Learn to Fly

Learning to fly

The Fort Meade Flight Activity Inc (FMFA Inc) is a flying activity and the minimum required license to operate activity aircraft is a Private Pilots License (PPL). All flight instruction is provided by independent activity instructors, who are also members, in accordance with FMFA rules. When you join an instructor will be assigned to you and will teach you about FMFA and the process of getting your license. The information below is a rough overview of how to get a private pilots license. Advanced instruction is also available.

Getting your Private Pilots License


In order to get a Private Pilots License the FAA requires you to meet a minimum criteria. The official criteria are located here. Be sure to read over them with your instructor. A brief summary is provided below.

  • Posses a student pilot, sport pilot, or recreational pilot certificate. Your instructor can help you get a student pilot certificate.
  • Posses a valid FAA Medical at the 3rd class or higher level. BasicMed is acceptable if you held a medical after July 15, 2006.
  • Complete the required knowledge course in accordance with 61.105. This can be done via computer based training at home or in a classroom with an authorized instructor.
  • Complete the knowledge test with a score of 70% or greater
  • Gain aeronautical experience in accordance with FAR 61.109 section (a) 'For an airplane single-engine rating'. This experience must include a minimum of 40 hours of flight time. This flight time must include a minimum of 20 hours of (dual) flight training and a minimum of 10 hours of solo training.
  • Pass a practical test with an FAA examiner or Designated Pilot Examiner
  • Be proficient in speaking and writing English

NOTE: Since FMFA, Inc is located within the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) you will also have to take the online training course for the SFRA. You can take that course here.

The Process

Upon joining FMFA you will meet with one of the members who is authorized to provide instruction. You will discuss your goals, any past experience you may have, and a rough timeline. Each student is unique so the instructor will customize the training to meet your specific needs within the framework of the FAA regulations. In general most students take approximately 65 hours to complete the flying portion of the syllabus. Your instructor can recommend a ground school to you or you may select one of the many provided online or locally. Expect to complete the following flights (at a minimum):

  • Multiple flights to learn basic aircraft control (out to a nearby practice area such as DEALE)
  • Multiple flights to learn navigation, emergency procedures, and other required training
  • A first solo flight in the KFME pattern where you will do 3 take offs and full stop landings
  • A flight to an airport at least 50 nautical miles away with your instructor
  • The same flight as above but without your instructor
  • A flight to an airport at least 150 nautical miles away with one stop at another airport.
  • Multiple practice flights by yourself to the local practice area and any airports your instructor has authorized you to fly to
  • Your practical test!

Estimated Costs

Please note that since training is variable based on an individuals skill level and speed at which they learn this is only a rough estimate based upon national averages. Your actual costs WILL vary.

Learning to fly involves two kinds of costs: Fixed and Variable. Each cost will be broken down below with a minimum and average example shown.

Flying Time - Variable cost

In general for most training the flight time and instructor fees are the only variable cost. The more you fly the more you spend. Remember all hours flown count, are valuable experience, and hopefully a lot of fun! The average student will complete training in 65 hours, typically in a Cessna 172. The smaller Cessna 150 can be used if you and your instructor a light enough. Ask your instructor which aircraft is right for you. The below table shows both a 150 and 172 at the legal minimum (40 hours) a FMFA instructor can provide and the average student. Note: Aircraft fuel is included (i.e. wet rate). Fuel purchased away from KFME is reimbursed at the rate that FMFA, Inc pays for fuel at KFME. The table assumes fuel is included.

Minimum Time (40 hours)   Cessna 150   Cessna 172
Airplane Rental $3,600   $4,710
Instructor Fees $1,600   $1,600
Flying Cost @ 40 hours $5,200   $6,310
Average Time (65 hours)
Airplane Rental $5,850   $7,653.75
Instructor Fees $2,600   $2,600
Flying Costs @ 65 hours $8,450   $10,253.75

Fixed Costs

The below costs do not generally change with the number of hours you fly.

FAA Medical

Unless you are eligible to train on BasicMed (i.e. you held a FAA Medical after July 15, 2006) you will need to obtain at least an FAA 3rd class medical. If you wish to pursue a career in aviation it is recommended that you obtain a first class medical as it will "prove" that you can pass that test and uncover any issues early that may prevent your career. In any case FAA medicals generally cost approximately $110 (for any class) and can only be given by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The FAA maintains a list of AMEs here.
FAA Medicals are a recurring cost, the period of which depends on the class of medical and your age.

Knowledge Course

Knowledge courses can be computer based training (CBT) such as the King Schools Course, Barons, or Sporty s to name a few. Or you can participate in classroom training. Many local flight schools and independent instructors offer classroom training on a periodic basis.

FMFA instructors sometimes offer ground school as well. Check this page.

You can expect to pay about $300 to cover the ground school and course materials.

Knowledge Test

After you complete your knowledge course you will have an endorsement from your instructor (in any type of course) to take the knowledge test. The FAA does computer based testing and has contracted CATS/PSI to provide testing facilities. Many of these facilities are at local flight schools or community colleges. You can find a list here. You can expect to pay $150 to take your knowledge test. There is a discount if you are an AOPA or EAA member.

Equipment & Supplies

There are some basic supplies and equipment you will need during your training and after. Everything you buy here will be something that you use for as long as you fly.
  • Headset - $150-$1,500
  • View Limiting Device - $20
  • Kneeboard - $20
  • Flight Bag - $20+
  • Charts & Chart Supplements - $20-$75+ (see notes)
  • Flashlight with red lens - $5+
  • Pens/Pencils - $10
  • Flight Computer (E6B) - $10-$150+ (see notes)

Learn to Fly Kits
Sometimes you can purchase a "learn to fly" kit from a school that contains some of the above items. Often you will get a kneeboard, view limiting device, flight bag, and at least a mechanical (paper or plastic) flight computer. Its often cheaper than purchasing them individually. Do the math and see if you like whats in the kit.

The most pressing is to obtain a headset. While not strictly required its highly recommended as not only does it improve communication but it also protects your hearing. Headsets can be as inexpensive as $100 and as expensive as $1,500. Cost will vary based on features. Passive noise reduction is cheaper than active and some headsets are more comfortable than others.

Charts will be based on your local flying area and will have an expiration date. You will need new charts when the old ones expire.

Practical Test

You may opt to take your FAA practical test with an FAA examiner. FAA employees do not charge for their time so they only thing you will pay for is the aircraft. FAA examiners may not be available to test you quickly though. Should you not wish to wait you may also take your test with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). Since a DPE is NOT an FAA employee they will charge for their time. What a DPE charges is entirely up to that DPE. You can expect to at least pay $400 to the DPE for his or her time.

Total Cost

Item 40 hrs C150  65 hrs C150  40 hrs C172  65 hrs C172    Notes
Flying Time $5,200 $8,450 $6,310 $10,253.75 includes instructor fees
Knowledge Course $300 $300 $300 $300 Assumes CBT
Knowledge Test $150 $150 $150 $150 Assumes no discount, pass on first attempt
Headset $150 $150 $150 $150 Assumes Passive noise canceling
Learn to fly Kit $300 $300 $300 $300 Assumes "average" kit with kneeboard, view limiting device, flight bag, and plastic E6B
Misc Equipment/Supplies $100 $100 $100 $100 Charts, pens/pencils, flashlight etc
Examiners Fee $400 $400 $400 $400 Payment to DPE for his/her time.
Total Cost $6,700 $7,810 $9,950 $11,753.75

Advanced Training

If you already have your private pilots license you might want to consider an "add on" or advanced certificate. Below are the most common ones sought and a very rough estimate on cost.

  • Instrument Rating - Allows you to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). A CFI-I is required for training and average cost is about $6,500.
  • Commercial License - Allows you to fly for hire (not in FMFA planes). You need to have 250 hours of Pilot in Command (PIC) time before taking your test. Expect $2,000-$6,000 for the training portion.
  • Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) - Allows you to teach others to fly! You need a commercial license plus training. Expect to pay about the same as your commercial training.
  • CFI-Instrument (CFI-I) - Allows you to teach pilots to fly by instruments. You need a CFI license first. Expect to pay slightly less than your instrument rating if you are instrument current.
  • Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP) - The PhD of Aviation, lets you fly for an Airline. You will need 1,500 hours of PIC time before taking the test.