Flight Training

Beginning your training for a Sport Pilot Certificate is the first step towards a rewarding future in aviation. As mentioned before, 20 flight hours is the minimum amount of training required to qualify to take the Sport Pilot Oral and Practical test. Although this may sound simple, training requires a wide variety of exercises and practice to be completed. While training, you must discipline yourself to learn and master your new skill to safely pilot the aircraft.

Your journey will start with basic ground knowledge and flying lessons. As training progresses, you will learn complex flight theory and practice advanced flight maneuvers. While there is no minimum requirement for time spent discussing ground knowledge, your instructor will determine the amount of ground discussion that will be necessary. The FAA requires all student pilots to pass a FAA Knowledge Test before taking the Oral and Practical Test. The knowledge test is usually 40 questions long, and requires a 70% or better to pass. The questions on the test will be on subjects covered in ground discussions. While you are tested on a wide variety of related subjects, this doesn't mean its the only aeronautical knowledge you must learn. The 40 questions are randomly picked from a bank of hundreds of questions. There are several books available which allow students to study the questions on the knowledge test.

After completing this test, your results are good for 24 months. If your flight training takes over this amount of time, you will be required to retake and pass the test. While there is no limit on the amount of times you may take this test, you must take it at an approved FAA testing center for a cost usually around $70.

When you are ready to obtain your Sport Pilot Certificate, you will be required to pass the oral and practical exams. You must pass the oral exam before moving on to the practical portion. The oral exam consists of sitting down with a FAA Designated Examiner (DE) to be quizzed on ground knowledge gained during your training. The exam usually lasts 1-2 hrs. There is no minimum score during the oral exam- it is simply pass or fail.

It may seem like a lot to take in, but all topics covered on the knowledge and oral exam are listed in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Federal Air Regulations (FAR) 61.309. These items are:

  • Accident reporting requirements of the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • Use of the applicable portions of the aeronautical information manual and FAA advisory circulars.
  • Use of aeronautical charts for VFR navigation using pilotage, dead reckoning, and navigation systems, as appropriate.
  • Recognition of critical weather situations from the ground and in flight, windshear avoidance, and the procurement and use of aeronautical weather reports and forecasts.
  • Safe and efficient operation of aircraft, including collision avoidance, and recognition and avoidance of wake turbulence.
  • Effects of density altitude on takeoff and climb performance.
  • Weight and balance computations.
  • Principles of aerodynamics, powerplants, and aircraft systems.
  • Stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery techniques, as applicable.
  • Aeronautical decision making and risk management.

Knowledge of preflight actions will also be tested on including:

  • Obtaining information on runway lengths at airports of intended use, data on takeoff and landing distances, weather reports and forecasts, and fuel requirements; and
  • Planning for alternatives if the planned flight cannot be completed or if you encounter delays.

Your CFI will not send you on your oral exam unless they feel you are adequately prepared. To ensure this, you will need a written endorsement from your instructor stating you have received all the instruction necessary to proceed with the exam. While all of these topics are listed, depending on the DE, you may not be tested on all of them. The FAA does not want to see you fail. You are being tested on being able to safely and competently being able to act as pilot in command of the aircraft. Nobody is perfect, any pilot will tell you they have said wrong answers on an exam and passed. Practical Test Standards are listed and available for ground and flight testing listing the tolerances of acceptability for each item.

While you may be ready for the oral before the practical exam, you will more than likely take both tests at the end of your flight training. Remember, 20 minimum hours of flight time is required before you can be signed off to take the practical exam. Minimums of different types of flight time though must also be met. Listed in FAR 61.113, the breakdown of flight time is as follows:

  • 15 hrs dual instruction with a CFI in a single engine aircraft
  • 5 hrs solo flight with proper endorsements
  • 2 hrs cross country flight
  • 10 take off and landings to a full stop at an airport in the traffic pattern
  • One solo cross country flight of 75 nautical miles (nm) or greater with full stops at a minimum of two points with at least 25nm between points.
  • 2 hrs of flight training in preparation for areas of operation in FAR 61.311 within 2 months of the practical test

Like ground knowledge, the areas of flight proficiency that must be covered in training are listed in FAR 61.311. These are also the items you will be tested on during the practical test. The items listed in FAR 61.311 are as follows:

  • Preflight preparation.
  • Preflight procedures.
  • Airport, seaplane base, and gliderport operations, as applicable.
  • Takeoffs (or launches), landings, and go-arounds.
  • Performance maneuvers, and for gliders, performance speeds.
  • Ground reference maneuvers (not applicable to gliders and balloons).
  • Soaring techniques (applicable only to gliders).
  • Navigation.
  • Slow flight (not applicable to lighter-than-air aircraft and powered parachutes).
  • Stalls (not applicable to lighter-than-air aircraft, gyroplanes, and powered parachutes).
  • Emergency operations.
  • Post-flight procedures.

Similar to the oral exam, all of these items may not be covered. During your flight training you will start from the basics such as climbs, descents, and turns. Usually after you find a handle on these items, stalls will be introduced. If you've never been introduced to stalls, they may sound a bit intimidating. Demonstrations of stalls however are smooth and quite calm with the proper instruction and practice. Stalls are a major part of flying and all pilots train to avoid them.

After being exposed to stalls, you may be introduced to ground reference maneuvers. These are operations that teach navigation in relation to the ground. These maneuvers are important for flying a set track, but also for operations in an airport traffic pattern. When your instructor feels you are competent, you will be exposed to the most crucial part of flying, take-offs and landings. A good portion of your training may occur in the pattern at an airport. Towards the end of flight training, all of your skills will come together and you will do a cross country flight from one airport to another.

Congratulations, you are now ready to be called a sport pilot. Completion of the knowledge, oral, and practical exam will result in the DE endorsing your sport pilot application. Usually upon receiving this endorsement, you will receive a temporary airman certificate. Your application is sent to the FAA for processing and within a few weeks, you should receive your permanent certificate in the mail.


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