Hi, Alex. I commend you for your decision - it's a lot of fun! I'll try to answer your questions to the best of my ability below:
1) The Federal Aviation Regulations spell out the requirements for an Airman Certificate. FAR 61.102-61.109 list the certification requirements. You must be 17 years old; be able to read, speak, and understand English; pass a knowledege test on information that you will learn in training; and have the following flight experience (all are minimum times):
40 hours total time
20 hours dual instruction
10 hours of solo flight
3 hours of cross country training (flight to airports 50 NM+ away from departure)
3 hours of night training
One cross country flight over 100 NM at night
10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop at night
3 hours of training on instrument flying
5 hours of solo cross country
The 40 hours total, 20 dual, 10 solo include all of the other requirements listed.
2) I'm pretty sure that wouldn't work for several reasons:
* You need to be in the front seat to receive instruction, your instructor also needs to be in the front seat
* As a student pilot, flights without an instructor must be solo (i.e. nobody else in the aircraft), so you couldn't have a friend in the plane when you don't have an instructor
You can go on each other's dual lessons just for the learining that would probably occur, but you couldn't log it.
3)The Private Pilot Certificate is not inherently hard to get. You need to really dedicate yourself to earning it, you need to work hard to learn the maneuvers and to learn the knowledge, and you have to face the reality that you are not perfect and things may not always work out of the first try. If you keep at it, though, you shouldn't have too much trouble learning to fly the plane. The hardest part for a lot of people, I think, is the knowledge part, because they don't realize how important the knowledge is. If, however, you focus just on flying and not on learning the knowledge, you will have a harder time of it. You will need to learn about weather, aerodynamics, the flight environment, and other things. As long as you are dedicated and work hard, it shouldn't be that difficult.
a) You can fly alone in a single engine land airplane with less than 201 horsepower, fixed gear, and a fixed pitch propeller. Other aircraft require additional training.
b) You can fly at night
c) Not in any weather - there are VFR weather and cloud clearance requirements that you must meet (see #5 for "VFR")
d) You can fly wherever your aircraft is capable of flying (use caution flying underpowered aircraft in mountains, for example. The FAA doesn't restrict you as to where you can fly, but you need to use good judgement.)
5) VFR stands for "Visual Flight Rules." That is how you will have to fly until you are instrument rated. VFR flying requires you to maintain certain visibility requirements and distances from clouds (exact numbers for these distances vary based on where you are, so you'll learn that when you start). IFR satnds for "Instrument Flight Rules," and lets you fly through clouds and in conditions with absolutely no visibility. You must be able to accurately interpret your instruments and to fly them precisely, so the instrument rating required to fly IFR will take some work. The reason this system is used is for safety. Statistics show that the leading cause of accidents in aviation is a pilot continuing flight VFR into bad weather conditions (not thunderstorms, neccessarily, but clouds, fog, or low visibility). Pilot who are not flying by instruments proficiently tend to get disoriented very quickly in such conditions, so this is a good system.
6) The cost varies widely based on the aircraft and instructor rates where you train. Here at Purdue, it took me 52 hours and about $5,000 to get my private. My understanding is that it normally takes 75-80 hour sto get certificated, but the cost per hour will be lower most likely. I would estimate to expect about $5000, but make sure you ask your flight school before you start to train. By the way, if your flight school gives you prices based on 40 hours of flight, beware - most people don't finish that quickly! It is definitely possible to finish in 8 months if you are diligent about flying frequently and your aircraft anmd instructor are sufficiently available for you to do so. As an example of how quickly it is possible to do it, I came to Purdue and began flying on August 26, 1998 and earned my certificate less than 3 months later, on November 13, 1998. That was flying 3 times a week, 2 hours at a time. I think that the more frequently you fly, the less total time it will take and the quicker you can finish.
I hope that this has helped. If you have any other questions, feel free to post them or e-mail me