The sport pilot certificate was created with the aviation enthusiast and hobbyist in mind. It was developed, in part, to encourage more people to fly. The sport pilot certificate costs less to obtain than the customary private pilot license and doesn't require a student to have an FAA medical certificate. The requirements for a sport pilot certificate are substantially less than that of a private pilot certificate, but it comes with more limitations, as well. It's a license that is suitable for pilots limited by time or budget, who want to fly light aircraft in the local area.
Here are the steps to becoming a sport pilot:
Make Sure You're Eligible
To become a sport pilot, the FAA requires a pilot applicant to be at least 17 years old and be able to read, speak, write and understand English (CFR Part 61.305). Per Federal Aviation Regulation Part 61, you can begin flight training when you're 16 years old, but cannot take the sport pilot checkride (practical test) until you are 17.
Determine Your Medical Status
To become a sport pilot, you have to have either an FAA-issued 3rd Class aviation medical certificate, or a valid U.S. driver's license.
The beauty of the sport pilot certificate (for many) is that an FAA medical exam isn't necessary. Or is it? There are some circumstances in which a medical exam is still required.
Here's the scoop: If you've never been denied an aviation medical certificate and have no known health conditions that could affect the safety of flight, then you can fly with just a drivers license. If you have a known medical condition that could affect flight safety, or you have been denied a medical certificate in the past, you must go to an aviation medical examiner to obtain a medical certificate.
If you've never had an aviation medical exam, you may fly with a valid driver's license only.
Study for and Take the FAA Written Exam
The FAA written exam is a 40-question multiple-choice test that must be completed before you can obtain a sport pilot certificate. Some instructors want you to complete the written exam before you begin your flight training; others will let you begin and will conduct ground training with you during the course of your syllabus to prepare you for the written exam. Either way, you'll need to learn the information fast -- sport pilot training will go by quickly!
At a minimum, you'll need to complete 20 hours of flight time in a light sport aircraft. Fifteen of those hours must be instructional (with an instructor) and at least 5 will be solo flight hours. Don't hold yourself to these numbers- they are minimum hours, and most people take a little longer to learn how to land the aircraft and to be comfortable with flying in general.
Take the Checkride
Once your instructor thinks you're ready, he'll "sign you off" to take your checkride, which means he will sign your logbook attesting to your knowledge and ability. The checkride is the final test before you earn your certificate, and it consists of an oral exam and a flight exam. The oral exam is a verbal exam in which the examiner will quiz you about the aircraft, flight limitations, weather, aeronautical charts, aerodynamics, and other topics.
Once you pass that test, you'll take the flight portion of the exam. During the flight, you'll be evaluated on specific maneuvers, including how you operate the aircraft in normal and emergency situations.
More Sport Pilot FAQs
For more answers to your questions about the sport pilot certification, be sure to check out our FAQs article.