours flying time, a letter of recommendation
from your school, a test fee of a little more than $100, your medical certificate,
photo ID, pencils to use for calculations, your E6B and/or an electronic
calculator, a chart ruler and the knowledge required to pass a four part
exam. There's a little more on the exam in my FAQ
You can do the flight test and the written test in any order. I recommend
you get the one you are most worried about over first, because you have to
complete both of them within one year of one another, so if you are dreading
the written and you delay too long, your flight test will expire. It's fun
to do the flight test last, though, because you can get your licence signed
right then and there and now you're a pilot, and you're already at the airport!
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This page written 10 December 2002 by Robyn Stewart. Last
revised 26 November 2003.
Copyright 2003 Flying Start