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Ever wonder what it takes to learn how to pilot a commercial plane? Flying an aircraft comes with immense responsibility – operating complex machinery at 30,000 feet up, with hundreds of passengers on board, varying weather conditions – preparation is key, and involves thousands of hours of practice, and either flight school or military experience.

The skills needed to become a pilot include strong communication, problem-solving and observation skills, good depth perception and reaction time, and the ability to operate aircraft computer and navigation systems. Pilots need not only flight skills, but also people skills and sound aviation

To gain knowledge and experience to become a pilot, the following two methods are the most popular. For the civilian candidate, a bachelor’s degree is typically required, usually in aircraft operations, aviation, aeronautical engineering, or a related field. Training includes two months of ground
training and a bare minimum of 40 hours of flight experience. According to one source who has been a Pilot for years, being a Pilot means you’re in a state of continuous learning and training. For example, two months of training can secure a basic flying position, like crop dusting, site seeing, or pipeline patrol. A regional airline flying position requires at least 300 hours or 14 months of ground training and additional training to become certified in a specific aircraft, along with continuous training in a simulator. To fly with a major airline and eventually become a Captain, about 8,000 – 10,000 hours of flight time, or approximately 10 – 12 years of experience is needed. Some college degree programs in aviation incorporate flight school experience through their own college flight school into their programs, though not all do. In those cases, aspiring pilots go to established flight schools, independent instructors, or fixed base operators (FBO) to learn about aircraft features and procedures and flying techniques.

The retired military pilot, with a minimum of 10 years of military experience, is usually hired immediately (after some transitional training) by the commercial airlines. The military recruits the best, vets them through the entire process, and provides rigorous training and high-pressure,
hands-on experience far beyond that required of a civilian. Interestingly, thanks to rising commercial demand and changes in how the military recruits and retains its pilots, only about one-third of private-sector U.S. pilots have military backgrounds, down from more than 80 percent in the 1960s.

So, what does an aviation school look like? How does it function? Several colleges and universities offer several aviation-related degrees – Associate, Bachelor of Science, Masters, PhD – in science, aviation, engineering, aeronautics, space, computers and technology, meteorology, and
intelligence and security, with flight training on campus or at associated flight schools.

Practice planes generally include Cessna Skyhawks, Piper Arrows, Bell, and Robinson Helicopters to name a few, as well as several types of flight simulators. Depending on the institution, students may also be involved in aviation-related research. A mixture of core topics found in a typical undergraduate curriculum, along with a solid grounding in the principles of flight and navigation, and hands-on experience in simulators and aircraft creates a well-rounded pilot, well aware of the privilege and responsibility of commanding an aircraft.

Similarly, candidate pilots in the military generally have a four-year degree, excellent physical fitness, and have met his or her service’s officer qualification requirements. Once primary flight training is completed, a trainee may request intermediate training in a particular type of aircraft; when that intermediate training is complete, the military service branch sends the trainee to advanced and rigorous flight and mission-specific training in his or her aircraft type. Training takes about 18-24 months, and the newly qualified pilot may then fly actual missions. Each branch of the military has specific requirements regarding the length of time a pilot, navigator, or crewman must serve.

So, next time your captain comes on over the intercom, please don’t think of the innumerable, interminable pilot jokes: think, instead, about the dedication, education, and guts needed to fly a big pressurized metal tube safely through space and time.

Aviation has always been our passion at L.R. Kimball, dating back to our founder, L. Robert Kimball, and his history as a World War II Navigator. Our Aviation Services Group continues this passion through our efforts to provide quality service to our clients. We have provided service to over 60 different Airports and have completed hundreds of projects, ranging in size from general aviation to commuter and corporate jet facilities, and major hub air carrier airports. We also have experience as noted above working on Aviation Schools and have worked most recently with both Marshall University and Spartan University on their aviation facilities for their programs. Our expertise runs the gamut of project types and includes master plans, environmental assessments, design of airfields, terminal facilities, navigational and landing systems, airport support buildings and equipment, construction administration and inspection, grant management, and airport management services.

By: Joanne Pizzo, AIA
Market Segment Leader
L.R. Kimball