The FAA knows various types of pilot certificates or licenses, each requiring a different level of expeirence and knowledge. The types of certificates are as follows:
Airline Transport Pilot
In addition there are also ratings which add on priviliages to the certificates, such as an Instrument Rating and Multi-Engine Rating.
A good idea would be to just go to your local airport and ask around. Aviators tend to be a friendly bunch (exceptions do exist) and are happy to talk to people who show an interest in the subject they are so enthusiastic about. You can also go to a flight school and ask there. They will probably be able to give you more detailed and accurate information than the average man or woman in the hangar, but you will probably also get a sales pitch. When it comes to flight schools, it definitely makes sense to shop around! Most schools offer introductory flights.
There are two main types of flight school, Part 61 and Part 141.
Part 61 flight schools allow students and instructors flexibility to tailor the training individually, while in accordance with regulations.
Part 141 flight schools must strictly follow a sylabus where one lesson must be completed prior to commencing the next, however usually Part 141 courses are approved with lower hour requirements than Part 61 training (the actual hours flown will ultimately depend on progress).
Once you know this is what you really want to do, it's a good time to get a medical certificate, which also is your student pilot certificate. You can skip this step, if you only want a Sport Pilot certificate.
The medical certificate is issued by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).
Find an AME - FAA Aviation Medical Examiners.
The easiest certificate to obtain is the Sport Pilot certificate. It requires less training and offers fewer privileges than the private pilot certificate and was created in September 2004 after years of work by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). It is very similar to the Recreational Pilot certificate. You can read up on the differences on the relevant Wikipedia page.
The most common type of license is the Private Pilot certificate (wiki). It allows command of any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings) for any non-commercial purpose, and gives almost unlimited authority to fly under visual flight rules (VFR).
If you want to get paid to fly, you will have to earn the Commercial Pilot certificate. And if you want to fly for an airline, your ultimate goal must be the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP) which requires a minimum experience of 1,500 hours of flight time (1200 for Helicopters), 500 hours of cross-country flight time, 100 hours of night flight time, and 75 hours instrument operations time.
Then there are additional certificates and ratings for particular special activities and aircraft, in particular the Flight Instructor Certificate, the Ground Instructor Certificate, the Instrument Rating, which allows you to fly under IFR rules, i.e. in conditions of low visibility, the Instrument Instructor Rating, the Multi-Engine Rating and the Multi-Engine Instructor Rating.
For more details on the requirements, you best start out at the relevant Wikipedia page about pilot certification in the United States.
Here are some questions and answers about becoming a pilot, reproduced from the FAA's website for your information, for further information go to faa.gov:
No. People of all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities have learned to fly. It's fun, and from the beginning of your training, you get to do most of the actual flying! On the practical side — while flying isn't a difficult skill to learn, you'll have to be willing to stick with it until you meet all the requirements. Also, you should consider the cost of becoming a pilot — you'll have to pay for your physical exam and your lessons.
Right away. All you have to do is find a flight instructor and sign up for an introductory lesson. You don't have to have a student pilot's certificate or a medical certificate to take flying lessons. Of course, you won't be able to fly solo right away. That takes time and the paperwork described in this guide.
It depends on you. There is no set number of lessons or hours of flight training. Your instructor must make sure you have learned to perform certain maneuvers before allowing you to solo. These maneuvers include safe takeoffs and landings. You must use good judgment when flying and be able to keep control of the aircraft.
Also, you'll have to get a medical certificate and a student pilot's certificate to fly solo.
Yes. A well-built and well-maintained aircraft flown by a competent and prudent pilot is as safe or safer than many other forms of transportation.
Modern aircraft engines are reliable and failure rarely occurs. However, your lessons will cover what to do in this situation, including selecting a good landing area and safely landing.