Learn to Fly

Next steps…

Earned your PPL and ready to explore the world of flight? Yes, you can fly to other airfields for lunch, but there’s a whole world of opportunities that will help develop skills and experience. Plus, we guarantee you’ll have plenty of fun along the way…

Night Rating 

One of the first extensions to the basic PPL that many pilots go for is the Night Rating.  It means that if you’re running late, you can continue flying, although you can only land at an airfield or airport with runway lighting.

Flying at night is a special experience. The air is often smoother, and if there’s a bright moon and clear skies, the views are fantastic. It’s also a good way to sharpen your instrument flying. In fact, the Night Rating is part of the Instrument Rating (and the IR (Restricted)) and a good introduction to those more advanced ratings.  The Night Rating course is five hours of night flying, including five solo take-offs and landings.


Stretch your horizons by flying to new destinations, including overseas. Just a couple of hours in an average club tourer will take you to at least six different countries, where the formalities for visiting aircraft are simpler than you may think. You’ll find regular accounts of pilots’ trips overseas on the FLYER website.

Consider also self-fly hire in other countries. The USA is well set up for this. You’ll need a US Airman’s Certificate which takes time to arrange so start the process early. Surf the ’net to find a flight school where you want to go, make contact and ask about formalities. A similar process applies in many other countries.

Instrument Rating

Two Instrument Ratings are available to UK pilots, the full IR and the IR(R). The latter is a restricted rating devised to help pilots get out of trouble should they encounter IMC.

The Competency Based IR is an Instrument Rating aimed at private pilots, rather than airline pilots. It allows private pilots to fly in cloud, in any class of airspace, including airways. You can fly a Class 1 ILS descent to a decision height of 200ft and RVR of 550m (two crew) or 800m (single pilot). The IR for private pilots has seven subjects of Theoretical Knowledge, plus a minimum of 40 hours of IFR flying time, including 25 dual, of which at least 10 must be with an Approved Training Organisation.

Formation Flying

Flying in formation is a great skill set to develop. It will hone your planning and piloting skills, and improve your concentration, discipline and airmanship. 

A number of schools offer the chance and during a typical course you’ll be taught the essential skills of joining formation, station-keeping, formation departures and recoveries, and formation leading. Many are run by former military pilots who have all learned and practised formation flying to the nth degree. 

It’s best to learn at a flight school, which has specialist skills, rather than just ‘wing’ it with friends because it’s not the kind of flying you want to get wrong.


Whether you want to go into competitions or ‘bore holes in the sky’, aerobatics is a fun way to explore the outer limits of flying.

British Aerobatics runs events at various levels and are very welcoming to newcomers. Other pilots are content to take-off, fly a 20-minute routine and revel in an outburst of rolls, loops, wing-overs and more. 

It’s now necessary to hold an EASA or CAA Aerobatic Rating if you want to fly aerobatics in an EASA or CAA CofA aircraft. The syllabus is similar to the AOPA Aerobatic Course. British Aerobatics has its own academy and several flight schools also offer the rating.

Float and seaplane flying

Floatplane flying is one of the most fun flying skills to try and hugely exciting. There’s a lot to learn about picking suitable water runways, working with the conditions, and handling the aircraft both on the water and during approach and climb-out, but there are plenty of specialist flight schools.

For a start, there’s the Aero Club on Lake Como in north Italy. The club has a dedicated water runway though you can also land elsewhere in Italy’s ‘Lake District’.

Or, you can travel to North America where there are many floatplane opportunities. Best known is Jack Brown’s Seaplane base in Florida, but there are also mountain flying schools such as Alaska Floats & Skis. 

Strip flying 

Farm strip flying opens a whole new area of flying – for every ‘normal’ airfield there are four or five farm strips. Most will be rolled, with the grass cut and in reasonable condition but with a variety of approaches and facilities.

Some, like Draycott Farm in Wiltshire, are really a small airfield with straightforward approaches and flat runways. Others are more difficult with awkward approaches, short runways, and, occasionally, boggy conditions. One of the best ways to learn strip flying is the Strip Flying Diploma run by the Light Aircraft Association (LAA), which covers both theoretical and practical knowledge.


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