As a flight instructor, I am often asked the question, “How old do you have to be to start learning to fly?” Teens ask this question thinking that they will hear the 15 1/2 years old that is required by the State of Ohio to get a temporary permit in a car. Parents of younger children ask this question in some cases hoping that they can get an enthusiastic youth off of their back, in other cases because they would like to get their child up and flying.
The short answer to the question is that there is no minimum age for a child to begin learning to fly. The longer answer is a bit more complicated and I will attempt to discuss that here.
Kids and Flying
The love of aviation is a tremendous gift to give to your children. There are a number of toys, books, and videos that can help to encourage this love. When they are old enough to understand and not be frightened by the noise, airshows and trips to the airport can also deepen their appreciation of flight. To truly appreciate the joy and excitement of flight, they need a pleasant but memorable experience flying in an aircraft.
When my own kids were small, I did not want to take them up in an airplane with me until they were old enough to understand what was going on and be excited about the anticipated flight. For me, this was a present that I gave them for their 3rd birthdays. They were old enough to talk about what they were seeing and experiencing and could make associations between what was out the window and what they knew to be on the ground.
My oldest chattered the whole of her first flight and she recognized many objects on the ground including our house with “Papaw’s Big Truck” sitting in the driveway. Her Granny rode along in the back seat taking pictures and video to help with the long term memory of the flight. My youngest had a similar memorable experience when her time came. Big sister sat in the back with Granny on that flight and pointed out things to her little sister up front with me.
While there have been kids who have learned to control the airplane at a very young age, I see these types of flights being more useful for developing that early aviation bond. Can a child learn to fly at an early age? Yes, but they will always need to have a flight instructor on board to keep the flight legal and safe.
Oh, and before you get any grand ideas, the FAA does frown upon teaching kids to fly at a very young age in an attempt to “set a record” or create a “publicity stunt.” This type of thing can and has ended in tragedy. Please don’t attempt this and bring more regulation on the rest of us when another tragedy occurs.
As the kids start to get older, I think that actual flight lessons on the control of the aircraft in flight can be great. These types of lessons should only be done on days with excellent weather conditions. The goal is not to teach them everything that there is to know about flying but to give them confidence in their ability to handle the airplane in flight. Depending on their size, the instructor may have to handle all of the ground operations as they may not be able to reach the pedals.
Lessons like these should tend to be shorter and less frequent in nature than your standard lesson. This will help prevent burnout and encourage anticipation of the next flight.
If completed with an appropriately rated flight instructor, as they should be, these lessons can be logged and can count toward the child’s total flight time.
Getting Serious About Flight Training
I generally don’t recommend a student getting serious about flight training until they are within a year of being able to fly solo. In a glider or balloon, a student pilot can solo at age 14. In an airplane or any other type of aircraft, the student pilot must be 16 to solo.
Now it is time to learn what he or she needs to know on the ground and how it applies to actual flight.
Lessons should start to get closer together and be flown under more varied conditions. The student should get serious about their studies. It won’t be long until the day for that first solo arrives.
When your student, young or old, completes that first solo, take the time to celebrate! He or she has accomplished something that only a small percentage of people will ever do; taken an aircraft from the ground and returned it safely to the earth.
After the celebration and a chance to breathe, it is time to head on to the next steps toward a Sport, Recreational, or Private certificate. A primary rating can be earned in a glider or balloon at 16 years of age; airplanes and others can be earned at 17. Keep the momentum from the solo rolling through to the next goal.
Youth Flight Programs
For more information about organized programs and lessons for youth flight, check out the following websites.
Yes, learning to fly can begin at most any age but serious flight training should only begin when a reachable goal, like solo or a pilot certificate, is in sight. Share the dream and have some fun!