Pilot (aeronautics)

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"Aviator" redirects here. For other uses, see Aviator (disambiguation).
U.S. Army test pilot Lt. F.W. "Mike" Hunter wearing a flight suit in October 1942.
The Wright Brothers - pilots credited with inventing and building the world's first airplane

A pilot or aviator is a person actively involved in flying an aircraft. Pilot is a somewhat more precise term, as the pilot by definition directly controls the aircraft whereas the slightly broader term aviator is a person who, though actively involved in flying the aircraft (whether plane, rotary-wing, powered or unpowered), does not necessarily directly control its path. People who fly aboard an aircraft who are not involved in the aircraft's flight systems, such as passengers and cabin crew, are not generally considered aviators, but crew such as navigators, and flight engineers are generally included.[citation needed]

To ensure the safety of people in the air and on the ground, early aviation soon required that aircraft be under the operational control of a properly trained, certified pilot at all times, who is responsible for the safe and legal completion of the flight. The Aéro-Club de France delivered the first certificate to Louis Blériot in 1908—followed by Glenn Curtiss, Léon Delagrange, and Robert Esnault-Pelterie. The absolute authority given to the "pilot in command" derives from that of a ship's captain.[citation needed]

In recognition of the pilots' qualifications and responsibilities, most militaries and many airlines worldwide award aviator badges to their pilots, as well as other air crews. This includes naval aviators.

The first recorded use of the term aviator (aviateur in French) was in 1887, as a variation of "aviation", from the Latin avis (meaning bird), coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne ("Aviation or Air Navigation"). The term aviatrix (aviatrice in French), now archaic, was formerly used for a female aviator. These terms were used more in the early days of aviation, before anyone had ever seen an airplane fly, and it was used to denote bravery and adventure. For example, the editors at the Dayton Herald, (in an article of December 18, 1903) described the Wright brothers' first airplane: "The weight, including the body of the aviator, is slightly over 700 pounds".[citation needed]


Hot air balloon pilot and passenger in basket.
Military aviation training in a Royal Air Force Nimrod aircraft

Civilian pilots fly privately for pleasure, charity, or in pursuance of a business, for non-scheduled commercial air-transport companies, or for airlines. When flying for an airline, pilots are usually referred to as airline pilots, with the pilot in command often referred to as the captain.

United States[edit]

In 1930, the Air Commerce Act established pilot licensing requirements for American civil aviation.

Commercial airline pilots in the United States have a mandatory retirement age of 65, having increased from age 60 in 2007.[1]

Outside the United States[edit]

In some countries, such as Pakistan, Israel, Thailand and several African nations, there is a strong relationship between the military and the principal national airlines, and many airline pilots come from the military; however, that is no longer the case in the United States and Western Europe.[citation needed] While the flight decks of U.S. and European airliners do have ex-military pilots, many pilots are civilians. Military training and flying, while rigorous, is fundamentally different in many ways from civilian piloting.


F-16 pilot in flight

Military pilots fly with the armed forces of a government or nation-state. Their tasks involve combat and non-combat operations, including direct hostile engagements and support operations. Military pilots undergo specialized training, often with weapons. Examples of military pilots include fighter pilots, bomber pilots, transport pilots, test pilots and astronauts. Military pilots also serve as flight crews on aircraft for government personnel, such as Air Force One and Air Force Two in the United States.

UAV Operators do not fall into this category because they do not fly inside the aircraft they are operating.

Military pilots are trained with a different syllabus than civilian pilots, which is delivered by military instructors. This is due to the different aircraft, flight goals, flight situations and chains of responsibility. Many military pilots do transfer to civilian-pilot qualification after they leave the military, and typically their military experience provides the basis for a civilian pilot's license.

Pilot certifications[edit]

Pilots are required to go through many hours of flight training and theoretical study, that differ depending on the country. The first step is acquiring the Private Pilot License (PPL), or Private Pilot Certificate.

The next step in a pilot's progression is either Instrument Rating (IR), or Multi-Engine Rating (MEP) endorsements.

If a professional career or professional-level skills are desired, a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) endorsement would also be required. To captain an airliner, one must obtain an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

Some countries/carriers require/use a Multi Crew Coordination (MCC).

Pilots in space[edit]

The general concept of an airplane pilot can be applied to human spaceflight, as well. The spacecraft pilot is the astronaut who directly controls the operation of a spacecraft, while located within that same craft (not remotely). This term derives directly from the usage of the word "pilot" in aviation, where it is synonymous with "aviator". Note that on the U.S. Space Shuttle, the term "pilot" is analogous to the term "co-pilot" in aviation, as the "commander" has ultimate responsibility for the shuttle.

Aviatrices (female aviators)[edit]

Beverly Lynn Burns, first woman in the world to captain the Boeing 747 airliner.


Pioneer women aviators include French, Raymonde de Laroche, the world's first licensed female pilot on March 8, 1910; Belgian, Hélène Dutrieu, the first woman to fly a passenger, first woman to win an air race (1910), and first woman to pilot a seaplane (1912); French, Marie Marvingt the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel and the North Sea in a balloon (October 26, 1909) and first woman to fly as a bomber pilot in combat missions (1915); New Zealander Jean Batten was the first person to fly from England to New Zealand, Russian, Eugenie Shakhovskaya was the first female military pilot; American, Harriet Quimby, the USA's first licensed female pilot in 1911, and the first woman to cross the English Channel by airplane; American Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932); Bessie Coleman, the first African American female to become a licensed airplane pilot (1921); German, Marga von Etzdorf, first woman to fly for an airline (1927).

Opal Kunz, one of the few women to train US Navy fighter pilots during World War II in the Civilian Pilot Training Program; Edith Maud Cook, who made numerous parachute jumps from balloons, learned to fly in France and was possibly the first British woman to do so. Hilda Hewlett opened a flying school with her aviator husband and was the first woman to gain a RAeC certificate. Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia (1930). Valérie André, a French neurosurgeon and member of the French army, became the first woman to fly a helicopter in combat, while serving in Indochina (1945). Jean Batten, a New Zealander, made a number of record-breaking solo flights across the world, including, in 1936, the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand.

Katherine Cheung was a notable Asian-American female pilot in the 1930s.

As well as being Turkey's first female pilot, Sabiha Gökçen, born in 1913, became the world's first female fighter pilot at the age of 23.[2][3]

In 1979, a Jamaican, Maria Ziadie-Haddad, became one of the first women in the Western Hemisphere to become a commercial jet airline pilot when she was hired by Air Jamaica as a Boeing 727 second officer.[4]

Barbara Harmer was the first qualified female Concorde pilot on 1993.

Soviet Union[edit]

The Night Witches, a women-only combat regiment of the Soviet Air Forces, flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions from 1942 to the end of the World War II.


Pakistani pilot Ayesha Farooq was the first female fighter pilot for the Pakistani airforce. At least 19 women became pilots in the air force in the decade from 2003.[5]


China has trained more than 500 female pilots since 1951. Large numbers have been trained to fly China's most advanced combat jets, including the J-10.[6]

United States[edit]

F-15 Eagle pilots walking to their aircraft at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

Until the 1970s, aviation had been a traditionally male occupation in the United States. Commerce Department regulations virtually required pilots to have flown in the military to acquire sufficient flight hours, and until the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force and Navy barred women from flying,[7] thus also preventing them from moving into commercial piloting.[citation needed] Despite women being trained by the U.S. Army Air Forces and flying every advanced military aircraft the U.S. built during World War II (including every bomber, pursuit plane, and the first jet) as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), this program was disbanded in December 1944. At that time, commercial jobs were not generally available to women, though these highly trained women flew as instructors and pilots for flying services throughout the United States. Women eventually began to enter U.S. major commercial aviation in the 1970s and 1980s, with 1973 seeing the first female pilot at a major U.S. airline, American Airlines, and 1986 seeing the first female captain at a major U.S. airline.[8] In the 1970s, women were again, for the first time since WWII, permitted to fly in the United States Armed Forces, beginning with the Navy and the Army in 1974, and then the Air Force in 1976.[9]

As of 2010, just over 7% of certified civilian pilots (both private and commercial) in the United States were women.[10]


Sarla Thakral was first Indian woman to fly. Born in 1914, she earned an aviation pilot license in 1936 at the age of 21 and flew a Gypsy Moth solo. She had a four-year-old daughter. After obtaining the initial licence, she persevered on and completed one thousand hours of flying in the aircraft owned by the Lahore Flying Club. Her husband P. D. Sharma whom she married at 16 and comes from a family which had 9 pilots encouraged her to achieve it. .[11] [12]

Flight Lt. Harita Kaur Deol (1972 - December 25, 1996) was a pilot with the Indian Air Force. She was the first woman pilot to fly solo in the Indian Air Force. The flight was on 2 September 1994 in an Avro HS-748, when she was 22 years old.[13][14]

Nivedita Bhasin (born 1963) of Indian Airlines became the youngest woman pilot in world civil aviation history to command a commercial jet aircraft on 1 January 1990 at the age of 26. Capt Nivedita Bhasin piloted IC-492 on the Bombay-Aurangabad-Udaipur sector.[15]


The Israeli Air Force's flight academy is open to female pilots. 24 female pilots have completed the course as of 2011.[citation needed]


In Japan, the first female captain for commercial passenger flights was Ari Fuji, who began flying as captain for JAL Express in July 2010.[16] Fuji was rejected from admission to Japanese pilot training school on the grounds of being too small (155 cm (5 ft and 1 inch); standard was previously 163 cm (5 ft and 4 inches), currently 158 cm (5 ft and 2.2 inches) as of spring 2010), so she got her pilot's license in the United States. There are currently a few other female pilots in Japan, though, as of 2010, no others in a captain role.

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Hanadi Zakaria al-Hindi is the first Saudi woman to become a commercial airline pilot.[17][18]


Asli Hassan Abade was the first female pilot in the Somali Air Force (SAF). A prominent member of the SAF, she paved the way for gender equality within the military ranks.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maxon, Terry (December 15, 2007). "Retirement age raised to 65 in nick of time for pilots turning 60". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved October 15, 2009. 
  2. ^ Sabiha Gökçen's biography, USAF Air Command and Staff College
  3. ^ Sabiha Gokcen biography, Hargrave Pioneers of Aviation
  4. ^ "Profiles of Jamaican Women". Discover Jamaica. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  5. ^ Pakistan's first woman combat pilot
  6. ^ China's female combat pilots
  7. ^ Becoming a female pilot: then and now. Usatoday.com (March 1, 2005). Retrieved on 2012-05-18.
  8. ^ Female Pilots Make History. Aa.com (January 16, 2012). Retrieved on 2012-05-18.
  9. ^ Military Women Pilots. Userpages.aug.com (March 1, 1991). Retrieved on 2012-05-18.
  10. ^ "2010 U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics". Federal Aviation Administration. May 2, 2010. Retrieved May 11, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Remember Sarla Thakral's maiden flight of fancy - Speak Up - DNA". Dnaindia.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  12. ^ "The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Education Tribune". Tribuneindia.com. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  13. ^ India: A Reference Annual. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. 1998. p. 686. 
  14. ^ "Woman IAF flying cadet killed in trainer crash - Indian Express". May 13, 2008. Retrieved 2014-02-13. 
  15. ^ "Captain Milestone". India Today. Archived from the original on October 25, 2006. Retrieved September 22, 2006. 
  16. ^ First female captain no quitter, Wang Yexing, Kyodo News, reprinted in Japan Times, July 17, 2010
  17. ^ First Saudi Female Pilot Graduates, Arab News, 16 June 2005. Retrieved 21 October 2007.
  18. ^ First Saudi Female Pilot Lands Job With Kingdom Holding, 24 November 2004. Includes photo.

External links[edit]