Cessna 172 airplane and pilot on airport runway - stock imagelast updated: 1/22/19

When you are learning to fly, your flight training is divided into “dual” lessons with your instructor and “solo” flights by yourself. FAA regulations specify what must be covered in training. A good instructor will use a well-written syllabus to organize your lessons, track your progress, and ensure you meet FAA requirements.

Dual Flight Lessons

In a dual flight lesson, you learn flight maneuvers and procedures with direct supervision from your instructor, who accompanies you during the flight.

Training airplanes have “dual controls,” meaning there is a second set of flight controls for the instructor. The instructor can fully control airplane from his or her seat. Early in your training, the instructor will do some of the work. As you advance, you will do more of the work, with your instructor only taking over to intervene when required for safety or to demonstrate maneuvers.

A dual flight lesson begins with a preflight briefing where you’ll learn what to expect during the flight. Your instructor will explain the lesson objectives and completion standards. There’s a saying that “an airplane makes a poor classroom” – and it’s true – you’ll want to make sure you understand new material on the ground before applying it in the air.

You’ll review the weather forecast with your instructor and conduct a preflight inspection of the airplane. If everything looks good, it’s time to fly!

During the flight, you’ll often review previously learned material before trying new things. Your instructor will demonstrate any new maneuvers and let you practice them. A typical flight lasts 1.0 to 1.5 hours.

The dual flight lesson ends with a post-flight debriefing, where you’ll talk about what you did during the lesson. Your performance will be measured against the lesson’s completion standards. The lesson will be recorded in your logbook. Your instructor will tell you what to expect on the next lesson and might give you a homework assignment.

Solo Flights

On a solo flight, you’re the only person in the airplane. Solo flight experience is designed to help you practice being pilot-in-command by making your own decisions in the airplane while still under some form of supervision by your instructor.

Your instructor will make sure you’re properly trained, qualified, and comfortable before you make a solo flight. He or she will set the conditions and limitations for your solo flying, such as maximum wind speed and a list of airports you’re allowed to visit.

Your solo flights will start as short local flights and become more complex. Your first solo flight will be a simple trip around the airport, never straying more than a couple miles – but it will be an unforgettable experience! Later you’ll be able to leave the airport area and fly within 25 nautical miles. Eventually, if you are a sport or private pilot student, you’ll make solo cross-country flights that go beyond 25 nautical miles (for sport) or 50 nautical miles (for private).

Hurdles in Training

Sometime during training, you might encounter a “learning plateau” where your progress seems to stop or go backwards for no apparent reason. This often occurs with the introduction of a difficult or complex subject, such as crosswind landings, and can be frustrating.

Don’t panic! A learning plateau is a normal experience. If you find yourself feeling “stuck,” it might help to back up and review material already learned, read about the topic in a different book, or temporarily fly with a different instructor. With patience and continued practice, things will finally “click” and you’ll be ready to move on.

Finding Support During Flight Training

Sometimes it helps to have a friend who’s “been there.” As a flight student, seek out an experienced pilot as a mentor. Your mentor can offer tips and encouragement throughout training. If you haven’t already found a mentor, ask your flight instructor to introduce you to one, or check out local airport organizations such as EAA chapters.

Read More on the Web:

AOPA Flight Training: Resources for Students – All about the flight training experience! FAQs, articles, online courses, topic briefings, and special features.

Best Practices for Mentoring in Flight Instructing (PDF) – FAA guide for aviation mentors

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What are the Entry-Level Pilot Certificates?
  2. What are the Eligibility Requirements for a Pilot Certificate?
  3. What are the Medical Certification Requirements for Pilots?
  4. What is Ground Training Like?
  5. What is Flight Training Like?
  6. What Tests are Required to Become a Pilot?
  7. How Much Does it Cost to Become a Pilot?
  8. How Can I Find a Flight School or Flight Instructor?
  9. How Does a Pilot Stay Current and Proficient?
  10. What Additional Certificates and Ratings Can a Pilot Earn?
  11. How Do I Sign Up for an Introductory Flight Lesson?