SoCal Flying Monkey's Guide to Getting Started in Aviation


Let's do this! I'll attempt to cover the broad strokes of a how to get started flying.  But first, a couple things you should know about obtaining your private pilot certificate.  

1. It takes time- there will be triumphs and set backs.  Stick with it. It's worth it.

2. Find the right people - If you're not vibing with the instructor, switch it up. It's always good to get another perspective from a new instructor anyway.

We have a knowledgable and supportive group on the SoCal Flying Monkey Discord chat if you need a little encouragement or advice.


The timeline for everyone is different depending on the obstacles you need to overcome to get there.  To become an airline pilot can typically take 2 years of full time training.  For a private pilot it can be accomplished in as little as 2 months.  Typically those who stick with a regular schedule of flight training can balance a job and flight training and finish their private pilot certificate in about 6-9 months.


You'll want to find a flight school, probably one nearby unless you are going to relocate for full time instruction on the path to professional pilot.  Calling up local flight schools and asking questions about instructor availability and aircraft rental rates for training is a good start.  AOPA has a useful flight school finder tool.  It's often a good idea to pick a flight school at an airport close to your home since you'll be going there a lot.  Talk to the CFIs (Certified Flight Instructors) at the school and see if there's a good fit personality wise with one of them.  This is an important step.


The Discovery flight is your first flight with an instructor and an opportunity to see if you like flying.  It's usually about an hour long flight around the local area to get familiar with the plane and the feeling of flight in a small plane. The instructor may let you take the controls.  It's a good chance to ask lots of questions and get to know the instructor and flight school.


Every pilot (with the exception of a sport pilot) needs to pass a basic medical exam.

It's a good idea to get this out of the way very soon in training in case there are any obstacles or if you have any disqualifying conditions.

You can see the list of conditions that FAA considers disqualifying here.

These conditions aren't necessarily automatically disqualifying and some of them can be worked around with special approval by the FAA.

An FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner will help you determine the process.

There are about 6,000 of them across the country.  

There are three different classes of medical certificates.

  • First Class is for airline transport pilots
  • Second Class is for commercial pilots
  • Third Class is for private pilots


The FAA has a good list of flight training requirements but it essentially comes down to about 40 hours of flight time and passing a written test and practical flight exam.  Don't let all the flight requirements overwhelm or confuse you- your flight instructor will have a good plan to incrementally accomplish them all.  And it's super fun in the process!


The first test you'll need to pass is the Private Pilot Knowledge Exam, which is a written test. To take the test you need an endorsement from a flight instructor.  There are many GROUND SCHOOLS that will teach you what you need to know and also provide the endorsement to take the test.  The most efficient way to study is to do this on your own with a ground school training program, instead of paying an instructor a high hourly rate to teach you something you can learn on your own through an app.  I recommend GROUND SCHOOL by The Finer Points.  It's the best app for learning what you need to know and ALSO making you a great pilot.



The last part of the private pilot certificate is the practical exam, which is an oral and flying exam administered by an FAA designated pilot examiner (DPE).  By this point you will be well prepared and will answer a variety questions about flight planning scenarios, airplanes, and almost everything else you have learned.  The second part of the exam consists of a flight with the examiner to demonstrate the maneuvers you have been working on throughout training. 


It's definitely not cheap but keep in mind the return on investment is the fun, adventure, personal growth, and fulfillment you will get from aviation.

During training the main costs are instructor and airplane rental. Most instructor fees will vary from $40 per hour to $100 or more, depending on their experience and location.

Most training airplane rentals cost $120 to $170 per hour (which includes fuel).

For your private pilot certificate, it usually ends up costing between $10,000 and $15,000.

There are a variety of organizations that offer flight training scholarships or contests and they are worth looking into. Sometimes there are also local flight instructors who own their own planes or have access to planes that can get your training done at a lower cost than a traditional flight school. It's always worth asking around the local airport.


AOPA has some great resources for beginning or rusty pilots.  Check these out:

Free 6 Month Flight Training Membership:

AOPA Rusty Pilots: