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I'm a US-citizen living in Japan, and the costs here are insane ($500 per hour). So I'm thinking to go to the US or Australia for my pilot's license, but how long am I'm going to need to live there? Could it be done in 2-3 months? Less?

This question discusses the cost of learning to fly, and it's mentioned that people often take a year (flying once a week) to see the hours. My question is: reasonably speaking, how quickly can someone get their license? I'm not actually looking to go from "zero to hero" in record time, I do want to learn the material and enjoy the process. But wanted to have a rough idea of the lower limit so I can plan for the total costs (housing, time away from work).

If you need 40-50 hours of flight time, and you fly 2-3 times a week, what is the typical duration of these instructional flights? How many hours can someone realistically book in a week (I hear flights get cancelled)?

In reply to the comment about individual ability… I have a high-IQ and have taught myself many things throughout my life. I'm a software engineer with 20+ years experience (created my first commercial software application around age 12), I've authored several top-selling Japanese language books, I taught myself photography and have two Page-One credits in the NYTimes, I learned freediving and 9 months later I won an event in a competition in Japan and ranked 11th nationally, etc. When I put my mind to something I'm focused and disciplined. How much does it really depend on my ability and how much depends on class hours and flight time?

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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 It appears (from the picture on their homepage) that they'll teach you to fly but won't advise how not to trip from the landing gear. :) $\endgroup$ – Farhan Apr 20 '15 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ Also, check out AOPA Japan and this Pilots of America thread; converting a PPL to the Japanese equivalent is not trivial. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 20 '15 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ If the ability feedback was directed at my comment about "aptitude", I guess I should say that IMHO if you can drive, you can fly, and I'm not doubting your personal abilities. Perhaps I should have said "determination". But, many people do drop out for different reasons, and I've also observed that different people can get hung up on different tasks and need some time to get over the hump: in my case it was landings, in a friend's case it was talking to ATC etc. So there is a personal element. This may be easier to discuss in chat $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 20 '15 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ If you decide to come to the US, where you learn is going to affect how quickly you get a VFR ticket. And when you want to move up to an IFR rating, you actually hope for bad weather. Where you learn will also impact the cost (some parts of the country are much cheaper than others) A small school will probably be faster and more customized than a college program, if you're considering those... $\endgroup$ – Tim Apr 20 '15 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ Do the theoretical stuff beforehand. Come prepared and select a flight school with lots of time for you. I went to one in a remote part of Georgia and had two instructors to choose from and was their only student for much of the time (less than 2 weeks, admittedly). I could fly practically all day with a C150, a C172, a Beech Baron and a Katana. A colleague who went to a big school in Florida had to wait in a queue all day to get a handful of brief flights. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Mar 28 '16 at 15:42
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The absolute minimum would be about 45 hours. The FAA requires 40 hours of flight time, the completion of an aeronautical knowledge course, a written test, and a flight test. This assumes that you can read and memorize all the necessary aeronautical knowledge in an hour and a half.

In the realm of humans who like to eat and sleep and actually learn and such, you might be able to do it a little faster than 21 days. This flight school offers an accelerated PPL program that they list as taking 21 days, and they say that "[a]ny of these courses can be completed in less time than what is listed above, however the courses are based on the average time to completion." Of course, if there's a lot of inclement weather, that could slow things down.

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    $\begingroup$ Back in the 1960s (yes, I know, that's prehistoric), under the FAA's approved school program of the time (Part 41?), you could get a private in 35 hours and a commercial in 160 hours. Does that still apply? And just to make everyone feel good in these days of high cost, my total expenses including the fancy sunglasses were $679.95 to get my private. $\endgroup$ – Terry Apr 20 '15 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Terry Yes, a part 141 school can get you a PPL with 35 hours flight time and a commercial with 190, but you must take their ground schooling, which has a strict, specified curriculum, so it ends up taking longer (at least for the PPL). $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 20 '15 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Accelerated might not produce the best result. The time between lessons can be valuable "settling"/"integration" time for new knowledge and experiences. I once came upon a claim that for flight instruction, 2-3 lessons per week was an optimal pace - slower and previous lessons may not "stick", requiring further repetition; faster and it may go by too quickly to all be absorbed - again requiring further repetition. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Apr 21 '15 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Terry: that would be around or over 5000 of todays dollars. $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Apr 21 '15 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ @PlasmaHH That's still good, by today's prices. $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Apr 21 '15 at 20:51
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I did it in 17 days - start to finish.

Did flight school in Arizona. Before I went, I got the PPL study guide, MS Flight Simulator complete with a yoke, pedals, and throttle quadrant... and put in dozens of hours just learning the instrument scan and practicing virtual stuff.

When I got to the flight school, I already knew the parts of the plane, and what each control did. I knew about maps and plotting courses. I understood the physics of flight. I knew about VORs, VASIs, NDBs... I knew about stalls and corrective procedures - from an academic standpoint.

As such, my under-the-hood training was by-the-numbers. My seat of the pants stuff was only hampered the first few days by the awful flying conditions of AZ in July heat.

That said, I aced the written, and did my 3 required solos in two days. I went to a flight school run by a Gold Seal licensed FAA examiner so I didn't have to depend on the FAA to squeeze me in. And I passed. 17 days.

ONLY flew tricycle gear stuff. No taildraggers.

Other than the serious prep beforehand, there were three main drivers for my success:

  1. I flew at LEAST once a day - many times twice.
  2. I wanted this more than anything I had ever wanted before.
  3. I only had enough money and vacation accrued to be there for 3 weeks total - no more.

Best of luck!

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation! Awesome first write up and description. Hopefully you'll register your account and stick around. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Apr 20 '15 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ How much did this cost you total, @Mike, if I may ask. $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Apr 21 '15 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ CGCampbell - thanks! RoboKaren - funny thing... I live in CT. I priced it out here and found it was LESS to fly to AZ, spend 3 weeks in a motel, AND learn to fly out there. The place I went had free ground school - so that's where I spent my evenings and afternoons. Most flying was VERY early morning or late afternoon. (I soloed at 6:20 AM) Any other time was just oppressively hot and the density altitude made it hard to get off the runway without a climb prop. This was back in 1998... so I don't recall exactly what I spent... I'm going to guess I dropped maybe $7K? $\endgroup$ – Mike Apr 21 '15 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think the plane was ~$85.00/hr wet.... free ground school. Stayed in a clean but nondescript motel in Tucson. Ate a lot of fast food. Did ONE site seeing thing over a weekend, but otherwise - full-tilt flight school. Sadly, I think Snoopy's is out of business now. My FI was a British guy named Tim (can't remember his last name - but it's in my log book. :) ) Denny Genzman was the gold seal instructor who also owned Snoopy's. And yes - the flight school pre-dated the cartoon. $\endgroup$ – Mike Apr 21 '15 at 19:32
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I go once or twice a week if the weather holds and I'm up to almost 8 months (and I am still not done (PPL)).

I work with a guy who religiously went 3 days a week and said he got it done (at a part 61 school) in 6 months (almost exactly).

The limiting factors are of course money (which does not sound like you are worried about if you are planning an endeavor like this). And of course weather (which you can mitigate by going to a place in the country that has better year round weather like the south west), if you come during the summer and get 3 solid months of clear days and potentially never have a flight canceled you will be good. I have had 3 flights canceled in the past 3 weeks due to high wind or rain.

As for booking you can book as many hours as your instructor/aircraft will allow. Some instructors are part time which can limit how much you can book, and some schools have only a few planes but generally allow you to book way in advance so if you have the plane and instructor you can book every hour of daylight if you like. Keep in mind that trainer planes have 100 hour inspections and will be out for maintenance when another student inevitably has a prop strike...

As for ability that depends on a lot of things. You will most likely get the maneuvers down fast and then it will be all landing work. If you get those down fast (and they say the more frequently you fly the better it is) you can be done quickly.

You can mitigate some of this by self teaching yourself the ground material, although some schools (if not all) will require you to sit for a certain amount of ground lesson hours.

Edit

The amount of hours you get in a single day will depend on what you are doing and how long you can be up for. The way I was taught there was usually some pre flight instruction (outlining what we were going to do). Then I had to preflight the plane. Then get in, taxi out (I was at KPNE, so there was a solid amount of taxi traffic to contend with on occasion) go practice maneuvers or stay in the pattern and practice landings then some post flight discussion. All told for an hour and a half on the Hobbs I would some times be at the airport for 4 hours or more. I would think that realistically (assuming you need to eat lunch in the middle) and discuss things on the ground etc, you could get maybe 5 hours of actual flight time in, in a day. This will also depend on the season since the days are significantly shorter in the winter. Up hear in the north east there is a solid extra 2 hours of day VFR time in the summer.

Edit 2

You could on some level use a sim before you went about this to familiarize yourself with the aircraft instruments, how they work, and what certain control inputs will result in. A decent setup using X-Plane will only cost you a few hundred (USD) and be a lot of fun in its own right. The issue you will hit is that to much sim flying can result in BAD habit development. Sims are a great learning tool but don't always feel like the real thing so as long as you use it as a learning tool you will be fine. Some sim's even allow for simulated ATC communication which can really help you hone in your radio skills (something that will be overwhelming at first.

Edit 3

I see in the comments that you wish to one day fly a P-51. Assuming you are talking about doing so solo its worth nothing that the P-51 is a "Tail Dragger" also known as conventional landing gear. Most modern trainers have tricycle landing gear so you will have to get checked out in a conventional gear plane. You will also need a high performance rating to fly a plane with that much power as well as complex for the folding landing gear. While we are on the topic you mention flying lots of different types of planes this is not as simple as you would think. Most places will require type specific time (time in that particular model of aircraft or a very similar one) before letting you fly/rent it. To fly in lots of different aircraft right after having you license you will be spending lots of time with instructors in the plane as apposed to solo time.

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Yes, at least in the US it is completely reasonable to do it in 2-3 months. I believe you can achieve this easily in a month's time if you're doing it full time.

The following applies to the US, where I'm most familiar with the rules.

The process in the US as an alien is as follows:

  1. Find a flight school and notify them that you'd like to begin flight training
  2. Receive authorization from the TSA to begin flight training
  3. Get a Medical Exam
  4. Fly 40 hours (more on exact requirement below)
  5. Receive an endorsement to take the written knowledge test
  6. Take the Written Knowledge Test
  7. Receive an endorsement to take the practical test
  8. Take the practical test

The 40 flight hours have some additional requirements:

  • 20 hours with an instructor
    • 3 hours cross country (where the flight leg is at least 50 nautical miles)
    • 3 hours of night flying
      • 1 cross-country flight of at least 100 nautical miles
      • 10 take offs and landings to a full stop
    • 3 hours of instrument flying (you wear a view-limiting device like this one)
    • 3 hours of flying within 60 days of the practical exam
  • 10 hours of solo flying
    • 5 hours of cross-countries
    • 1 cross-country flight of at least 150 nautical miles with landings at 3 different airports
    • 3 take offs and landings at an airport with a controlled tower

Here are some tips to accelerate the process:

While you're still in Japan:

  1. Identify a flight school that is familiar with accelerated flight training, for example Double Eagle Aviation or Tailwheels Etc.. You should go to a place with good weather and choose a time of the year to maximize flying days (e.g. sunny, little wind, cool days or low altitude). Call and notify them that you'd like to begin flight training (check availability, schedule the course).
  2. Get the endorsement for the FAA Written Knowledge Exam. You can do this through an online ground school course, like Sportys or King Schools. There are various others you can find online, just make sure they will provide you with an endorsement for the FAA written exam.
  3. Become familiar with the TSA's Alien Flight Student Program and review timelines, process, and requirements. You will need to be fingerprinted at specific locations and the process can take a week or two.

Then, as soon as you land in the USA, get fingerprinted for the AFSP and while you're waiting for authorization, get your medical exam and take the written knowledge test.

I hope this helps!!!!

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A few comments:

The older you are the longer it takes. A generalisation yes, but I've been teaching people to fly for a few years and like it or not the spotty teenager wins every time over the old and wise!

Flights of more than about an hour or an hour-and-a-half become counter-productive. Lots of short flights are far better than long sessions. Your mind stops absorbing stuff as effectively after the first hour. If you have 2 or 3 hours booked then land, have a coffee, debrief ( even to yourself ) the past hour and start again. Apart from Navigation exercises a 3 hour flight is just a jolly for the instructor.

Fly with a purpose. decide what you want to do in each session, be honest and practice the bits you are not good at.

If you cram a licence understand that the learning curve after you get the ticket remains high. You learn more in the first 100 PIC hours than you ever thought possible!

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Regarding possibility to do it in 2-3 months time, yes a PPL is quite possible, but a Ground study before even the course starts will allow a much better experience.

I'm an aerospace engineer, and had flown flight simulators a lot, before joining the PPL course. In my experience, ground instructions were more about chatting with the instructor on ideas, techniques, and general information and experience. These side-notes are important and not all can be found on the books.

For a tentative schedule of 2-3 flights per week;

  1. until the solo flight, the flight times would be 1 or two hours each. Solo flight could be around the 10th hour, depending partly on your body skills and partly on knowledge of rules and procedures, so it would possibly take two weeks to fly solo.
  2. And then it could be 2-3 hours or longer flight each, where you practice more on landings, navigation, emergencies, and weather. Before and after each flight is the time where you enjoy as much as the flight itself, thanks to the fellow students and other instructors. You could assume that this would take 3 hours on average and if you have 40 hours, you would need 13 flights, which could practically occur in 5-6 weeks.

Assuming all goes well, 2 + 6 weeks = 8 weeks seems to be the normal paced course for flight. Ground courses take some serious extra time but depends more on personal literacy and capability to pass the tests, and could even be handled beforehand.

I attended the PPL course in Ankara, and the theme was just great.

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As far as searching for a school, use on line resources such as the AOPA, that's the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and search for instructors. The school is one thing, but the instructors can sap your money and time without moving you forward. About the only place you can count on for weather is California. Now you have very high fuel prices as compared to the rest of the country which translates into high hourly rates for the plane.

If you have the resources buy a Cessna 172 and use that for training. Many schools charge a nominal fee for the instructor (\$50/hour at Easterwood Airport in College Station, Texas) when you use your own airplane. You can purchase a C172 for less than $40000. The cost per hour goes way down. When you get your license sell your plane and move to whatever you want. If you get one that is IFR certified you can use it for your IFR rating after you get your PPL. Some schools will lease your airplane for training others. There are many instructors NOT associated with schools which you may be able to work out a deal with.

Check into Flying clubs. The Bay Area Aero Club in Pearland has great rates on airplanes. They also have a long list of "Approved" instructors which you contract with privately. There are hundreds of flying clubs like it in the US. You can also search for clubs on AOPA.

Three months is not out of the question. There are flying schools advertising in the Flying magazine all the time which guarantee passing the written test within a week. Time and money. That's all it takes.

You should be able to solo within 10 hours of flight time. If you have a good instructor you will be more than ready. The cost of the Practical Exam by a FAA Approved Examiner can be between \$400 and \$500. The practical Exam can be taken free at an FAA field office. There are very few of those. If memory serves there are seven regional offices. That's why they have approved examiners. My examiner cost me $500.

Good luck. Happy flying!

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In Argentina we have a 40 hs minimum to take the exam. As I learned in one of the busiest airports near Buenos Aires, it took me a little more -56 hs- because it included much radio communication and control procedures that other flight schools in other cities don't need.

As many other pilots, the experience with MS Flight Simulator really helped.

Looking back, I feel you can learn to fly in the first two hours or so. Then you happily spent your money learning how to land in one piece and walking... Don't limit yourself, take your time and be safe!

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protected by Farhan Apr 22 '15 at 17:49

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