We’ve partnered with Gleim Aviation, a provider of home study courses and training resources for all levels of pilot training, to provide this introduction to real-world flying for flight simmers. Written by the team of Flight Instructors at Gleim Aviation, this Guide offers simple recommendations for becoming a real-world pilot. The article is focused on flying in the United States, but the concepts are similar in many countries.
Note that we do not receive affiliate pricing or commissions on any purchases, nor were we paid to include this information on the website.
Aviation is a world of wonder, and as flight simulation enthusiasts, we can all agree that "exploration" is the name of the game. Whether it is flying into the picturesque Princess Juliana International Airport or searching for little-known grass strips across North America, these expeditions never fail to provide us with pure enjoyment.
But what if this virtual enjoyment could be turned into a reality? What if the very thing you do on your simulator could be done in a real airplane? Good news: if you are a flight simulation enthusiast, it is a possibility, and you are nautical miles ahead of flight students without any flight simulation experience!
Across the entire community, 25% of flight simulator pilots hold a real-world certificate. 75% of those individuals started flight simming before obtaining their pilot's license.
FSA Captains Save with Gleim
Gleim Aviation provides FSA Captains with exclusive discounts to make it even easier to get started with flight training!
As a Captain, get $50 off the Deluxe Private Pilot Training Kit and the Deluxe Private Pilot Kit With Audio Review. These kits include the Gleim Private Pilot Online Ground School, FAA Test Prep, a flight bag, flight computer (E6B), plotter, reference books, and more!Become an FSA Member →
Flight Simulation Enthusiasts Have a Leg Up
For flight simulation enthusiasts, transitioning to a real airplane isn’t as demanding as you might think. Most of what you do in a virtual airplane is exactly what you would do in a real airplane—which is the whole point of simulation. For example, cockpit flows in a simulator like starting the engine, checking and setting instruments, and inputting in a flight plan involve many of the same procedures that are used in a real airplane.
Additionally, many flight simulation enthusiasts already have plenty of practice at the largest causes of checkride failures: division of attention. Analyzing various instruments simultaneously to ensure continued flight safety is a habit that can be reinforced by using a home flight simulator, so this common "gotcha" should be less of a challenge for you. Many new flight students often have trouble correctly performing checklist flows due to the many distractions that come with flying a real airplane. Since flight simulation enthusiasts already have these procedures well-memorized and practiced, it is typically easier for them to perform this task.
Flying as a Career
As a simulator pilot, you likely already have a passion for aviation, so why not make a career out of it? As the saying goes, “love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” By turning a virtual hobby into a real-life career, you could earn a comfortable living by doing what you love.
In May 2020, the median annual wage for commercial pilots was $93,300. The median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $160,970.
Personally, from a very young age, I’ve always dreamed of flying different airplanes and sharing my knowledge of aviation with other aspiring aviators. Being a part of the aviation industry and community now, I couldn’t imagine myself working in any other field.
How to Begin Flight Training
The process of getting started in flight training isn't as daunting as you might think! Below are some simple steps that outline the process. For a more detailed version, check out the free Gleim Learn to Fly booklet.
Step 1: Compare Flight Schools in Your Area
Start by visiting one or more flight schools at local airports where you are considering taking flight lessons. Indicate that you are interested in getting started, and speak with a flight school representative about the process. Typically, the flight school will introduce you to an instructor whom you will be working with closely throughout your training. Treat these first conversations as an interview: make sure you feel comfortable with the flight school and instructor before continuing. You should also compare prices with similar schools and make sure you understand what’s included in the prices listed.
Questions to ask a prospective flight school:
- What are the costs for aircraft rental and flight instruction?
- Does the flight school offer discounted rates for advance or lump-sum payments?
- What aircraft are used for training, and how often are they available?
- Does the flight school offer any training on flight simulators?
- Does the flight school offer discovery flights for a nominal fee?
- Where does the flight school recommend taking the FAA knowledge and practical tests, and what are the costs?
Step 2: Complete the FAA Knowledge Test
Fast track becoming a pilot by passing the FAA knowledge test (also called the "written test") early in the training process. Some students take ground school and flight training simultaneously, but by focusing solely on written test first, you'll gain valuable knowledge that ensures you can focus on flying after mastering the fundamentals. Students who spend more time studying and learning for the written test typically finish their flight training faster. After passing the FAA knowledge test, you'll be well on your way to becoming a certificated pilot, and the knowledge gained will help you be a safer student pilot when you enter the flight deck!
Gleim Online Ground School courses contain study outlines, hundreds of knowledge test questions, and the actual FAA figures you’ll encounter on your knowledge test. Our answer explanations are expertly written to help you understand both the correct and incorrect answers. We even guarantee our Online Ground School graduates will pass the FAA knowledge exam or we will refund their course purchase price.
Step 3: Obtain a Medical Certificate
The FAA medical examination is a routine physical exam administered by FAA-designated doctors called aviation medical examiners (AMEs). The AME will issue your medical certificate after the exam. If you have a physical handicap, medical certificates can still be issued in many cases. Operating limitations may be imposed depending on the nature of your disability. The FAA requires at least a third-class medical certificate to exercise the privileges afforded by a student pilot certificate. You can search for a local AME on the FAA website.
Step 4: Begin Training
As flight simulation enthusiasts, it will be easier for you to hit the ground running given the prior flying knowledge you have. However, flight training requires you to dive deeper and understand concepts not always discussed in the flight simulation world. For example, aircraft systems (electrical, fuel, navigation, etc.), basic aerodynamics, and weather theory are essential in passing your practical flight test. Additionally, you'll need to learn about aviation regulations that govern how to operate safely and legally. Remember, in the real world, "pausing the sim" is not an option. As such, we recommend that you spend the time to learn these subject areas thoroughly to be a safe and competent pilot.
Step 5: Pass the FAA Practical Test
At the end of your flight training, you must successfully complete the practical test, which is a final exam given by an FAA evaluator called a designated pilot examiner (DPE). The exam consists of an oral portion, during which you will discuss in conversation various aspects of flying, and an actual flight test, during which you will fly various tasks and maneuvers to a prescribed level of accuracy. The requirements are further explained and illustrated in the Gleim Flight Maneuvers and Practical Test Prep books for each certificate.
Designated pilot examiners are proficient, experienced flight instructors and pilots who are authorized by the FAA to conduct practical tests, and they typically charge a fee for their services. Using Gleim training materials will prepare you to pass your FAA practical test with confidence.
SummarySteps to Earning Your Pilot Certificate
Pass the Knowledge Test
The FAA requires a score of 70% or higher for all knowledge tests.
Select a flight school and instructor
Consider the questions included in this guide when making a selection.
Obtain a Student Pilot Certificate
You must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English. Your flight instructor will guide you through the process.
Obtain a Medical Certificate
A a third-class medical or better is required for private pilots. Sport pilots simply require a driver's license. BasicMed is also an option.
Conduct Flight Training
If you're using a Gleim Pilot Kit, complete your flight training by utilizing the syllabus and flight maneuvers included.
Meet the practical test requirements
Most students need more than the FAA minimums before they're ready for the practical test. 55 to 75 hours of flight time is normal.
Pass the FAA practical test
You must be at least 17 years of age to take the practical test.
You can do this! Turn today’s flight sim world into tomorrow’s reality!
To help expedite your training, Gleim Aviation produces a wide variety of flight training material from pilot kits, online courses, flight simulation products, and books for every level of pilot certification. As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, FSA Captains receive $50 off Gleim Aviation's Deluxe Private Pilot Training Kit, which includes everything you need to begin flight training.
You can also kick your training into overdrive with the Gleim X-Plane Flight Course. Learn the procedures and maneuvers required for a Private Pilot certificate before getting in the actual airplane. The course is designed based on the Gleim Private Pilot Syllabus, with interactive lessons that teach you to fly just as you would in the real world. Your virtual instructor details every element to successfully perform each maneuver, guiding you to successful completion.
For more information on how to begin flight training in a real airplane, visit the Gleim Aviation Learn to Fly website
Lastly, if you’re interested in learning more about how to set up a desktop flight simulator specifically for the purpose of helping with real world training, watch our Home Flight Simulation for Private Pilot Training and Proficiency Webinar from May 2021. In the webinar, John from Stay Level Avionix will walk you through creating home cockpits using prefabricated panels and commercially-available gauges. In addition, John will explain how, with a little research, you can bring the individual components together into an amazing pilot proficiency and training tool.