The first step in becoming a pilot is to select a type of aircraft. FAA rules for getting a pilot’s certificate differ depending on the type of aircraft flown. Individuals can choose among airplanes, gyroplanes, weight-shift, helicopters, powered parachutes, gliders, balloons, or airships. A pilot does not need a certificate to fly ultra light vehicles.
A student pilot is one who is being trained by an instructor pilot for his or her first full certificate, and is permitted to fly alone (solo) under specific, limited circumstances. Upon request, an FAA-authorized aviation medical examiner (AME) will issue a combined medical certificate and Student Pilot Certificate after completion of a physical examination. Student Pilot Certificates may be issued by an FAA inspector or an FAA-designated pilot examiner. To be eligible for a Student Pilot’s Certificate, an individual must be:
• Be 16 years old (14 years old to pilot a glider or balloon).
• Be able to read, write, speak, and understand English.
• Hold a current Third-Class Medical Certificate (or for glider or balloon, certify no medical defect exists that would prevent piloting a balloon or glider).
Medical Certification Requirements
The second step in becoming a pilot is to obtain a medical certificate and Student Pilot’s Certificate if the choice of aircraft is an airplane, helicopter, gyroplane, or airship. [Figure 1-26] (The FAA suggests the individual get a medical certificate before beginning flight training to avoid the expense of flight training that cannot be continued due to a medical condition.) Balloon or glider pilots do not need a medical certificate, but do need to write a statement certifying that no medical defect exists that would prevent them from piloting a balloon or glider. The new sport pilot category does not require a medical examination; a driver’s license can be used as proof of medical competence. Applicants who fail to meet certain requirements or who have physical disabilities which might limit, but not prevent, their acting as pilots, should contact the nearest FAA office.
A medical certificate is obtained by passing a physical examination administered by a doctor who is an FAA-authorized AME. There are approximately 6,000 FAA-authorized AMEs in the nation. Medical certificates are designated as first class, second class, or third class. Generally, first class is designed for the airline transport pilot; second class for the commercial pilot; and third class for the student, recreational, and private pilot. A Student Pilot Certificate is issued by an AME at the time of the student’s first medical examination. This certificate allows an individual who is being trained by a flight instructor to fly alone (solo) under specific, limited circumstances and must be carried with the student pilot while exercising solo flight privileges. The student pilot certificate is only required when exercising solo flight privileges. The student certificate is valid until the last day of the month, 24 months after it was issued.
Student Pilot Solo Requirements
Once a student has accrued sufficient training and experience, a CFI can endorse the student’s certificate to authorize limited solo flight in a specific type (make and model) of aircraft. A student pilot may not carry passengers, fly in furtherance of a business, or operate an aircraft outside of the various endorsements provided by the flight instructor. There is no minimum aeronautical knowledge or experience requirement for the issuance of a student pilot certificate other than the medical requirements for the class of medical certificate the student certificate is based upon. There are, however, minimum aeronautical knowledge and experience requirements for student pilots to solo.