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Your Online Resource for Becoming a Pilot

BecomingAPilot is a resource guide to aviation programs. It may be surprising, but most flying jobs require a person to hold at least an associate’s degree. Higher paying jobs will often require graduate degree holders. Online aviation and alternate programs are becoming more prominent, but additional training is usually required.

Liberty University
Aviation (BS)
Liberty University's BS in Aviation program features a curriculum built for pilots who seek a bachelor's degree. Students come away with knowledge needed to navigate various work environments like military, commercial, or missionary. Liberty University prides itself in offering students an environment conducive to learning, and this program is no exception.
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What is the Educational Process of Becoming a Pilot?

The education requirements to become a pilot are different than they are for other degrees. First, to become a pilot you must complete high school. In addition to high school, a college education should be sought. Although a college degree is not required, it is often looked for by organizations and businesses that employ pilots. There are some colleges that offer a pilot certification in addition to an associates or bachelor’s college degree in aviation science or aeronautics. A pilot license is conferred upon the completion of both flight and classroom coursework. Frequently in these programs upperclassmen are employed as flight instructors for other students. Through these programs you must have coursework in physics, aeronautical engineering, mathematics and English. It’s important to enroll in an aviation or aeronautics program that has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Although these joint aviation and college degree programs can be expensive, they guarantee that you’ll receive the college education and pilot training you need for a successful pilot career.

Becoming a pilot also requires extensive flight training and experience. There are a certain number of flying hours in training that a prospective pilot must satisfy. This amount of hours will vary depending on employers and flight positions. For example, to fly as an airline pilot you must be at least 23-years-old and have flown for a minimum of 1,500 hours before getting a pilot’s license. Flight training can be done through degree programs or through a flying school that is approved by the FAA. To obtain a pilot’s license you also must be in good physical and mental health.

What Topics Will Be Covered in Pilot Certification Programs?

Pilots must be knowledgeable in many fields. Therefore most aviation programs cover a wide range of topics. The following are items you must know to become a professional pilot:

  • Physics: Understanding the theory of flight requires fundamental knowledge of physics. The laws of motion, mass, inertia, pressure, temperature, fluids and gasses are all physics’ concepts a pilot must understand. Understanding these laws of physics will help understand aerodynamics (subsonic and supersonic), aircraft performance (including aircraft loading), hydroplaning and system operations and limitations.
  • Meterology: Meteorology is also rooted in physics. As a pilot you must be able to interpret the weather as well as make judgments as to the validity of the weather forecasts. Often the must be able to report what he or she is seeing accurately as well as make a quick analysis of weather conditions. You must know how changes in weather may affect the overall forecast and the safety of the prospective flight.
  • Aircraft Systems: Knowing the principles of physics is also important in operating machines, including aircrafts. As a pilot you must understand aircraft maintenance so you know how to double-check the mechanic’s work. You must have knowledge of the various components on the engine; how they function and interact. You also must have a full understanding of electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems. Being familiar with the cable and pulley systems that may be incorporated to operate flight controls must also be learned. A thorough understanding of all these components is necessary for troubleshooting if any problems occur during a flight.
  • Navigation and Geography: This is a broad subject with many aspects. You must understand how maps and charts are constructed in order to properly interpret them. You also must fully understand the safety margins that are incorporated into charts, and how they affect each phase of flight. Even though most planes use computer equipment for navigation systems, there is a still a chance that the equipment will fail. Knowing how to navigate through dead reckoning, celestial or other navigation means will help the flight reach the ground in safety. A pilot who does not understand charting will be flying inefficiently and could cause a crash.
  • Regulations and Air Traffic Control: You must be familiar with all airport regulations that may affect your flight. Most of these regulations come from the FAA, but you are expected to comply with the regulations of various other government bodies, both Federal and State. In addition, International law also govern pilots flying Internationally.
  • Physiology: While you’re not expected to go to medical school, the FAA does expect you to be able to recognize physical problems that may affect you or any passengers. You should know how to prevent medical problems and how to understand various illusion and sensations that occur during a flight that could affect safety.

Pilot Licensing and Certifications:

In the United States pilot certification is required in order to act as a pilot of an aircraft. As mentioned before, the FAA regulates certification. The FAA is a branch of the U.S. government Department of Transportation (DOT). A pilot is certified under the authority of Parts 61 and 141 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, also known as the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). There are many different types of pilot licenses and levels of certifications, all of which have different requirements. The FAA’s website lists all certifications and licenses available in the field of aviation and aeronautics.

Throughout your piloting education you’ll complete different “privilege levels.” The following are the levels of certifications to fly an aircraft:

  • Student Pilot: An individual who is learning to fly under the tutelage of a flight instructor and who is permitted to fly alone under specific, limited circumstances.
  • Sport Pilot: An individual who is authorized to fly only light-sports aircrafts.
  • Recreational Pilot: An individual who may fly aircraft of up to 180 horsepower (130 kW) and 4 seats in the daytime for pleasure only.
  • Private Pilot: An individual who may fly for pleasure or personal business, generally without accepting compensation.
  • Commercial Pilot: An individual who may, with some restrictions, fly for compensation or hire.
  • Airline Transport Pilot (ATP): An individual authorized to act as pilot in command for a scheduled airline. Airline pilots should also have 40 hours of instrument flying experience and take an instrument flying rating exam. Instrument flying ratings demonstrate a pilot’s ability to fly in low visibility conditions.

Each one of these levels of certification has a minimum amount of hours of flight experience required. Additionally, you must pass both a written exam and demonstrated flying ability to pass to the next level. Pilot’s license stipulations also call for a physical exam, which includes 20/20 vision with or without lens, good hearing and no physical handicaps.

What does Student Pilot Certification Consist Of?

As mentioned before, becoming a pilot requires some sort of education, typically in the form of an Associate or Bachelor of Aviation degree program. Within this education you are able to obtain your student pilot certification, which allows you to make solo flights. A student pilot certificate is issued by an aviation medical examiner (AME). It’s typically administered at the time of the student’s first medical examination. If the pilot operations you wish to have do not require a medical certificate, then a FAA inspector or an FAA-designated pilot examiner can also issue a student pilot certificate.

The student certificate is valid until the last day of the month, 24 or 60 months (depending on age) after it was issued. If the student has sufficient training and experience after that amount of time, a CFI can endorse the student’s certificate to authorize limited solo flight in a specific make and model of aircraft. Typically a student pilot may not carry passengers, fly for business, or operate an aircraft outside of the various endorsements provided by the flight instructor.

In order for a student to fly solo, they must meet the following minimum aeronautical knowledge and experience requirements:

  • Hold at least a current third class medical certificate
  • Be at least 16 years of age
  • Read, speak, write, and understand the English language
  • Demonstrate satisfactory aeronautical knowledge on a knowledge test, including knowledge of the following areas: Airspace rules and procedures for the airport where the solo flight will be performed; flight characteristics and operational limitations for the make and model of aircraft to be flown
  • Receive and log flight training for the maneuvers and procedures appropriate to the make and model of aircraft to be flown, including:
    1. Preflight operations
    2. Taxiing or surface operations, including run-ups
    3. Takeoffs and landings, including normal and cross-wind
    4. Straight and level flight, and turns in both directions
    5. Climbs and climbing turns
    6. Airport traffic patterns, including entry and departure procedures
    7. Collision avoidance, wind shear avoidance, and wake turbulence avoidance
    8. Descents, with and without turns, using high and low drag configurations
    9. Flight at various airspeeds from cruise to slow flight
    10. Stall entries from various flight attitudes and power combinations with recovery initiated at the first indication of a stall, and recovery from a full stall
    11. Emergency procedures and equipment malfunctions
    12. Ground reference maneuvers
    13. Approaches to a landing area with simulated engine malfunctions
    14. Slips to a landing
    15. Go-arounds

Aviation can be a great career or just a thrilling hobby, but the regulations are strict, and completing training and earning certification are absolute requirements for anyone who wants to fly.

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