Can You Become a Pilot Without Going To Flight School?

Are you wanting to become a pilot but the thought of going to a flight school fills you with dread? Can you even become a pilot without going to flight school? What if you just want to gain a Private Pilot Certificate and fly for fun? Does that still require you to attend a flight school? Surely there must be ways that people can learn to fly without going to school?

You can become a pilot without attending flight school by receiving flight training from a Certified Flight Instructor following FAR Part 61. Ground school can be covered by the instructor or online learning programs. All pilot certificates can be earned under FAR Part 61 training.

Depending on the type of flying you wish to do will dictate which will be the most sensible training option. Pretty much all the pilot certificates and endorsements can be gained without going through a flight school but sometimes a sensible approach is needed to ensure the training you receive is the most cost-efficient. Let’s look at the different types of flying and see how they are completed without going through a flight school.

What is Part 61 Flight Training?

All Certified Flight Instructors are able to teach under the FAA’s Part 61 regulations. This is a flexible approach to flight training that does not require the structure of a school syllabus and can be completed with no time pressure. This is the most flexible way to train as a pilot.

For those who wish to become a pilot and seek to gain a Sport, Recreational, Private, and/or Commercial Pilot Certificate, especially if the flying they wish to do is mainly for pleasure, recreation, or as a tool for their business then the hiring of a Certified Flight Instructor(CFI) outside of a flight school environment is a great way to go.

Any CFI can teach under the FAA’s Part 61 regulations and they do not have to be affiliated with a school. 
Instructors can:

  • Have their own aircraft and operate as an independent entity
  • Can be members of a flying club and train pilots using the club aircraft
  • Can be hired to train a person in their own aircraft
  • Can be hired from a school with a school aircraft to come to train you at your local airstrip.

The flexibility of the CFI under Part 61 allows the most flexible flight training to suit the individual, you just have to ensure the insurance side of things is taken care of!

The other way that a CFI can train you is under FAA’s Part 141 regulations. This training is an FAA accreditation a flight school can apply for. It involves training to a set syllabus and under much stricter scrutiny. Training under Part 141 allows for fewer hours required before the student is able to apply to take their flight test, also known as a checkride. All training under Part 141 must be done at the flight school campuses therefore this is not for this article.

For those who wish to learn how to fly outside of a flight school a CFI following Part 61 regulations is the way to go.

When selecting an instructor to train you outside of a flight school, the main thing you need to know is to find the right type of flying instructor for the aircraft in which you intend to fly, as there are many types.
Some instructors may be certified in different categories and classes of aircraft, for example:

  • Land Airplane with One Engine – A CFI certified for: Airplane Land
  • Land Airplane with Two Engines – A CFI certified for: Airplane Land with Multi-Engine Endorsement
  • Float Airplane with One Engine – A CFI certified for: Airplane Sea
  • Float Airplane with Two Engines – A CFI certified for: Airplane Sea with Multi-Engine Endorsement
  • Helicopter – A CFI certified for: Helicopter

For example:

If you wish to learn how to get a Private Pilot Certificate so you can buy a floatplane, you will need to seek out a Certified Flight Instructor: Airplane Sea (Provided the aircraft is just a single-engine airplane),


You wish to join a flying club and fly a Cessna around the local area on a weekend. For this, you will need to seek out a flying instructor for Airplane Land. The flying club will usually have an instructor as one of its members.

If joining a flying club is something you may be interested I wrote this article about the benefits of flying under a club:

Benefits of Joining a Flying Club: Fly For Less!

If however, you wish to become a professional pilot and be able to fly for financial gain then you will need to train and achieve a Commercial Pilot Certificate. The Part 61 instructors can also train you for this certificate but it will require more hours than under a Part 141 training program, but at least under Part 61 you can train on your terms and away from a flight school environment with much greater flexibility.

If you wish to find out more information about how many hours and cost each type of flying certificate takes under both Part 61 and Part 141 please see this article:

Cost To Become a Pilot: All the Certificates Compared!

Here is a fantastic example from of what you will find in a typical Part 61 Private Pilot Training Syllabus:

Part 61 Private Pilot Training Syllabus

Join My Newsletter & Get Great Tips, Information and Experiences To Help You Become a Superb Pilot!

* indicates required
Your Interest: *

How Do You Sit an Aviation Written Examination?

Written examinations for all applicable FAA pilot certificates, endorsements, and ratings must be completed at an approved FAA examination testing center. The written examinations are multiple-choice, computer-based examinations held under observed and timed conditions.

As part of every pilot certificate, the applicant must study for and pass a written examination covering the theory for the certificate they are training for. This examination must be passed before the applicant can apply for the flight test. Ground School as it is most commonly known can be completed either by instruction from a flying instructor, a ground instructor, a combination of both, or purely self-study.

There are many great online training programs for self-paced learning of the theoretical knowledge needed for the various pilot’s certificate and an online or software-based training package make it a great way to study on your own time, in your own home, and at your own pace.

Once you have completed the ground school programs, have passed several practice tests, and you feel ready for the exam your instructor can recommend you for the written exam.

You Can Find Your Nearest FAA Testing Center HERE

The results are available to you immediately after completing the exam and then you will be one step closer to becoming a pilot without the need to go through flight school!

Below are my Recommended Home Study Training Packages for all Student Pilots. Click Each Banner for More Information:

What Pilot Certificates Can I Earn Under Part 61?

The flexibility of Part 61 training allows you to earn the following pilot certificates and ratings:

  • Sport Pilot
  • Recreational Pilot
  • Private Pilot
  • Commercial Pilot
  • Certified Flight Instructor (CFI)
  • Instrument Rating
  • Certified Flight Instructor Instruments (CFII)
  • Multi-Engine Rating
  • Certified Flight Instructor Multi-Engine (MEI)

Being able to train to suit any kind of flying you wish to do is very simple, even outside of a flight school. The only real barrier stopping you is finance (we all hit that barrier too!). If you wish to own your own aircraft, learn how to fly a jet, or just tinker around the traffic pattern, then a flight instructor with the appropriate classes, endorsements, and ratings on their license can train you to fly the exact aircraft you wish and in the manner, you wish to fly.

Your instructor will be able to give you much clearer information as to the steps you need to take and in which order for you to be able to achieve your required certificate, ratings, and endorsements as there are so many a pilot can obtain.

For many pilots, a Private Pilot Certificate with an Instrument Rating is one of the most common types of training as this allows the pilot to fly in poor visibility conditions and at night, thus opening up even more adventures in aviation – And that is what aviation is all about!

Can I Get a Pilot Job Without Going To Flight School?

Once a pilot has a commercial pilot certificate they are eligible to gain employment. Some aviation companies insist that pilots attend flight school while others are happy knowing the instructor that trained them. A Commercial Pilot Certificate can be achieved under FAR Part 61 and FAR Part 141.

Depending on the type of job you are going for will dictate which kind of training you should undertake. Most airlines insist their pilots all graduate from an accredited flight school, usually under a Part 141 program and many airlines also insist on them having a degree. Smaller airlines and commercial operators tend to not be so picky, especially those operators that fly in more of the ‘Bush’ or utility roles.

A pilot who has been trained by a floatplane instructor who has been flying in the Alaskan wilderness for 40 years will be a much better-suited pilot to a fishing lodge operation compared to a student who has flown around a traffic pattern for 100 hours in Arizona.

The name of the game is to match the flying skills during training to the type of employer you are aiming to approach once you have your commercial license. By planning out a path of specialized flying during your training it is easier to present yourself as a pilot that is perfect for that position.

If you wish to fly tours around Hawaii, go and learn to fly from an Instructor in Hawaii. If you plan on herding cattle in Texas, go and learn from an instructor who is also a Rancher.

Not all the best training is done in a flight school, in fact, some of the worst training can be done in flight school, especially if the instructor is there just to build time to get their own rear end into an airline seat. Finding an instructor that will give you the best training to help you get your ultimate job will require some time and effort, especially finding one that trains outside of a flight school, but it will be worth it.

To Finish

Many pilots learn to fly under Part 61 outside of a flight school. There are some great instructors and finding one that suits you will be the best investment you can make when it comes to starting your journey into the cockpit.

If you wish to fly for a career, then a school may be a more sensible option. If your budget is tight a school running a Part 141 program may be a better option as the hours required are less. But, if you wish to fly on your own time, terms, and budget then learning to fly outside of a flight school can be a great way to learn to fly!

Further Reading

If you found this article helpful, here are a few more you may like to read:

Rick James

I am an aviation nut! I'm an ATP-rated helicopter pilot & former flight instructor with over 3500 hours spanning 3 countries and many different flying jobs. I love aviation and everything about it. I use these articles to pass on cool facts and information to you whether you are a pilot or just love aviation too! If you want to know more about me, just click on my picture!

Recent Posts