How to Build Your Flight Hours

Oct 7, 2022

Did you know that you need a certain number and variety of flight hours to meet various requirements for pilot licenses and endorsements?

It’s true. By having a substantial quantity and diverse quality of time aloft, you’ll have a deeper and more well-rounded aviation skill set.

In this post, we’ll cover different aspects of accruing flight hours, like:

  • The kinds of flight hours needed
  • When to record your flight hours
  • How many flight hours are required to become a pilot
  • How to get flight hours

Flight hours and logging vary around the world. We’ll focus on US requirements here.


how many flight hours to become a private pilot

What is Flight Time?

Flight time, or flight hours, is an aviation term you’ll become intimately familiar with if you train to be a pilot. This is the term used to refer to the total amount of time a person spends piloting an aircraft — from the moment it first moves on the tarmac to the second it comes to a full stop upon landing. As long as the aircraft is moving under its own power for the purpose of flight, it’s flight time.

Tracking flight hours is the main way pilot experience is gauged.

How Many Flight Hours to Become a Pilot

The number of required hours depends upon the type of pilot’s license you’re after. There are different requirements for airplanes versus helicopters and for private versus commercial certification.

How long it takes to get your requisite flight hours also hinges on whether or not you’re dedicating yourself full-time to this pursuit. Many flight training programs offer full-time and flexible schedules to accommodate your needs and goals.

How Many Flight Hours to Become a Private Pilot (Airplane/Helicopter)

You need a total of 40 hours of flight time — 30 hours with a flight instructor and 10 hours solo —  to get a private pilot license. For most people, this takes 3-6 months to accomplish.


how to get flight hours

How Many Flight Hours to Become a Commercial Pilot (Helicopter)

A commercial helicopter pilot’s certificate requires 150 hours of flight time. Many students are able to accumulate the needed flight hours within 6-12 months.

How Many Flight Hours to Become a Commercial Pilot (Airplane)

This isn’t so cut and dry because there are different kinds of commercial pilots flying a range of aircraft.

The number of hours of flight time you’ll need under your belt for a “basic” commercial pilot’s license depends on the kind of training program you do.

  • In a Part 141 training program, hours can be significantly reduced.
  • For a Part 61 training program, your required flight time shoots up to 250 hours.

Either way, it takes the average person 6-12 months to accrue all these hours.

If you’ve got higher flying aspirations and want to be a commercial airline pilot — you’ll need 1,500 hours of flight time. Expect it to take 2-4 years to amass this many flight hours.

Ways to Accrue Flight Time

The number of hours you need to get your pilot’s license may seem daunting when you’re just starting out. But there are plenty of ways you can go about racking up flight experience in addition to formal instruction time that’s part of your training.

For example, depending upon your current level of certification and endorsement, you could:

  • Join a flying club
  • Go on a trip
  • Participate in search and rescue missions
  • Volunteer with a charitable organization
  • Play tour guide to family and friends
  • Tow gliders or banners
  • Travel with colleagues to business events
  • Become a flight instructor
  • Fly aerial photographers around

how many flight hours to become a pilot

When to Log Your Time in the Air

You need a mix of kinds of flight hours to get your certifications and endorsements. So, it’s important that you:

  1. Know what hours qualify towards flight time
  2. Keep track of each type


When to Log Flight Hours

Before you log hours, there are a few things to keep in mind. Regulations (14 CFR § 61.51) state that:

  • You can start logging flight hours when you begin your flight training, as long as the training time is endorsed by an authorized instructor.
  • You must log flight time if the hours will be used to meet the requirements for certifications, ratings, endorsements, or currency.

While you need to log each flight you take, you aren’t required to track flight time if you aren’t planning to apply those hours towards advancing or maintaining your qualifications or status.


What Hours Count / Don’t Count

For the most part, you can only log flight hours for the time when you’re the pilot in command (PIC). According to federal regulations (14 CFR § 91.3), you’re the PIC when you’re the one who’s “directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of” an aircraft. (There are specific cases when you can log time as second in command (SIC).)

As a student pilot, however, you’re only considered the PIC when you’re soloing. The rest of the time — when you’re piloting with the supervision of a flight instructor — 

That said, any hours that fit the definition of “flight hours” are fair game for logging. This includes time spent taxiing on the runway, taking off and landing, and cruising. The time you spend doing pre-flight checks can also be included if the aircraft’s engine is on.

Even if your flight never actually takes off, you can log flight hours — as long as the aircraft is moving by its own power with the intent to fly (14 CFR § 1.1). This means grounded or aborted flight plans can still yield valuable skills, experience, and flight time!


Hours with a Flight Instructor

Surprisingly, there’s another way to earn flight hours with an instructor — beyond the time you’re up flying. You can get hours by using a full flight simulator, flight training device, or aviation training device and having your instructor sign off on them.


Solo Hours

There are two scenarios under which you can log solo hours. The first — likely the most obvious — is when you’re piloting a single-occupancy aircraft or when you’re the only person on a multi-passenger aircraft. The other is when you’re the PIC of an aircraft that requires more than one pilot to operate.


Cross-Country Hours

If you land at a different airport than you took off from and you used navigational systems to locate that arrival airport, you’ve just accrued some cross-country flight hours. Depending upon the kind of pilot’s license you’re tracking these hours for, there’s also minimum distance stipulations.(14 CFR § 61.1)


Nighttime Hours

You’ll want to keep track of night flying hours and takeoffs/landings. Night flying is any flight time that occurs between dusk (the end of civil twilight) and dawn (the start of morning civil twilight). Nighttime takeoffs and landings are those done at least an hour after sunset or before sunrise.


”Weather” Hours

There aren’t any explicit requirements around gaining flight experience in various weather conditions. However, pilots are encouraged to include flight weather conditions in their logs. 


Instrument Hours

If your objective is to attain the IFR rating, you’ll need to log instrument time. The FAA lets you clock in any time you operate an aircraft solely using instrumentation. Actual or simulated time — they both count. 


Airplane in the hanger

Calculating Flight Time

You can use a handy app or online flight time calculator to make super quick work of figuring out your flight hours. Most ask you to enter in the aircraft type, take-off and landing airport codes, and wind speeds.

Alternatively, if you know the time zone shifts and distance you’ll be traveling, you can manually determine approximate flight hours. It’s simple math: Distance ÷ Ground Speed = Flight Time. This method is likely less accurate than using a calculator, though, as it doesn’t account for wind and distances are looser estimates.

Either way, it’s important to track your time using the proper to the unit of measure. Hours rounded to the tenth is what you’ll use for all your FAA certification purposes. However, elsewise, some pilots log time to the nearest five minutes whereas others use decimal time. 


How to Log Your Flight Time

In this tech age, recording flight time is a cinch. You can use a logbook app to keep tabs on your hours. These apps are incredibly readily available, convenient, time-saving, and easy to use. Many pilots also appreciate that they can run reports and sometimes even customize the app.

Alternatively, you can opt for an analog option. Manually logging your flight hours in a paper-based logbook is a time-honored tradition.

Authorities (like airlines) accept both digital and hard-copy flight logs.

There aren’t any official requirements dictating when to enter your hours into your logbook. But, it’s best practice to log your flight hours soon after each qualifying occasion so that you don’t forget.  


flight hours

How to Get Flight Hours? Come Fly with Us!

The first, quickest, and easiest way to earn loggable flight hours is with Precision Aviation. We’ve got the aircraft piloting training programs you’re looking for — ones that let you fulfill your aviation dreams on your schedule and terms. Contact us today to learn more!