Life after the Private Pilot Checkride

By Martin Pauly ✈ November 1, 2020

Congratulations – you have passed your practical test, and you are now a private pilot. It’s a big accomplishment. You are excited and proud – and so is your instructor.

Now what?

The freedom you now have – fly as you like, making all the decisions on your own, without your CFI involved – unlocks tremendous opportunity, which at the same time can be a bit overwhelming. What do I want to do now? What should I do now?

Sadly, some pilots end up never flying again once they pass their checkride. They are simply lost at that point. I don’t want that to happen to you – so here are a few suggestions and things to consider as you transition to life after the checkride.

Find a mentor pilot

Maybe the single-biggest thing you can do is this: find a mentor pilot. You are no longer required to seek guidance from a CFI, but that doesn’t mean guidance isn’t helpful. There are lots of pilots out there who are happy to help with discussing fun destinations and tips & tricks for getting there safely. Team up with someone like that, someone who has an interest in guiding you and in seeing you succeed as a pilot.

Join a local pilot group

Local pilot groups, such as the nearest EAA chapter, offer a fun way to connect with other pilots in the area. If you want to work with a mentor but don’t know where to look for one, this may be your answer. Beyond that, you will may find some of the group activities to be fun and rewarding. And you will be closer to all the “local knowledge” that affects operations in your area.

Here is how you can find a local EAA chapter.

Set goals for your flying

Sometimes good things happen by accident, but you can greatly improve the odds by making some goals for yourself, such as

  • I want to go on a day trip to a beach
  • I want to fly my family on a vacation trip
  • I want to own my own airplane
  • I want to fly aerobatics
  • I want to fly helicopters
  • I want to fly historic warbirds
  • I want to fly for a living
  • I want to teach others how to fly

It doesn’t matter what your goals are, and it’s perfectly fine for them to evolve over time. What matters is that you have some goals. Discuss your goals with your mentor pilot or CFI, and together you can work on a plan and timeline to get you there. The goals should help you grow, but they should also be fun. If this feels painful, that’s a sign that there are better ways to do it.

Seek more training

Training? Me? I just passed the checkride; what else could there be to learn? A lot is the answer to that question.

The obvious part is you will need training to pursue additional ratings or certificates. For example, to get an instrument rating – a very common and useful add-on to the private pilot certificate – you will need formal training with a CFI. You will also be required to have a flight review with a CFI every 24 months to exercise the privileges of your private pilot certificate.

But there is another important aspect of training, albeit less obvious and less black-and-white. Our flying skills are perishable – both the hands-on stick-and-rudder skills and the knowledge of all the things you learned in ground school. Regular recurrent training ensures you stay sharp on those skills and even improve over time. The flight review every other year is the legal minimum you must meet, though I recommend to seek shorter intervals. And if that doesn’t sound like fun, you haven’t flown with the right instructor yet.

Stay in touch with your CFI

As your CFI, I am very interested in seeing what you, my former student, do over time with what you have learned – and see where your flying journey takes you. Your CFI can help with all of the above steps, so drop him or her a note every now and then about what you have done and what questions you have.