How can I become a pilot for free?
This post aims to share how to become a pilot for free in the UK based on what I learnt during my training, from my first air experience flight until my type rating, where I now fly the Boeing B737-800.
The financial cost of becoming a pilot in the UK is prohibitive.
Check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for the best flight training advice to save you time and money! Chapter 2 covers how to learn to fly for free, including flying scholarships and bursaries.
How do I become a pilot without money in the UK
1) Learn to fly with the air cadets for free
The air cadets offer free pilot training in the UK for eligible people. You can join the air cadets at secondary school through your school combined cadet force (if your school has a section).
If your school does not have a CCF section, you can still join the air cadets via your local squadron.
The air cadets provide various opportunities to learn to fly, which include:
- Air experience flights
- Gliding courses and scholarships
- Powered flying scholarship
2) Air experience flights
Air experience flights usually take place several times in the year and consist of a 20-30min flight in a Grob 11 Tutor. During the flight, you will have the opportunity to fly the aircraft (if you want to). Ask politely; you may also get the chance to do some aerobatics.
3) Gliding courses and scholarships
Gliding is probably the cheapest and purest way of learning to fly. The Air Cadet Organisation offer gliding introductory courses (spend a day at the airfield and do about three flights).
If you enjoy your gliding introductory course, then the next opportunity to continue learning to fly through gliding will be through a gliding scholarship. Gliding scholarships aim to get you to solo standard, and you may even be able to go solo.
Gliding requires finesse at the controls and encourages good stick and rudder coordination. Although most gliders do not have engines, learning to fly through gliding is an excellent way to get into aviation.
After completing your gliding scholarship, you may be invited to take part in an Advanced Glider Training (AGT) course. The AGT course includes leaving the circuit and an introduction to soaring.
4) Becoming a pilot for free by becoming a staff cadet
If you have an aptitude for gliding, you may be invited to become a staff cadet at your gliding unit. Staff cadets assist with the running of the gliding operation but are also training to become gliding instructors to teach cadets how to fly.
Successful cadet glider pilots have had successful careers in the Royal Air Force in flying roles. Many continue gliding to this day.
5) Powered flying scholarship
Air cadets offer several powered flying scholarships each year. These scholarships consist of 12 hours of powered flight training which aims to allow you to go solo by the end of the course. Flying scholarship powered flying hours can count towards your Private Pilots Licence even after leaving the air cadets and perhaps deciding to get a PPL later on.
6) Air cadets as a volunteer reserve
Joining as an air cadet volunteer reserve will mean that you may have the opportunity for a flight at the end when taking cadets flying if there is time and availability.
Volunteer reserves are vital to the air cadet organisation, and without them, air cadets would not exist.
7) Learn how to fly using a computer flight simulator
Although not entirely free as you need a good computer and need to purchase a flight simulator and joystick, if you already have a computer, learning to fly on a flight simulator can be an excellent way to teach yourself how to fly. X Plane 11 and Microsoft Flight simulator are amazing tools.
A computer flight simulator is highly realistic nowadays (aircraft modelling, scenery, aircraft characteristics etc.). There are excellent tutorials on YouTube to help with finding your way.
Playing a flight simulator is a very cheap way of practising and picking up the basics, which may speed up your pilot training when you get into a real aircraft.
8) Work at your local flight school and get paid in flying hours
Working at your local flying school and getting paid in part through flying hours is a brilliant way to become a pilot in the UK for free. Aside from learning to fly, getting to see how a flying school operation works and building a network of aviation professionals may one day open other doors.
9) Become a pilot for free with the University Air Squadron
Joining the university air squadron offers excellent opportunities to further build your soft skills like leadership, teamwork, working under pressure and problem-solving. The University air squadron allows you to ‘get paid’ whilst learning to fly.
With the University Air Squadron (UAS) wishing to recruit future Royal Air Force pilots, the UAS offers elementary flight training. Within the UAS, you may also be eligible to receive specific allowances in covering your pilot training.
10) University gliding
University gliding clubs often have heavily subsidised flying through the students union. Whilst learning to fly through the university gliding club may not be completely free, it will probably be the cheapest flying available to you!
Aside from flying, university gliding clubs usually are very social places that allow you to spend time with like-minded people doing what you love – flying!
11) Honourable Company of Air Pilots PPL scholarships
The Honourable Company of Air Pilots offers full PPL scholarships each year. These are awarded each year, with the expectation that you complete your pilot training during the summer.
I got my PPL this way, and without that scholarship, the gap to bridge to become a commercial pilot would have been too broad.
The Honourable pilots offer many scholarships. Check out my post on how to become a pilot for free.
PPL Scholarship application opening dates
Tuesday 21st December 2021 – Wednesday 2nd February 2022
12) Flight instructor bursaries
The Honourable Company of Air Pilots has some funds available to assist with bursaries to develop instructors who may not have the funds available.
Taken from the Air Pilots website, funds or part-funding may be available for the following activities:
- FI(A) Assessment of Competence
- Attendance at an FI Seminar
- Financial support towards the required training and testing for the extension of the privileges of a FI Certificate to enable instruction for Night, Aerobatics, EIR, IR, or CPL.
- Financial support for the training and testing for the issue of an IRI certificate.
- Financial support to maintain other ratings essential for the instructor’s current instructing task (e.g. towards revalidation/renewal of an instrument qualification for an instructor currently teaching for the IR/IR(restricted) ratings)
13) Become a pilot for free in the UK by joining the military
The military offers the only proper way of going from zero to qualified pilot completely free while being paid. Check out the following for careers with the different services.
- Royal Airforce
- Army Air Core
- Royal Navy
14) Air league
The Air League has several scholarships, including
15) Join a gliding club and become a tug pilot
Although becoming a tug pilot is not for everyone because of the experience needed (and risks involved), becoming a tug pilot can be an excellent way to build hours for free towards a commercial pilot licence.
If lucky, your gliding club may be able to offer accommodation at a subsidised rate during the summer season in case you do not live locally to your gliding club and are working as a tug pilot for them.
16) Join companies that do not charge for type rating
After getting your commercial pilot licence and instrument rating, one of the highest costs to fly professionally is paying for a type rating. Most airlines now charge low hour pilots for their type ratings. A type rating course can cost anywhere from £15,000 to £30,000.
You don’t always have to pay for a type rating, and this is how:
Try and join a company that offers an apprenticeship scheme. An excellent example of this is the Jet2 pilot apprentice scheme. The scheme is based on initially spending 12-18 months on various rotations around the business.
At the end of the apprenticeship, you complete your type rating free of charge and start flying. During your apprenticeship period, you are paid a reasonable salary, and as soon as you start your type rating, you are paid a first officers salary.
17) Consider doing other flying that is not necessarily airline flying
Many student pilots forget that there are other avenues to fly professionally besides airline flying.
With there being many low hour pilots looking for their first jobs at the moment, type ratings are currently expensive, with first officer salaries being weak – think about other professional flying opportunities.
These can include:
- Air taxi
- Flying instructor
- Survey flying
- Medical evacuation
- Private jet
How much does it cost to become a pilot UK
It costs anywhere between £50,000 to £110,000 to become a pilot in the UK. Completing your training via the modular route makes it possible to become a pilot for slightly less cost.
Integrated courses for pilot training in the UK are typically between £70,000 and £110,000, depending on which provider you choose.
The main costs for pilot training in the UK via the modular route are:
- Class 1 medical (£800 including transport and accommodation)
- Private Pilot Licence (£12,000)
- Night rating (£1500)
- Hour building (£12,500)
- ATPL Exams via distance learning (£5,000)
- Commercial pilot licence (£7,500)
- Multi-engine instrument rating (£20,000)
- APS MCC course (£8,000)
Total cost £67,300
You may be able to complete your training for slightly less. The estimate above is a mid-range estimate, and you can do it for less if you shop around.
What is the cheapest way to become a pilot?
The cheapest way to become a pilot is to take advantage of air cadet flying opportunities which are entirely free if you are still at school.
Once old enough, try and apply for scholarships through the Honourable Company of Air Pilots or the Air League. If you wish to fly in the military, the Army, Airforce and Royal Navy offer excellent flying careers.
If you found this useful or have other ideas on how to become a pilot for free, please leave a comment in the section below!
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 pilot with around 2,000 hours flying in Europe. He holds a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering and is a chartered engineer and a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.