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When Did The FAA Require A Presolo Written Exam?

It was a typical rainy day in Newark and I was getting ready to board a flight to Tampa when I saw the crew for the flight and we started talking. One of the flight attendants is taking flying lessons and was describing her experience. The excitement in her description of her experience in learning to fly was invigorating.

After talking about learning to fly the captain mentioned he renews his CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) certificate every year but has not taught in decades. He then related how he was able to solo in only 8 hours which you never see these days. I told him the reason it takes longer to solo is there are additional requirements these days for solo including a presolo written.

The first officer looks at me and then the captain with a puzzled look and said it has always been that way and I flight instructed in the early nineties. The next sentence she caught herself as I could tell she was about to ask "how old are you?" but stopped mid sentence.

She then asked me what year the FAA change the rule because it was in effect when she received her license. I didn't know the answer but promised I would research the topic. It turns out a few months after I soloed in May of 1989 the FAA changed the rule.

The rule has been in effect since 1989 but it still amazes me when people still ask if they must take a presolo written because their instructor said they do not need to take " the written exam” before they solo. This is when I realized the confusion. I think instructors might be trying to tell their students they don't need to take the private pilot written exam before they solo, but I am hoping they stress that the presolo knowledge test is required. The private pilot written exam is the exam which must be completed before you can take your practical test and is administered by the FAA. The presolo knowledge is the exam your instructor or flight school gives you before you solo.

The Regulations

Part 61.87 states a student pilot must demonstrate satisfactory aeronautical knowledge on a knowledge test. The knowledge test must address the student pilot’s knowledge of:

Applicable sections of parts 61 and 91
Airspace rules and procedures for the airport where the solo flight will be performed
Flight characteristics and operational limitations for the make and model of aircraft to be flown.

The student's authorized instructor must administer the test and at the conclusion of the test, review all incorrect answers with the student before authorizing that student to conduct a solo flight

Tools for the Flight Instructor and Student

There are many commercially available course materials which include a presolo written exam in the curriculum so creating the knowledge exam has become easier. If you are a student wanting to prepare for the exam or if you are an instructor and don’t have a presolo written exam there are some available for free on the internet.

AOPA Air Safety Foundations Instructors Guide to the Presolo Written Exam is a great resource for instructors and for students preparing for the presolo written exam. Here is the link:



I have noticed there is some confusion as to the requirement of a presolo written exam, most of which I see posted online. If you are a student pilot you must complete a presolo written exam administered by your flight instructor prior to solo flight. The instructor must review all of your incorrect answers prior to your solo flight and endorse your logbook.

For those of you wanting to get back into flight instructing after decades away from the right seat, this is just one of the many rules that have changed. By the way, don’t feel bad when pilots look at you strange when you say you never had to take a presolo written exam. Think of it as a sign of experience instead of a sign of old age. Oh and by the way you don’t have to teach spins prior to solo anymore.

Safe Flying!

For More Information:

CFR Title 14 Part 16.87

Student Pilot Guide

FAA Advisory Circular 61-65E Which includes a sample solo knowledge exam logbook endorsement.


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