The Recreational Pilot Certificate
By far the least popular of all of the pilot certificates is the recreational pilot certificate. It was meant to be a simpler version of the private pilot certificate, but the restrictions placed upon it aren't popular with students. The recreational license was meant for recreational flyers that were going to stay outside of controlled airports and within 50 miles of their home airport. For some farmers or enthusiasts who simply want to go for an airplane ride every now and again, the recreational pilot certificate might be desirable.
The sport pilot certificate has sort of replaced the recreational pilot certificate, although the recreational license is still available to student pilots. The restrictions on a recreational pilot are greater than those imposed upon a sport pilot or private pilot. The requirements for obtaining a recreational pilot certificate lie somewhere in the middle of a sport pilot and private pilot license. Most people believe that if a student goes as far as a recreational certificate, he or she might as well gain the few extra hours of instruction for a private pilot certificate. Thus, the recreational license is not very popular.
Nonetheless, if you've decided that there is still good reason for you to obtain a recreational pilot certificate, here are the steps to becoming a recreational pilot:
Meet the Requirements
As with all certificates, you'll want to make sure you meet the minimum requirements, as outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). In this case, you'll find the full requirements in CFR Part 61.96. In short, you must be at least 15 years old to begin training and 17 years old to take the FAA practical exam for the recreational pilot certificate. Also, you must be able to read, speak, write and understand English.
Obtain a Student Pilot Certificate and 3rd Class Medical
You can get both at the medical examiner's office when you go in for your aviation medical exam. The document that the doctor gives you should say "Medical Certificate 3rd Class and Student Pilot Certificate," or something of that nature. You may choose to get a 1st or 2nd class certificate if you think you'll want to become an airline pilot at any point; otherwise, a 3rd class medical certificate will do.
Find an Instructor
You'll need to find an instructor if you haven't already. If you're not sure where to go, ask around at your local airport. Most people know of instructors in the area and can refer you to a good one. Your relationship with your instructor is important, so spend some time finding a good one. If you end up with an instructor that you don't genuinely like, you reserve the right to find a new one.
Study for and Take the FAA Written Exam
Start studying as soon as possible. Some flight schools or instructors will require you to successfully complete the FAA Recreational Pilot Written Exam before ever stepping foot in an airplane. Others will let you fly as much as you'd like while you study at home for the test.
Either way, the test must be completed before you can take the final private pilot check ride for your certificate. It's a quick 50-question test, and you must score a 70% or higher to pass. It's best to take it early on- flying is easier when you have the background knowledge. It just makes sense. Don't put it off.
A recreational pilot applicant will need at least 30 hours of flight hours, 15 of which need to be instructional flights and 3 hours of solo flight. Also, a recreational pilot trainee must achieve at least two hours of training to an airport at least 25 nautical miles from the home airport. Make sure you read the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) to learn more about the recreational pilot certificate.
Take the Checkride
The final step toward obtaining a recreational pilot certificate is the FAA Practical Exam or the check ride. Once your instructor feels that you've demonstrated the required proficiency, he will "sign you off" for the check ride. The check ride is given by a designated FAA examiner, and it consists of a verbal exam and a flight exam. The exam usually lasts a few hours, depending on your level of knowledge and the examiner's methods. You can see what you'll be evaluated against in the FAA's Practical Test Standards.
Upon successful completion of your FAA Practical Test, the examiner will assist you in filling out the FAA paperwork online. You'll have to pay him (rates vary- check with your instructor beforehand). The examiner will give you a temporary private pilot certificate to use while you wait for the official FAA certificate to arrive in the mail.