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How long does training for student, sport, recreational, or private licenses "count" toward your license, before it's considered outdated/expired? Can you start the process, intending to spread out the expense over something like 5 years, or in that situation, do you need to "save up" and do it all within a year or two?

Bonus question - My luck that I'm just starting to look into this, and there's a private pilot ground school course starting tomorrow nearby. Is it premature for me to take this class, not having taken any other steps? Would it be over my head, or would I need to take it again if I don't get the private license within a certain amount of time taking the class?

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    $\begingroup$ Hi. When asking about licensing, regulation etc, please always state the jurisdiction you are asking about. $\endgroup$ – Simon Sep 2 '15 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, United States (Michigan.) $\endgroup$ – user1902689 Sep 2 '15 at 20:47
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I'm assuming you're asking about the US, since you mentioned sport/recreational licenses.

You can take as long as you like to learn to fly, although spreading it out over multiple years will actually cost more, not less. The reason is that you forget things and take a lot longer to develop the right reactions, muscle memory and feel for the aircraft. So try to fly as much as possible and do your license as quickly as possible, within whatever time and budget limits you have; I know that not everyone has the time and money to learn to fly in one month or even one year.

As for a ground school course, they're often planned to end with you taking the knowledge test required for private pilots and that test might even be included in the price. When you take the test it's valid for two years. If you don't pass your final checkride within those two years then you'll have to do the knowledge test again first. But that doesn't mean you have to do a ground school course again, you can work with an instructor and by yourself to refresh your knowledge.

But if you're not sure about how/when to start training then the best thing you can do is talk to an instructor about your situation and expectations. Any good flight school will be happy to have someone sit down with you and answer whatever questions you have. An introductory flight would be a great way to start, if you haven't already done that.

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You can take as long as you want to train with the caveat that the longer you take the more money you will spend and the less progress you'll make for each hour of training undertaken. Aside from all the minimum times, which you are sure to meet and exceed with an extended training schedule, they only time-based requirements when you take the checkride are:

  • A knowledge test passing certificate dated within the preceding 24 calendar months (14 CFR 61.39(a)(1)(i))
  • 3 hours flight training with an instructor in the preceding 2 calendar months (14 CFR 61.109(a)(4) for private pilot single engine)

It would be rare to not have at least 3 hours with an instructor before your checkride to do final training and a mock checkride, so this requirement should be easily met. As long as you take your written test when you can envision taking your practical test within the next 2 years, you are fine to take your time training.

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