The Flight Training Process

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.

Starting Out

The main three things you need to successfully complete flight training are time, desire and money.  


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.

First Lesson

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.

Be Ready

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.

Lesson Plan

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 airplane.

Preflight Briefing

Every flight will start with a preflight briefing, discussing the weather, route of flight, any special conditions, and outlining your responsibilities and objectives.

Dual Instruction

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.

Postflight Briefing

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 progress.


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.

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.

Written Test

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 file.

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 Initiatives