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Can You Legally Fly Without a License? A Pilot Tells How!


So many people look towards the sky dreaming of being able to fly and if you have ever looked into becoming a pilot you know the cost of doing so can be astronomical, or does it!

You do not need a pilot’s license to fly an aircraft under the FAA’s 14 CFR Part 103 Ultra Light Category. Helicopters, planes & gliders are available with no license required however, you will need flight training to operate safely. All larger aircraft will need a pilots license to fly.

Many pilots fly aircraft in the ultralight category and have no pilots license but how come those aircraft do not require a license but all the other ones do?

Let’s have a look at what the FAA dictates is an Ultralight aircraft and then how you can fly one without a license vs what you need when you start looking at larger aircraft.

How Can You Fly With No Pilot License?

The FAA allows any person to fly an aircraft with no license under the following conditions:-

14 CFR §103.1 states the aircraft:

  • Is used or intended to be used for manned operation in the air by a Single Person – Only one seat allowed!
  • Is used or intended to be used for recreation or sport purposes only
  • Does not have any U.S. or foreign airworthiness certificate
  • If unpowered, weighs less than 155 pounds
  • If powered, weighs less than 254 pounds empty weight, excluding floats and safety devices which are intended for deployment in a potentially catastrophic situation
  • Has a fuel capacity not exceeding 5 U.S. gallons
  • Is not capable of more than 55 knots calibrated airspeed at full power in level flight
  • Has a power-off stall speed which does not exceed 24 knots calibrated airspeed

So the main points most potential buyers are needing to keep an eye on are the basic empty weight, fuel capacity, and speeds. This type of aircraft falls in the Ultralight Category of aircraft of which there are many, many great aircraft for buyers to pick from.

Potential buyers need to be aware of these requirements because manufacturers may claim their aircraft is Part 103 compliant when it is not. The responsibility falls on the owner to ensure the aircraft complies. Getting a surprise inspection by an FAA inspector and found to be non-compliant can have very hefty consequences.

When Do You Need a License To Fly an Aircraft?

Once an aircraft exceeds any one of those specifications laid out in 14 CFR §103.1, the pilot will then need a license to operate it. When a person wishes to take passengers, get a bigger aircraft or an aircraft that can fly faster or further will require a little more work to be able to fly.

This does not mean they have to go out and get a Privates Pilot Certificate or License, as the FAA has a series of licenses (known as Certificates) aimed at people who wish to get flying but with a minimal amount of red tape.

The applicable certificates are quite easy to get starting with the most basic certificate:

Sport Pilot Certificate

14 CFR Part61 Subpart J

A Sport Pilot Certificate allows you to fly an aircraft in the Light Sport Category. It allows you to carry one passenger during daylight hours only, no higher than 2000ft AGL, and have greater than 3sm visibility.

A Light Sport aircraft must:

  • Weigh less than 1,320 pounds
  • Have a top speed of no more than 120 knots
  • Have no more than two seats

It will require some flight and ground school training and you can fly without a medical certificate providing you have a valid U.S. driver’s license.

For the Sport Pilot Certificate the FAA minimums require:

  • 20 hours of flight, of that
  • 15 hours flight must be with a qualified instructor, and
  • 5 hours of solo flight
  • Ground school can be completed with an instructor or via any learning material
  • Completion of a Written Examination
  • Completion of a Practical Flight Examination

My recommendation for any pilot starting out, no matter which aircraft they are looking to fly is The Pilot Starter Bundle from Rod Machado. This will give you all the knowledge to safely fly and understand what you can and cannot do as a pilot.

Although this series goes up to the Private Pilot Certificate, it will cover everything you need to know to prepare you for your Sport Pilot or Recreational Pilot Written examinations.

You can find Rod’s Bundle Kit Here at RodMachado.com

The FAA minimum will cost around $3,800 depending on instructor & aircraft rental costs however, most people will need more than the minimum required flight hours and thus usually budget for around $5,000-$5,500 to obtain a Sport Pilot Certificate.

Pilots can easily obtain more training to upgrade their certificate to a Recreational or Private Pilot Certificate if they wish to fly bigger aircraft and more passengers.

Recreational Pilot Certificate

14 CFR Part61 Subpart D

A Recreational Pilot Certificate allows you to fly an aircraft with up to four seats with a maximum engine power of 180hp. Even though the aircraft may have four seats you can still only carry one passenger during daylight hours, no higher than 2000ft AGL, and have greater than 3sm visibility.

Just like the Sport Pilot Certificate, It will require some flight and ground school training but you must gain at least a Third Class Medical Certificate to obtain this pilot certificate.

For the Recreational Pilot Certificate the FAA minimums require:

  • 30 hours of flight, of that
  • 15 hours flight must be with a qualified instructor, and
  • 3 hours of solo flight
  • Ground school can be completed with an instructor or via any learning material – See Rod’s Bundle above
  • Completion of a Written Examination
  • Completion of a Practical Flight Examination
  • 3rd Class Medical Certificate

The FAA minimum will cost around $5,000 depending on instructor & aircraft rental costs however, most people will need more than the minimum required flight hours and thus usually budget for around $5,500-$6,500 to obtain a Recreational Pilot Certificate.

What Aircraft Can I Fly Without a Pilots License?

Based on the criteria laid out in 14 CFR §103.1 there are a few aircraft that can be brought in both kit form and ready built to allow you to go and fly without a license. But, because the FAA does not require a license I highly recommend you get some flight and ground training first to ensure you know what you’re doing, especially in a helicopter!

Learning to hover usually takes around 10 hours and without an instructor next to you the helicopter will crash! Trust me 😉

Here are a couple of examples of aircraft that you can buy and fly license-free:

Aerolite 103

Source: FlugKerl2

This single-seat UltraLite is a great way to get up in the air. Fully Part 103 compliant, it weighs in at 235lbs, has a 5gal fuel tank, and an endurance of 2 hours!

Available as a kit from around $18,000 or ready built from $20,000!

You can find more information on the Aerolite 103 Here at the manufacturer’s website

Mosquito XEL

Source: FlugKerl2

The only single-seat helicopter you can fly without a license! The Mosquito XEL from Composite FX is a fully Part 103 compliant helicopter.

Weighing in at 312lbs with its floats, a 5 gal fuel tank, and a 1 hour flight time this little bird will bring you hours of fun!

Available as a kit from around $41,000 or ready-built from $52,000!

You can find more information on the Mosquito XEL Here at the manufacturer’s website

To Finish

Being able to fly is a feeling like no other and if you have a dream to take flight in your own machine then I highly recommend you get in touch with your nearest Ultra Light flying club and go and see them!

Flying without a license is a great start to aviation but I still highly recommend you get some training because once the bug gets you that training will start to become more frequent until you reach the point of a Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, or Private Pilot Certificate so you can take someone else up to enjoy the freedom!

Be safe, research, and get some flight training and enjoy this fantastic world of aviation!

Further Reading

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!

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