Review: The Complete Private Pilot (Book)

The Complete Private Pilot (Bob Gardner) is the book I used to prepare me for my flight lessons, knowledge test, and oral portion of the checkride. It is an accessible book which walks you through each of the major learning topics you need, taking you by the hand and leading you from zero knowledge to an excellent, rounded understanding of the basics in twelve easy-to-digest chapters. Read on to find out why I recommend this book, even if you haven’t yet decided that learning to fly is right for you. 

The Complete Private Pilot – who is it for?

Ever since I was a small boy, I dreamed of learning to fly a plane. Back then, it was a prospect as exciting and unattainable as owning a Ferrari or becoming a pop star. Fast forward a (small) number of decades, to the summer of 2017, when I found myself dreaming of flying again. As a grown man with disposable income and in need of a fresh challenge, the dream started to solidify into an actionable plan. Why shouldn’t I learn how to fly?

Reading The Complete Private Pilot, written by Bob Gardner, was a pivotal moment in my aviation journey. It introduced me to all of the major topics, drawing me in with explanations of the theory of flight, how aircraft systems work, the rules of the sky, and even how to communicate with Air Traffic Control. In short, it gave me an understanding of what it would take to get my first Pilot’s License, and thoroughly reignited my curiosity.

For me, the book first served as an accessible and fascinating insight into what to expect from my experience of gaining my Private Pilot’s License, and a solid introduction into all of the major topics of study. As I progressed with my lessons, I found it to be a valuable resource to return to time and time again.

In short, this book is a valuable resource no matter where you are on your aviation journey. It is equally effective at providing a first introduction to the world of flying, as it is at helping you prepare for your final exams.

What does it do?

In The Complete Private Pilot, Bob Gardner assumes nothing about your prior knowledge or experience. Divided into 12 main chapters, each covering a different aspect of aviation such as AerodynamicsWeather, and Navigation, Bob takes you from complete newbie to having a thorough understanding of all the important concepts you’ll need to know to become a pilot. It is written in an accessible, light-hearted and conversational style, delivering a tutorial rather than simply providing reference material. As you work your way through the lessons, you’ll feel as though you are benefitting from Bob’s extensive experience  – his wisdom, personal opinion and safety-conscious attitude really shine through

To become a good pilot, you need to understand why things are the way they are, rather than just learn the facts of aviation parrot-style. This is where the book really excels, being careful to explain the whys and the theory behind the facts, allowing the reader to develop a greater insight and understanding of the topic.

The book aims to introduce the unprepared reader to the full breadth of subjects you’ll need to study to achieve your aviation goals. To this end, it strikes an admirable balance between being broad and deep. When you read this book cover to cover (as I recommend you do), you’ll gain an effective working knowledge of the full range of topics, and a detailed understanding of the most important concepts contained in each.

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find a set of multiple choice questions (and answers), to test your understanding of the material. If you are learning to fly at a Part 61 flight school (which tend to have a less structured approach around learning the theory), this is a valuable way to track your own learning progress as you make your way though the book. These questions also serve as a useful tool when preparing for your exams, allowing you to quick identify which subjects are priority for revision.

Also included are some very useful reference materials, packaged as four appendices. These include a Glossary (aviation is littered with obscure terms and acronyms – this glossary will get you through), and excerpts from FAA publications such as sectional charts and the Airport Facility Directory. These sections will help you absorb the chapters on Flight Planning, Navigation and Procedures without having to buy a bunch of additional texts – ideal when you are just starting out.


In summary, The Complete Private Pilot is an excellent introduction to the topic of learning to fly. It takes you through each of the major areas of study, with solid and easily digestible content, written in an effective teaching style which brings the reader gently up the curve from no prior experience to having a firm grasp of the important concepts.

It serves very well as a first purchase – whether or not you have already decided that you are going to learn how to fly – and it will certainly help you make that decision. If you do decide to go ahead, the modest investment you make in purchasing this book will pay back time and time again throughout your training, as you dive back in to get an alternative explanation to what your instructor is giving you, and to test yourself to make sure you understand the concepts. Finally, it makes a fine exam revision guide to give yourself the best chance of passing the FAA knowledge test and oral portion of the checkride first time. Highly recommended.


View on