Learning to Fly

This article is primarily going to focus on the PPL(A) licence, as it’s the most common licence in the UK and arguably the world. The PPL sylabus will cover all parts of flying, from basic aircraft handelling to how to navigate large distances and, if the worst were to happen, how to deal with emergency situations you may find yourself in.

The PPL(A) licence requires you to have completed a minimum of 45 hours of flying time, of which 10 must be solo. Please note that this is an absolute minimum and does vary considerably, depending on how fast you learn and how often you fly. Schools will often quote their course costs on this fixed 45hr (35hr with instructor, known as “duel” and 10hr solo), but do expect to spend a little more.

In the UK, we are largely goverened by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), who set out rules and regulations to the structure of the PPL licence. These are enforced by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who issue your licence. Whilst the guidlines are there for your instructor, they do not need to be adhered to in a strict order. Weather and other factors can adjust the progression of your training and therefore the advice below is only a rough guideline.

The basic structure of the PPL is:

  • Basic aircraft handelling. This covers somewhere around the first 10 hours of your training. It includes the primary and secondary functions of the ailerons, elevators, rudder, flaps and throttle. It also teaches you basic level flight, climbing, descending, turning and the ability to fly these maneuvers at various speeds. This part of the course will also teach you about
  • Upset recovery. This isn’t as scary as it seems, but is without a doubt the most important part of the sylabus. Upset recovery is esentially the ability to recover the aircraft from an undesirable state, such as a stall. Stalling is where you fly too slow and the wing can no longer produce enough lift to sustain flight, but is easily recoverable. This takes between 2-5 lessons depending how your stall recoveries are flown. This is an essential part of the course and will not be rushed through. There is an optional secton of this training which will allow you to learn to “spin” your aircraft, but this is not mandatory and is normally only done at the request of the student.
  • Circuits. Perhaps one of the most interesting and intense parts of your training, but certainly the most enjoyable. Circuits are the process of repeated practicing of taking off and landing. It’s a very busy time to start off with, with lots to remember during the take off, climb out, before landing checks, approach and finally the landing. However, difficult as it may seem you will fly this part until you are ready for…
  • Your first solo. Yes you read that right, at some time between (in my experience as an instructor) 12 and 30 hours, after repeated landings to an excellent standard, your instructor will step out of the aircraft and leave you to complete a single circuit on your own. Ask any pilot, they will all remember this day well, the feeling of flying an aircraft unaided is an experience you will never forget.
  • Advance handelling. After your first solo, your training will be split up into two parts: advanced handelling and navigation. Adavance handelling expands on the basic flying skills to learn steep turns (up to 60 degrees of bank) and introduces emergencies including what to do if you had an engine failure or if  you find yourself flying in unsuitable weather.
  • Navigation. In addition to advanced handelling, you will also learn to navigate. PPL navigation uses a method that references  what you see on the ground to what is on a chart that you carry. This seems rather low tech in a world of GPS and computers, but is a reliable and accurate method which has been used for decades of training. You will also learn to land at other airports, how to use basic radio navigation aids and what to do if you ever found yourself to be lost.
  • Basic instrument flying. The PPL is strictly a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) licence, meaning you must remain in sight of the surface at all times, not fly in clouds and only fly if the visibility is suitable. Full definitions of VFR can be found on our acronyms page. However there is always a risk you might find yourself in unfavourable weather, so as a PPL pilot you will learn very basic instrument flying skills to get you out of the bad weather you just found yourself in. Knowing these skills does NOT mean you can fly in clouds, which is another course all together (IR or IR(R)) which takes significant training to complete.

In addition there are also nine theorhetical examinations to complete by the end of the PPL course. These are multiple choice exams which have a pass mark of 75%. The subjects are: Aviation Law, Meteorology, Aircraft General Knowledge, Navigation and Radio Aids, Human Performance & Limitations, Commumications, Operational Procedures and finally, Principles of Flight. There is also a practical communications exam to take, which normally happens a short while beore your flying skills test when you have perfected your communication to ATC.

After the above is all complete and you’ve met the minimum hours required, you will then be put forward to sit your PPL skills test. This is a flight of approximately 2 1/2 hours in length which tests you on all the flying skills you have learnt in the past 45+ hours. So long as these are all completed to the required standard you will be awarded with an EASA PPL(A) licence, allowing you to pilot an aircraft for leisure anywhere in Europe.