A career in aviation, especially one as a pilot, is a dream for many people. If you’ve been considering flight school, you may be wondering: what will I need to learn beyond take-offs and landings? This article, presented by Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, provides a guide to the kinds of subjects and skills you’ll learn in a pilot training program.
Federal Aviation Regulations
Throughout your entire training as a pilot, your instructor will teach you skills and knowledge with reference to the FARs – Federal Aviation Regulations. These are the many rules and restrictions that the Federal Aviation Administration applies to civilian flight. Your instructor will refer to different numbered “parts”, with which you will quickly become familiar. These could include:
- Part 61: Certification requirements for pilots and instructors
- Part 67: Medical requirements and medical certificates for pilots
- Part 91: General flight and aircraft operation rules
Your school may also advertise itself as a “Part 141” school. This means it is certified under FAR Part 141, which lays out requirements for structured pilot schools.
Getting to Know the Aircraft
Early in your pilot training program, you’ll take some time to familiarize yourself with the parts of the plane you’ll be flying. This can include external components, like the wings and ailerons—the hinged flaps on the trailing edge of a wing that help control the degree of roll. You’ll also need to understand instruments in the cockpit, including navigational and communication systems. Your flight instructor will also cover the fuel system, the oil system, engines, and electrical systems. In addition, you will get to know your aircraft’s engine.
Finally, you will learn to compare and contrast the performance of different aircraft using charts. Knowledge of your aircraft’s parts and systems will help you file accurate flight logs and communicate effectively with maintenance personnel. Overall, it will make you into a safer, more knowledgeable pilot.
Understanding the Principles of Flight
In addition to the basics of your aircraft, your pilot training will introduce you to the principles of flight. This is not usually presented in a classical physics context, involving heavy use of higher mathematics. Instead, pilots learn applied physics by studying the different maneuvers of an aircraft and investigating the different forces at work. These include forces such as the Bernoulli Principle, which explains how the different pressures of air flowing over and under an airplane wing generates lift.
You will pick up the different principles of flight as you take your first flights with your instructor and progress towards solo flight. You will also study how to keep the aircraft balanced in flight by looking at how weighting the aircraft with cargo, passengers, or fuel can affect its performance. Solid grounding in the principles of flight provides a foundation for all of your future training.
FAA regulations require pilots to be physically fit, free from seizure disorders, severe mental impairments, and cardiovascular disease. The tests and requirements become stricter as a pilot advances through his or her career. For example, private pilots need a simple physical examination conducted by an Aviation Medical Examiner, a local physician authorized by the FAA to examine future pilots. Airline pilots need yearly or six-monthly heart function tests and scans.
In your pilot training, you will learn what the FAA requires of pilots in terms of health, vision, and physical fitness. You will also study aeromedicine—the effects of flight on the human body. This will help you understand how atmospheric pressure and other aerodynamic forces cause changes in passengers and crew. You will be prepared to react effectively in medical emergencies. As a pilot, you have a duty to remain physically healthy and to ensure the physical health of others.
Using Weather Forecasts and Information
Obviously, weather conditions play a tremendous role in a pilot’s life. Winds, cross-winds, turbulence, and storms must be taken into account when planning your flights and operating an aircraft.
As you progress from a student pilot towards commercial rating, you will study the effects weather conditions have on flying. You will study different weather phenomena, including:
- Cloud formations and their classifications
- Fronts and air masses
- Humidity and temperature
- Wind changes
- Weather hazards, including thunderstorms and precipitation
You will also learn how to use the weather information available to you to safely plan and complete your flights.
Navigation, Flight Planning, and Instrument Flight Rules
Navigation is the process of planning, controlling, and recording your aircraft’s movement from place to place. When you begin flight school, you will learn the basics of aeronautical navigation to operate an aircraft under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Your first lessons will focus on using visual cues, magnetic compass readings, and dead reckoning (the process of determining your position based on the last known position). You will also learn to use radio navigation, air traffic control radar, and flight computers.
As you progress towards commercial pilot licensing, you will start to familiarize yourself with other navigational instruments and techniques. These more advanced navigational principals will prepare you to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), in conditions where visual cues cannot be used, such as poor weather or in clouds. You will learn to use GPS systems along with the network of Non-Directional Beacons and VHF Omnidirectional Range radio transmitters to help position your aircraft and stay on course. You will also learn how to proceed if your navigation and communications systems fail.
Flight planning is an important pilot duty. FAA regulations require pilots to file flight plans with the airports they will depart from and arrive at before taking off. As part of your training, you’ll be required to read and understand aeronautical charts and file accurate flight plans.
Flight Maneuvers and Pilot Duties
Finally, the part most aspiring pilots are interested in: flying the aircraft. In a pilot school, you’ll gain flying skills and experience alongside the aeronautical knowledge mentioned above, progressing steadily from more basic to more advanced knowledge. For Private Pilot certification, you’ll need to demonstrate you have the skills necessary to perform a cross-country flight. A cross-country flight is any flight that covers more than 25 nautical miles and goes from airport to airport. Your instructor will teach you skills including:
- How to prepare for your flight, including pre-planning of your route and systems checks
- How to safely taxi the aircraft at an airport
- How to take off and land, with the wind or in a cross-wind
- How to safely follow airport traffic patterns when entering or departing
- How to fly straight and level and make level turns
- How to make climbing turns
- How to avoid collisions, wind shear, and wake turbulence
- How to descend the aircraft, including with turns or high and low drag configurations
- How to fly at different speeds
- How to handle stalled engines, other equipment malfunctions, and proceed in an emergency
- How to perform forward slips and sideslips
When preparing for your Commercial Pilot certification, you’ll also need to demonstrate knowledge of high-altitude operations, post-flight procedures, and show that you have some experience flying at night. Additionally, your instructor will familiarize you with the National Transportation Safety Board’s accident reporting requirements.
The Right Attitude
As a pilot, you earn the privilege of commanding an aircraft. A quality flight school will emphasize your responsibility to remain worthy of this privilege, and teach you preparedness, vigilance, and accountability.