Want to fly around for simple travel and sightseeing but don’t have the resources to obtain a private pilot’s license? Or perhaps you can’t get the medical certificate for your private pilot but can still safely operate an aircraft. Go through sport pilot training instead!
What Can You Do as a Sport Pilot
A sport pilot can fly any aircraft categorized as a “light sport” aircraft. These aircraft weigh less than 1,320 pounds, cannot cruise faster than 120 knots, and only have seating for one passenger in addition to the pilot. There are a few other technical requirements, but these are the basics to be considered a light-sport aircraft. Examples of light-sport aircraft include the popular & timeless J-2 Cub, Aeronca Champ, the newer Cessna Skycatcher, certain gyroplanes, balloons, and gliders.
As a sport pilot, you can use your driver’s license to fly you and a friend around uncontrolled airspace during the day, under 10,000’, and in visibility greater than three miles.
Additional endorsements are available for sport pilots to be allowed to fly in certain controlled airspace and in varying light-sport aircraft.
Eligibility Requirements for Sport Pilot Training
In order to start your sport pilot training, you must have at least a valid U.S. driver’s license. Except if you’re training to fly gliders or balloons – no driver’s license is required. If you’re using a driver’s license, you’ll need to comply with any restrictions issued under this license, such as the requirement to wear corrective lenses.
You may most certainly use an FAA medical certificate instead of a driver’s license, but be careful if you don’t yet have a medical certificate and try to get one. If you apply for a medical certificate but are found ineligible for one, this will disqualify you from getting your sport pilot license. If there is any doubt about your ability to pass an FAA Third Class medical, you may just want to use your driver’s license, so long as you can safely operate an aircraft.
You need to be able to read, write, and understand English.
You’ll need to have reached your 17th birthday when you test for your sport pilot license in anything other than a glider, in which case you only need to be 16 years old. You can start training when you’re 14 for gliders, and 16 for all other aircraft.
Before you can take your practical test you’ll need to take a written knowledge test.
After a certain amount of flight training (20 hours in airplanes & gyroplanes, 10 hours in gliders) you’ll be eligible to take the final practical test with an FAA examiner.
What to Expect in Sport Pilot Training
Sport pilots still need to know the basic “rules of the road” in order to safely operate an aircraft in American skies. Your sport pilot training will start with ground instruction on some of these subjects. Some of the sport pilot ground training subjects include:
- The FAA regulations applicable to sport pilot privileges and operations
- Visual navigation using aeronautical charts
- Basic weather theory as it applies to aviation
- Understanding of aircraft systems
- Aeronautical decision making
With the right attitude, you’ll be able to hang out in the pilot’s lounge in airports across the country and participate in discussions about these subjects! Not to mention being able to safely and effectively operate your aircraft.
You’ll also be getting up in the air for some flight instruction concurrent with most of your ground training. Depending on which aircraft category you want to get certified in, and how fast you pick things up, this could be anywhere from ten to twenty lessons.
In airplanes, for example, you’ll need a total of 20 hours flight time (half of what is required to be a private pilot). This is broken down into 15 hours of flight lessons with a flight instructor and 5 hours of solo flight.
Your first few lessons will be all about familiarizing yourself with the airplane – preflight, controls, and postflight. Once you have a foundation of these things, then your instructor will take you through basic maneuvers during your next few lessons. These topics will include takeoff, maneuvering with reference to objects on the ground, and landing. You may even get surprised with an emergency procedure or two.
At that point, you should be ready to solo! Your first solo will be limited to flying around the airport, but after that you’ll be on your own “cross-country”! This solo cross-country flight must be a minimum of 75 miles. During these 75 miles, you’ll be making a landing at a second airport other than your home base, and have one segment of the cross-country longer than 25 miles. It’s an awesome feeling!
Other airplane requirements are a total of ten takeoffs and landings to a full stop and two hours of cross-country flight training with an instructor (you’ll do this before your cross-country solo).
Once you’ve completed all of the above sport pilot training you’ll be ready for your practical test, so long as you’ve already taken your knowledge test. The knowledge test is a written test at an FAA testing center with questions related to what you learned during your ground training.
The practical test, also known as the “checkride”, is with an FAA examiner. He or she will quiz you orally before your flight on those subjects you learned in ground training, then you’ll go on out for your flight! Just imagine that it’s just another flight with your instructor. The examiner will want to see you preflight the aircraft, crank it up, takeoff, perform some basic flight maneuvers, stalls, an emergency procedure, then come back and land. That’s all there is to it! You’re now a certified sport pilot!
Restrictions on Sport Pilots You Need to Know
Some of the basic restrictions have already been outlined, like airspeed limits and altitude limits.
You also cannot operate in any controlled airspace as a basic sport pilot. That is to say, around small airports with control towers or in airspace around larger airports like Los Angeles. However – there is a provision to allow sport pilots to fly in this airspace. All it takes is some extra training and an endorsement from an instructor. You’ll learn more about using the radios, navigation, controlled airport operations, and the FAA regulations as they relate to controlled airspace.
This endorsement is really not difficult to obtain and it really opens up your options for flying!
There are many other restrictions outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations (Part 61.315 if you’re interested). Here are some highlights from the long list:
- You can only fly one passenger, and you may split operating costs evenly among the two of you (your passenger cannot pay more than an equal share)
- You cannot fly to further your own business
- You cannot fly at night
- You cannot fly greater than 2,000 feet above the ground
Should You Pursue Sport Pilot Training?
If you want to experience the freedom of flight but can’t make the commitment for private pilot training, then absolutely go for it! Just realize that while it’s a fast-track to being a pilot, flying is a very serious business with risks. Treat is as such and you’ll be glad you did!
Get Started With Your Flight Training Today
Featured Image by Chris Happel