Become a Pilot

Becoming a pilot takes years of education, training, and licensure. Preparing early will help you know what to expect and plan out your career map beforehand. For the best-paying piloting careers, you will need at least ten years of experience to qualify. Work hard and practice often to meet the requirements for a piloting career.


Gaining Education

  1. Graduate high school. To enter flight school in the U.S. (and likely elsewhere, such as Australia), you will need your high school diploma. Study hard in school, and consider taking physics or mathematics courses to prepare early. If you do not have your high school diploma, earn a General Education Development (GED) certificate.[1]
    • Some flight instructors offer flying courses to teenagers as young as 16. Call local flight instructors to ask what their policies are. You may be able to get a head start in your training.
  2. Consider Prepare to Join the Military If you're on the fence about serving, joining the military can be a great way for you to receive flying lessons and gain hours. In the United States, the Air Force, Navy, National Guard, and Coast Guard offer flight training. Once you return to civilian life, you will already have flying hours under your belt.
    • To join the U.S. military, you must be at least 18 years old. If you are 17, you may join with parental consent.[2]
  3. Complete your bachelor's degree in aviation or a related discipline. Although not required for every pilot job, most flight schools or employers prefer that an applicant has completed four years of college education. Some colleges offer degrees in aeronautics or aviation. If yours does not, pursue a degree in engineering, mathematics, or physics.[3]
    • Take liberal arts or humanities courses while you're in college. Flight school admissions offices look for applicants with balanced education.
  4. Take flight training classes. If your college degree did not involve aviation, you will need to take flight classes from an instructor certified with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA recommends that pilots do not apply for licensure until they have gained enough experience to complete a cross-country flight solo.[4]
    • Be aware that licensure requires significant experience and that you will be more likely to pass with extensive training.[5]
  5. Go to flight school. There are two major types of flight school: Part 61 training and Part 141 training. Part 61 is the most common type: it is flexible, adjusted by instructors to fit personal needs, and allows you to go at your own pace. Part 141 training is structured and goes at a faster pace, and the lesson plans are more detailed.[6]

Getting Licensed

  1. Get your medical certificate. Passing a physical examination requires several parts. First, you will need to fill out an online application and answer information about your demographics and medical history. Then, you will need to visit a doctor who can validate your physical health in multiple aspects (including height/weight, vision, mental health, and other areas).[7]
    • You will have a choice between applying for a first class, second class, or third class medical examination. First class is required for future airline pilots. Second class is required for commercial pilots. Third class is the least restrictive and is required for student licensure.
    • If you don't pass your physical examination, all is not lost. You may be able to fix it with treatment. For example, deaf pilots can obtain aircraft certification with an exemption for flights requiring radio communication.[8] People with other disabilities may be eligible for restricted licensure.
  2. Get your student pilot license. After you have received your medical certificate, you can qualify for a student pilot license. This will allow you to fly in less restrictive situations with your instructor and work towards full licensure.
    • Student pilots must be able to read, write, and understand English to answer radio calls from fellow pilots. If English is your second language, learn the language thoroughly before you apply.
  3. Gain flying hours. To earn a license, a pilot-in-training needs to earn at least 250 hours of flight time. You can log these hours via flight school, military training, or practicing with an FAA-certified instructor.
    • After you gain your license, you will need additional flying hours before you are qualified for more pilot jobs (like working at a commercial airline). Many pilots work as flight instructors to gain more flying hours after graduation.
  4. Pass the written exam. To become a licensed pilot, you will need to pass a written exam that includes safety information and a skills test. Your written exam will be observed by an FAA-certified instructor. Study beforehand and get plenty of sleep the night before so you're prepared when your test date comes.
  5. Pursue further certification. Depending on your goals as a pilot, you may want further certification to qualify you for certain jobs. The FAA offers certification in a variety of areas, such as flight instructor certification or multi-engine plane certifications. U.S. Military pilots are given an aviator badge that signifies special certification and ranking.

Finding Employment

  1. Seek a variety of job opportunities. A broad variety of jobs are available for flight school graduates, depending on how many flight hours you've completed. You can work for emergency services, air shows, firefighting or forestry organizations, or as a flight instructor while you're gaining your hours.
    • Different pilot jobs will require more or less hours and experience. If you know what kind of pilot job you want, know the requirements and qualifications needed to obtain that job.
    • Some pilots also take engineering jobs with airlines. If you're interested, study engineering as an undergraduate to gain relevant knowledge. You will also need to get a separate engineering license to work with commercial airlines.
  2. Consider employment with the military. There are over 150 flying careers available in the U.S. Air Force, with each requiring different enlistment qualifications. Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to know which careers you're qualified for.[9]
    • If you're in a hurry to find a job, ask to be put on the "quick ship" list. If any recruits drop out, you will be called in to take their place.
  3. Gain enough hours to become a commercial air pilot. For many pilots, their ultimate goal is to work at a commercial airline. You will need 1500 hours of flight time to be hired by a commercial airline, but most major airlines prefer at least 3000 hours.
    • Most airline companies will also require their applicants to pass a psychological and intelligence exam.
    • New airline pilots often start as first officers in regional airlines, where they can gain experience flying passengers in all weather conditions. Later, you can qualify for better, higher-paying positions.
  4. Achieve seniority for more opportunities. Advancement in most airline jobs is dependent on seniority. After 1-5 years, pilots can qualify for first officer positions. After 5-15 years, first officers can then advance to captain. Seniority will help you gain preferred flight assignments and take time off for weekends or holidays.
    • Beyond captainship, experienced pilots can also advance to chief pilot, director of aviation, and other positions depending on where they work.


  • Poor eyesight doesn't necessarily disqualify you from being a pilot. As long as you can see well with glasses or contacts, you can pass the medical exam. You may also consider getting eye surgery, if applicable in your situation.
  • Long absences from home is part of the job for pilots. Keep this in mind, especially if you struggle with spending extended time away from your family.
  • Becoming a pilot is a stressful job, as you hold the safety of your passengers in your hands. You will need to pursue constant training and examination, drug and alcohol tests, difficult hours, and huge liability. Think before choosing this career.
  • This article primarily focuses on the process of becoming a pilot in the United States. Steps you need to take may vary depending on which country you're in.


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