How To Get a Recreational Pilot Certificate

Recreational pilot certificate

Want to have a recreational pilot certificate? Continue reading to learn how to do so! [Credit: iStock]

Taking the proper steps and earning your Recreational Pilot Certificate is likely easier than you’ve been thinking. Pilots across the country know flying for fun shouldn’t be limited to professional pilots. Thankfully, there are instructors and flight schools out there that can safely equip you for flying on your own accord (while following the FAA guidelines of course). 

Piloting your own aircraft no longer needs to be a dream, read ahead and learn the steps you can easily take to get yourself in the air sooner than you’d thought possible with your Recreational Pilot Certificate.

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What Is a Recreational Pilot Certificate? 

The Recreational Pilot Certificate is a great first step in your aviation career or goals towards becoming a pilot. Many may skip this certificate and go directly for the Private Pilot License

The Recreational Pilot Certificate is an excellent, lower cost option that is simply a limited version of the Private Pilot License. 

What Can You Do With a Recreational Pilot Certificate? 

Obtaining your Recreational Pilot Certificate allows you to fly solo or with one other passenger in a single engine aircraft with 180 horsepower or less. This is a desirable pilot certificate for those who are looking to fly close to home and under the parameters of the Recreational Pilot Certificate. 

Pros & Cons of a Recreational Pilot Certificate 

There are several great advantages to the Recreational Pilot Certificate. Whether you’re looking to start with your Recreational Pilot Certificate and upgrade down the road, or if you’re just looking to have fun with flying. As the most affordable pilot certificate, it also requires the least amount of flight training hours. 

The lower cost and requirements can come at a cost as this certificate is more limited than a private pilot license and other options. The aircraft you can fly, the number of passengers, the time of day you can fly, and more are limited when you are flying with your Recreational Pilot Certificate. Consider what type of flying, where, and when you will mostly be doing it, and see if the Recreational Pilot Certificate is the right choice for you. 

Recreational Pilot Certificate Requirements 

Like all pilot certificates, the recreational does come with minimum requirements that must be met. However, the recreational pilot certificate is often the most affordable and quickest to earn. 

7 Steps to Get a Recreational Pilot Certificate

If you’ve been thinking of taking the next step, don’t wait. The Recreational Pilot Certificate is a fun one to earn!

Ensure You’re Eligible

While this step may seem to be a simple, no brainer, this step can save you valuable time. You must be 17 years old to take the exam and earn your certificate, although you may start training when you are 15 years old. You must be able to read, write, and understand English. 

While it is not an initial requirement, looking into your medical certificate to ensure you’re less likely to run into issues down the road is a wise step to take early on.  

Apply for Your Student Pilot Certificate

The student pilot certificate is an easy one to acquire. You can apply online or print the documents and turn them into an authorized individual or location

Once received either electronically or in person, your application will then be reviewed. Those who turn in their applications themselves can typically expect their certificate within a few weeks, applying online does often expedite the process. 

Get Your 3rd Class Medical Certificate 

In order to fly solo or earn your pilot certificate, you are required to get your 3rd Class Medical Certificate. Start your application online or find an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) here. Your vision and hearing are just a few of the things they will examine to clear you for safely piloting an aircraft alone. 

Find an Instructor and/or Flight School

This is a good time to consider your end goals in aviation. If you are simply looking to have the freedom to fly near your home, then a Certified Flight Instructor, or CFI, can provide you with the training you need. 

For those looking to further their training after earning your Recreational Pilot Certificate, flight school may be the best choice. A minimum of 30 hours of flight time is required to earn your Recreational Pilot Certificate. Both options can provide this, so the best route to take depends on your time, needs, and budget. 

Study for, Take and Pass Your FAA Written Exam 

The sooner you start studying for your written exam, the sooner you’ll be comfortable enough to take and pass it. This leaves you that much closer to earning your certificate. Test standards can be found here

Get In the Air and Start Your Flight Training! 

Logging a minimum of 30 hours in the air is your next step, and this is the fun one you’ve been waiting for! With your instructor, you’ll complete at least 15 of those. An additional 3 hours must be solo flight hours. 

Many pilots earn more than the minimum 30 hours while training. Your instructor will help guide you on the right path for you and ensure you are prepared. 

Complete Your Checkride 

Once you’ve passed your written exam and completed your training hours, your Certified Flight Instructor will let you know when you are ready for your checkride. The checkride is done with an FAA examiner. 

The checkride involves both an oral test as well as a flight test. Once you’ve received the green light after your checkride, you’ve done it! You're a certified recreational pilot! 

Get Yourself in the Air! 

If your love for aviation has only grown and you’re looking for the most affordable path to piloting your own small aircraft, then the Recreational Pilot Certificate is for you. This is the simplest pilot certificate to obtain, and it doesn’t have to end there if you’re looking for more than fun with flying. 

While many aspiring pilots may start with the Recreation Pilot Certificate and think that will be it, a large portion go on to earn their Private Pilot License. The Recreational Pilot Certificate has a lot to offer and it’s a great starting point for anyone looking to take the next step in becoming a pilot.

Get answers to all your aviation questions, FLYING Magazine is your up to date resource for all your pilot and aviation questions. 



How much is a recreational pilot certificate?

Between your flight instruction, flight fees, training and exam fees, you will be looking to spend around $6,500 - $7,000. 

What planes can you fly with a recreational pilot certificate?

Pilots with a recreational certificate can fly airplanes that have a single engine with 180 horsepower or less and have no more than four seats.   

What is the difference between a recreational and private pilot?

Minimum requirements are less to become a recreational pilot than a private pilot, but the restrictions are greater. Those with a recreational pilot certificate can only fly with one passenger in an aircraft with 4 seats or less, while a private pilot has no passenger restrictions. Daylight flying and other restrictions also apply for recreation.

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