Sport Pilot Training: Everything You Need to Know

John Peltier

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

The sport pilot rating can be very confusing to many people, even current pilots and flight instructors. It’s that “in-between” area between flying ultralights and being a full-blown private 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

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Featured Image by Chris Happel

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Different Pilot Licenses Explained: Sport, Recreational and Private Pilot

In the fixed wing airplane world, pilots often refer to their pilot’s license as a “certificate”. Essentially, both terms mean the same thing and are interchangeable (although, technically, they are slightly different). For the purposes of this article, we intend “certificate” and “license” to represent the same “pilot status”. According to AOPA, the most accurate description of the certificate is a “license to learn”. Below, learn more about the different pilot licences and levels of pilot certificate.

The Three Pilot’s Certificates Explained

Student Pilot Certificate (License to Learn): All pilots registered with the FAA begin their journey as “Student Pilots”. The Student Pilot Certificate allows you to train with an FAA Certified Flight Instructor. Your first step is to learn the basics and fundamentals that will prepare you for your first “solo flight”.

There are several very important steps after your solo flight (advanced training) where a student decides to earn a Private Pilot’s certificate, Recreational certificate, or Sport Pilot certificate.

Each certificate has different requirements and differing pathways. The similarities of these certificates are – pilots are allowed to legally fly under certain conditions, and fly with one or more passengers for fun (no pay).

Private Pilot Certificate: The most popular certificate is the traditional “Private Pilot Certificate”. The Private Pilot is the pathway most student pilots take as they invest time, energy, and money into the process of learning to fly. This license requires 40 hours of flight training.

The Private Pilot licenses is the least restrictive of the three certificates.

The Private Pilot license is the pathway to advanced pilot certificates. Meaning, pilots with a Private Pilot license and are career-minded, can pursue the advanced certificates (Instrument, Commercial, and Certified Flight Instructor Certificates) and get paid to fly.

Getting Your Pilots License and Your First Intro Flight

Instrument and Commercial pilot’s licenses allow pilots to fly at night, fly in bad weather (fly by instrument), and fly multi-engine aircraft. Equally important, pilots with Private Pilot’s license, after advanced flight training, can become a commercial pilot and fly for a living. Private Pilot license holders can then earn a Certified Flight Instructor certificate (CFI), and even a Certified Flight Instructor Instrument certificate (CFII).

The top status of all pilot licenses is the Airline Transport Pilot certificate (ATP). Pilots who want to fly for the airlines, become corporate pilots, or fly charter jets are required to have the ATP certificate. Typically, pilots need 1,500 hours of logged flight time, an ATP certificate, and a college degree.

Recreational Pilot Certificate: The Recreation Pilot Certificate is a limited restricted version of the Private Pilot’s license, and considered to be a step below. Requires a minimum of 30 hours of flight training. The aircraft a Recreational Pilot flies is limited to 180 horsepower, and can only fly at a maximum altitude of 2000 AGL. The Recreational Pilot requires a 3rd class medical.

Recreational pilots typically fly from their “home airport”, fly during the day, and with only one additional passenger.

The good news is that a Recreational Pilot Certificate costs less and takes less time. And, a pilot with a Recreational Pilot’s license can continue training (gaining experience and flight hours) and eventually earn their Private Pilot’s license.

Sport Pilot’s Certificate: This version of a pilot’s license is relatively new (2004). It was created for people who desire to fly one or two seater aircraft that are smaller, lighter, and easier to fly. The main difference between Sport Pilot and Recreational Pilot cerftificates is the type of aircraft you are able to fly. The Sport Pilot is limited to planes with lower take off weight (smaller, lighter aircraft) with no more than two seats. Sport pilots require a minimum of 20 hours of flight training.

Additionally, pilot’s seeking Sport Pilot Certificates are not required to obtain a medical certificate (which is a big deal), but must have a valid drivers license. The Sport Pilot license is a limited and more restrictive pilot’s certificate than that of Private or Recreational. The Sports Pilot certificate prohibits pilots from flying aircraft that are more than 1,3200 lbs at takeoff and landing and 1,430 lbs at takeoff from the water.

However, with advanced training, Sport Pilot certificate holders can take additional flight training, pass an FAA Medical Exam, and earn a Recreational or Private Pilot’s license.

There are some conditions the different pilot licenses all require:
All Pilot’s License Holders Must Be or Have:
  • At least 17 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write and understand English
  • Receive logbook endorsements from authorized instructor who verifies aeronautical knowledge and preparedness for the FAA knowledge test
  • Pass the required FAA knowledge test
  • Receive flight training and a logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor who conducted the required training.
  • Pass the required practical test on the areas of operation that apply
  • Comply with the appropriate sections that apply to the aircraft category and class rating sought
Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

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