Piloting is an exciting career for many. Depending on the type of job, a pilot may spend lots of time overseas, fly faster than the speed of sound, journey to remove villages in a third world country, take tourists on air tours in a float plane, or fight fires by dumping water on them. There are far more piloting jobs than most people realize.
In this section, we’re going to talk about some of the most common jobs: Airline Pilots, Military Pilots and Flight Instructors.
Each airline pilot flies tens of thousands of passengers each year, and in almost every part of the globe.
Education: At the absolute minimum, airline pilots must have a High School Diploma. But to get a job at many big airlines like United, Delta and American, most pilots get a Bachelor’s degree. A lot of people think that pilots need to have a background in math and science, but that isn’t necessarily the case. There are pilots with degrees in philosophy, history and even landscape design!
Training: The journey to becoming an airline pilot usually starts with getting a Private Pilot’s License. After that, aspiring airline pilots continue their training, earning an Instrument Rating (to fly in bad weather), and a Commercial Certificate (to get paid to fly). Eventually they will earn their Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP), after which they can fly for an airline.
Experience: Most pilots earn their commercial certificate with about 300 hours of flight time. But they must have 1500 hours before they can take the test for their ATP and work for an airline. To get more experience, many pilots become Certificated Flight Instructors (CFIs) and gain experience teaching others to fly! They may also find jobs as tour pilots, cargo pilots or in charter operations.
United States’ Military pilots fly for the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy. Although we normally think of fighter pilots when we think of military pilots, there are many other pilot roles including cargo, re-fueling, troop transport, helicopter, search and rescue, among others.
Education: To become a military pilot, an individual must meet the requirements to become an officer in the U.S. military. One of these requirements is a Bachelor’s degree. A background in science and math is still not a hard requirement, but is often preferred. Only a handful of pilot jobs, like becoming as a test pilot, require an engineering background.
Training: The specific training a military pilot receives is specific to their kind of operation. Those pursuing a career as a fighter pilot for the Air Force or Navy will fly a small single engine training airplane before advancing to a much higher powered single engine turboprop. After completing this initial training they will be assigned to fly a jet trainer: still a fun, fast jet but not yet the fighter jet they hope to get to. After completing a rigorous training process in the jet trainer, they move on to the fighter jet itself. The process from first flight to flying a fighter jet usually takes around two years.
Experience: As early as training, military pilots will practice a variety of skills in addition to flying. Most will learn to fly close to other airplanes, in formation. Many will also learn Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM), also known as dog-fighting, bombing tactics, and much more.
Flight Instructors teach other people how to fly. How cool is that?! While many people become flight instructors to gain experience for a career in the airlines, or are assigned instruction duties in the military, many instructors make teaching their main job!
Education: Being a flight instructor doesn’t require any specific education, but most have a High School Diploma, and many have Bachelor’s degrees, or even advanced degrees.
Training: To be a flight instructor, you must first be a pilot. The typical path to becoming an instructor is to get your Private Pilot’s License, Instrument Rating and Commercial Certificate. Once those requirements are met, a pilot will switch from learning how to fly to learning how to teach. Flight Instructors must be able to fly and answer questions, show students new concepts and know the aircraft well enough to let students make their own mistakes safely. Once an aspiring flight instructor is ready, they take a long checkride to prove their knowledge and teaching ability, and earn their Flight Instructor Certificate.
Experience: All flight instructors must have a Commercial Certificate, Instrument Rating and a Flight Instructor Certificate. Many flight instructors have other piloting jobs, or are retired from airline, military or corporate careers, which means they can bring different perspectives to new students, or help students navigate their own career paths as they prepare to become professional pilots.
These are just a handful of the many piloting careers that exist. Others include charter pilots, corporate pilots, air show pilots, fire-fighting, search and rescue, air ambulance, banner towing, bush flying, aerial surveying, or airborne research.