You’ve been dreaming about this day for years, and you are finally about to take off on your first solo flight. It’s a proud moment that required planning, preparation and training. Now, let’s rewind that film and walk you through how you got there.

If you’ve been wondering what it takes to turn your piloting dreams into reality, this is the article for you. We will answer the most common questions that aspiring pilots have about getting the student pilot certificate that sets them up for their first solo flight.

Do I need a student pilot certificate before I can take flight lessons?

No, you do not need your certificate in order to take lessons. You can get started with lessons right away with no certificate at all.

You do need to have applied for your certificate before you start lessons, so get the process going sooner rather than later.

You must have your certificate prior to making any solo flights.

Who is eligible for a student pilot certificate?

The eligibility requirements for a student pilot certificate are:

  • You must be at least 16 years old (or 14 if you only plan to pilot gliders or balloons).
  • You must be able to speak, read and understand English.
  • You must be able to provide proof of identity.
  • You must be able to obtain a medical certificate from an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)

How do I get a student pilot certificate?

The Civil Air Patrol has put together a good checklist for how to get a student pilot certificate. The process of applying for a student pilot certificate includes filling out an application, getting an authorized individual to verify your identity and submit your application for you, plus passing a medical certification exam.

1.      Fill out a student pilot certificate application

You can either go online to the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website to fill out a digital student pilot certification application or complete a paper FAA form 8710-1 and turn it in to an authorized individual (Flight Standards District Office, pilot examiner, certified flight instructor or airman certification representative at a part 141 flight school.)

2.      Verify your identity and submit application

Once you have filled out your application either digitally or manually, you will need to bring it and your proof of identification to an authorized individual. This person will officially verify your identity for the FAA and will submit your application to the Airman Certification Branch.

Authorized individuals include:

3.      Obtain a medical certificate

Before your student pilot certificate application can be finalized and approved, you will need to pass a physical examination and obtain a medical certificate.

Certain physicians have been FAA-designated as approved Aviation Medical Examiners (AME). Contact a local AME and schedule an appointment for an exam. Prior to the appointment, fill out a digital application through FAA MedXPress. After your exam, if you meet the medical standards, your examiner will issue your medical certificate.

How long does it take to receive a student pilot certificate?

Once you have submitted your application, your identity has been verified, and you have received medical clearance, your application will be processed, and approval finalized. A printed certificate will be mailed to you.

Expect this finalization and mailing process to take roughly 3 weeks.

Does my student pilot certificate expire?

Your student pilot certificate does not expire (unless it was issued prior to April 1, 2016). You will keep this certificate until you successfully complete a higher level of certification – like your private pilot’s license. When you earn a higher certification, you will turn in your student pilot certificate.

If your student pilot certificate was issued before April 1, 2016, it will still expire on its designated expiration date – either 24 or 60 months from date of issue.

Remember that your medical certificate is separate from your student pilot certificate and the medical certificate does expire. Be sure that you maintain a current medical certificate at all times.

How much does it cost to get a student pilot certificate?

If you turn your application in to a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), there will be no charge for the identity verification and application submission. Other authorized individuals can charge a “reasonable fee” to process the applications.

Applicants will also be responsible for paying office visit fees and/or co-pays associated with their physical exam by the Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). These costs can vary by location and by physician, so choose the approved AME who is the best fit for you and your insurance.

Do I need to have my student pilot certificate and medical certificate with me when I am flying?

Treat your student pilot certificate and your medical certificate as you would your driver’s license. They must be in the cockpit with you every time you are solo piloting.

Let’s Recap

To get to that moment of taking your first solo flight, you will need to obtain a student pilot certificate. Apply for your certificate right away before you begin flight lessons. You need to have applied prior to starting lessons and the sooner you apply, the sooner you can get your certification finalized so you are authorized to make that coveted solo flight.

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