Private Pilot Diary

There are three things you need to pass in order to gain your Private Pilot’s Certificate:

  • Pass a third-class medical
  • Pass a written knowledge test
  • Pass an oral and practical flying test

The third class medical certificate also gains you a Student Pilot Certificate which you must have before you are allowed to solo an aircraft. The exam is pretty easy – as Rod Machado puts it “if you can hear thunder and see lightning you can pass”.

The knowledge test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 2.5 hours and to pass you must score 70% or higher. There are many ways to study but I chose to use Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook and the Gleim FAA Test Prep software and book. I scored 90% and so would highly recommend that as a way of going for the test. You must pass the test before you can take the final checkride.

The checkride is the big test where you have to demonstrate knowledge and the ability to control the aircraft. It often lasts 3-5 hours split between an oral exam and a flying test where you will be asked to demonstrate all the maneuvers learnt during training, and to go on a cross-country flight.

I started my flight training in August 2001 and passed my checkride in February 2002. Although the time span is 6 months, the events of September 11 caused me to suffer a 6 week break during which time I changed flight instructors. I also endured a 3 week wait over the Christmas period waiting for some fog-free nights so that we could do our two required night flights. Without these interruptions I would likely have completed the training in 4 months or so, taking lessons mostly twice a week.

My total training time was 47.4 hours at an estimated cost of $5000 plus incidentals such as:

Headset $169.00
Aviator Sunglasses $89.00
C-172 Pilot Operating Handbook $30.00
Aviation Scanner $34.95
Student Pilot Flight Bag $37.50
Flight Computer $70.00


The minimum training time permissable is 40 hours but the national average is more like 70. My low time is certainly in no small part to the excellent training I got from Kimberly Bradshaw at Fly California!. Flying often and studying hard in between lessons is definitely essential if you wish to be done in the smallest (and therefore cheapest) amount of time.

I kept a diary of each lesson I took and you can see the gory details on the pages linked to below: