The Federal Aviation Regulations generally require a minimum of forty (40) flight hours for a Private Pilot Certificate. However, it is widely understood in the flight instruction and pilot communities that training usually takes longer. In fact, the national average hovers somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 hours more than the minimum. If one considers an average price of $125 dollars an hour for aircraft rental, this increases the cost of training by an additional $1250 to $2500 over the minimum. That is a pretty significant amount of money. Especially with the consideration that private pilots are explicitly barred from accepting compensation for flying. The good news, is that there are a number of things that can be done to minimize the time and monetary commitment while maximizing one’s learning.
First and foremost, the more often you fly the more you retain. The minimum required flight time is directly equivalent to the average American work week. If one flew eight hours a day, it would take five days to complete the minimum flight hour requirement. There are numerous condensed programs that work on this principle. Many flight schools offer two week programs that split days between ground instruction and flight instruction. The idea is fly more, learn quicker because the brain retains more when it is not struggling with basic concepts. It is very similar to learning a foreign language: if there are long breaks between lessons the brain can not retain as much.
Second, if a condensed ground school is offered take it. Another significant aspect of flight training is the ground instruction. A condensed ground school is not required, but having all the fundamentals down makes flight training easier. The FAA requires a knowledge test in addition to a practical/oral exam. The knowledge test can be taken at any point irrespective of flight experience and is good for two years, which is plenty of time to complete flight training. A condensed ground school will provide all the instruction required to pass the knowledge test and will also boost flight training time by providing a gentle introduction to theories that are put into practice during the flight training. Once one has a firm grasp on the basics, it is relatively easy to learn the required control inputs in the aircraft. The alternative is interlacing ground instruction and flight instruction, which is not as effective since it usually results in more teaching in the aircraft.
Third, set a schedule and keep it. If flight training, or anything really, is not routine it becomes very easy to forget. Time will get away and then six months will have elapsed between lessons. This only serves to prolong the training and increase the costs. Instead, set a monetary and time budget early in training and stick to it. This provides a logical and habitual basis for training and leaves no question about affordability and scheduling. Additionally, it allows for the scheduling of the instructor’s time and the aircraft well in advance. One caveat is to forget about weather when scheduling long term. Some flights will be cancelled due to weather and that is par for the course; make them up as necessary.
Finally, read and study everything you can get your hands on. Whether this is flying magazines, videos, books, or flight simulators; more content bombarding the brain results in better retention. Hanging around talking with other pilots (student, instructor, World War II ace, or anybody) can be beneficial. Anything to surround yourself with good aviation will benefit learning and retention.
There are no guarantees, but these tips aided the author in obtaining his Private Pilot certificate in 6 months and in exactly 40 flight hours.