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How do you know if being a pilot is right for you?

Choosing to become a pilot is a big decision that requires careful thought and consideration. Flying a plane can be an incredibly rewarding career, but it also comes with a lot of responsibilities and challenges. Before embarking on the path to becoming a pilot, you need to honestly assess your interests, abilities, and temperament to determine if this demanding yet exciting profession is a good fit for you.

Do You Have a Strong Interest in Aviation?

The first and most obvious question to ask yourself is – do you have a genuine interest in aviation and flying planes? Becoming a pilot takes dedication and perseverance, so you need to have a real passion for it. Here are some signs that aviation is your passion:

  • You’ve always dreamed about becoming a pilot and being up in the sky.
  • You go to local air shows whenever you can.
  • You enjoy going to aviation museums and learning about historical aircraft.
  • You read books and magazines about airplanes and aviation history.
  • When you travel, you prefer to fly rather than drive or take a train.
  • You joined aviation-related social media groups and forums.
  • You enrolled in flying lessons just for fun, even before considering aviation as a career.

Having a natural curiosity and enthusiasm for aviation is important motivation to help get you through pilot training and an aviation career. While piloting skills can be taught, it’s beneficial when candidates already have a basic grasp of aviation concepts and terminology before beginning flight training.

Are You a Good Candidate Physically?

To become an airline pilot, you need to meet certain medical requirements set by aviation regulators. While specific standards can vary between countries, general health and fitness guidelines for pilots include:

  • Good vision – Pilots typically need 20/20 uncorrected vision or vision correctable to 20/20 with glasses or contacts. Severe color blindness can disqualify candidates.
  • Good hearing – Pilots must pass hearing tests, often including tone thresholds.
  • Healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
  • Healthy lungs and respiratory system.
  • No neurological disorders.
  • No history of severe mental illness.
  • Height between 5’0″ and 6’5″.
  • Weight in proportion to height.
  • No addictions to alcohol or drugs.

It’s a good idea to undergo an extensive physical exam by an aviation medical examiner before committing to flight training. This will determine if you meet the baseline health standards for a pilot certificate. Ongoing good health and fitness are also critical for pilots to manage the physical demands of the job over decades of flying.

How Are Your Eyesight and Color Vision?

Eyesight is particularly important for pilots, as you need sharp vision both nearby and at a distance to read gauges and spot other aircraft. Here are some key facts on vision requirements:

  • Pilots must have 20/20 vision or vision correctable to 20/20 with glasses or contacts.
  • If you need vision correction, bring an extra pair of glasses with you when you fly.
  • Distance vision, field of vision, night vision, and color vision are evaluated during medical exams.
  • Pilots cannot be severely color blind. Mild color blindness may require special testing.
  • Vision must remain stable between periodic medical evaluations.
  • Advancing age may eventually disqualify pilots as vision deteriorates.

If you already wear glasses or contacts, make sure your prescription provides good corrected vision before applying to flight school. Laser eye surgeries like LASIK can correct vision to 20/20, but you may need to wait 6 months after surgery before medical certification.

How Are Your Motor Skills?

Flying a plane requires coordination and dexterity to manipulate controls with both hands and feet. Pilots need strong motor skills and reaction time. Here are some important considerations around pilot motor skills:

  • Pilots frequently need to use fine motor skills for tasks like flipping switches, pressing pedals, and entering data.
  • Pilots should have full range of motion in limbs to comfortably reach all controls.
  • Good hand-eye coordination is needed to interpret instruments while manually flying the plane.
  • Fast reaction time allows pilots to quickly respond to warnings and changes.
  • Pilots should have good physical stamina to operate controls for prolonged periods.
  • Medical conditions like arthritis, muscle spasms, and tremors can impact piloting abilities.

During flight training, your motor skills are evaluated by flight instructors as you demonstrate airplane maneuvers and operations. If you have any conditions limiting limb motion or coordination, discuss these with an aviation medical examiner.

How Is Your Overall Health?

To safely handle the demands of flying, pilots need to be in good overall physical health. Many medical conditions that do not affect everyday living can still disqualify pilot applicants. Some key health aspects considered include:

  • Cardiovascular health – Pilots must have healthy heart and cardiovascular systems to withstand physical stresses of flying.
  • Respiratory health – Good lung function allows pilots to operate safely at high altitudes with reduced oxygen.
  • Neurological health – Pilots cannot have conditions like epilepsy or unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Psychological health – Severe mental health disorders may disqualify pilots due to associated risks.
  • Metabolic health – Many medical conditions, like diabetes and thyroid disorders, must be well controlled to become a pilot.
  • Musculoskeletal health – Back pain, arthritis and other conditions may impair movement needed to fly a plane.

Schedule a full physical before starting flight training to catch any underlying medical issues. Ongoing good health and fitness will also help you handle the physical rigors of piloting throughout your career.

Do You Have Strong Coordination?

Piloting requires excellent hand-eye-foot coordination to simultaneously interpret instruments and adjust controls. Here are some ways good coordination helps pilots:

  • Reading gauges while manually adjusting pitch, bank, and yaw.
  • Visibility while taxiing requires steering with feet while scanning for traffic.
  • Making precise aircraft adjustments using both hands and feet.
  • Quickly interpreting visual cues while manipulating controls.
  • Tuning radios and navigational systems while flying the aircraft.
  • Transitioning between instruments and external visuals seamlessly.

You can evaluate your own coordination skills through activities like sports, driving, and video games. Pursuing hobbies that involve multiple limbs and concentration can help polish your coordination.

How Are Your Problem-Solving Skills?

Quick critical thinking and problem-solving are crucial for pilots to make smart decisions in abnormal situations. Key cognitive skills needed include:

  • Identifying problems based on instrument readings, aircraft warnings, and external observations.
  • Analyzing issues to determine most likely causes, from engine failure to severe weather.
  • Generating possible solutions to try based on standard flight procedures.
  • Prioritizing actions to maintain aircraft control and safety.
  • Modifying plans as needed in rapidly changing situations.
  • Staying calm under pressure when problems arise.
  • Knowing when to declare an emergency if unable to resolve issues.

Look at your own history of reacting to high-stress situations and making quick decisions to evaluate your capability to handle piloting challenges. Pursuing hobbies or careers involving dynamic problem-solving can help strengthen these skills.

Do You Have a Good Memory?

Pilots need to memorize and recall a substantial amount of information for safe flying. Some key items pilots commit to memory include:

  • Aircraft operating procedures, limitations, and emergency checklists.
  • Airport layouts, approaches, and taxi instructions.
  • Air traffic control procedures and instructions.
  • Navigation techniques, weather patterns, and terrain.
  • Aviation regulations around licensure, operations, and maintenance.

Forgetting critical details while in-flight can seriously jeopardize safety, so pilots develop sharp memories through constant repetition and practical use. Your ability to memorize detailed processes and information may indicate if you can take on the demands of remembering piloting knowledge.

How Are Your Communication Skills?

Pilots need strong communication abilities for critical coordination with air traffic control (ATC) and crew members. Key skills include:

  • Listening carefully and acknowledging instructions from air traffic controllers.
  • Speaking clearly over radios despite loud background noise.
  • Using concise, standardized aviation phraseology.
  • Asking ATC clarifying questions when needed.
  • Briefing crew members on plans, procedures, and abnormal conditions.
  • Coordinating effectively as a team during demanding situations.

Consider your ability to listen intently, express yourself clearly under pressure, acknowledge vital information, and collaborate on tasks. These same skills enable smooth coordination between pilots, ATC, and other crew.

Can You Stay Calm Under Stress?

Pilots inevitably face stressful, abnormal situations ranging from bad weather to mechanical issues. Staying calm under pressure is crucial for safe outcomes. Valuable attributes include:

  • Not panicking when warnings or failures occur.
  • Thinking through problems methodically.
  • Tuning out distractions to focus on top priorities.
  • Making level-headed decisions despite time pressure.
  • Multitasking efficiently without getting flustered.
  • Reflecting on performance after stressful events.

Look at how you’ve responded in past high-pressure situations at work, in education, or during emergencies. Remaining collected and effective under duress indicates you may handle piloting stresses appropriately.

Are You Willing to Undergo Rigorous Training?

It takes dedication and perseverance to complete pilot training, which involves intensive studying, practicing, testing, and real-world flying. Some key considerations:

  • Obtaining a private pilot certificate takes a minimum of 40 hours flight time.
  • Earning a commercial pilot certificate requires 250+ hours of flight time.
  • Airline pilots complete hundreds of additional hours to gain sufficient piloting experience.
  • Pilots must pass frequent oral, written, and practical flight tests.
  • Training involves substantial classroom time learning aviation theory.
  • Weather delays and equipment issues often prolong training timelines.

Look honestly at your commitment to hard work over an extended training period. If you’re willing to learn continuously and repeatedly demonstrate your skills, you can succeed.

Are You Detail-Oriented and Organized?

Strict adherence to procedures, limitations, and checklists is crucial for safe piloting. Pilots also manage complex flight planning. Strong organization skills help, including:

  • Carefully completing all pre-flight planning calculations.
  • Double-checking weight, balance, fuel loads, and weather.
  • Consistently following approved procedures and checklists.
  • Closely monitoring all aircraft systems and instruments.
  • Keeping flight logs, records, and documents meticulously updated.
  • Complying with all maintenance schedules and inspections.

Look at your track record in past jobs and education for completing detailed tasks, meeting rigid requirements, and maintaining thorough records. These qualities help prevent errors that can have catastrophic consequences while flying.

Do You Enjoy Continuous Learning?

Ongoing education is part of a piloting career. Safety advances and technology changes mean pilots constantly enhance skills. Key learning activities include:

  • Attending regular company and regulatory training seminars.
  • Qualifying on new aircraft types and technologies.
  • Reviewing accidents and incidents to boost safety awareness.
  • Learning practical skills from more experienced captains.
  • Studying updated aviation regulations and procedures.
  • Expanding piloting knowledge through a lifelong commitment to education.

Look at your commitment to learning new things, both formally and informally. Taking enjoyment from continuous education means you won’t get bored as piloting evolves.

Do You Have Strong Math and Science Skills?

Piloting requires ongoing math and science knowledge. Pilots need competency in areas like:

  • Physics – For aerodynamics, electricity, hydraulics, weather patterns.
  • Geometry – Calculating heading, course, distance, fuel consumption.
  • Algebra – Converting units, calculating weight and balance.
  • Meteorology – Interpreting winds, pressure, and weather data.
  • Astronomy – Using stars for celestial navigation.

Review your academic transcripts and highest math courses completed. Scoring well on the math sections of standardized tests also correlates to piloting aptitude. Taking enjoyment in math and science can make grasping technical aviation concepts easier.

Are You an Adventurous Person?

For pilots who enjoy travel, the career brings opportunities to explore exciting destinations. Qualities of adventurous pilots include:

  • Eagerly seeking out new places and experiences.
  • Appreciating the thrill of rising into the sky.
  • Trying exotic cuisines during layovers abroad.
  • Immersing themselves in diverse cultures.
  • Visiting famous sights during scarce downtime.

Think about your own passions for travel and discovery as you consider a piloting career. If you love adventure, flying can fulfill dreams of exploring the world.

Do You Have Realistic Expectations?

Before pursuing piloting, understand common realities faced by aviation professionals:

  • First officer salaries often start around $40,000 per year.
  • Pilots work irregular schedules with overnight layovers and holidays.
  • Demanding flight training carries substantial educational debts.
  • Initial airline jobs involve flying less popular routes.
  • Pilots face long periods away from home and family.
  • Fatigue from jet lag and irregular hours is common.

Factor in these realities as you commit to training and a piloting career. With hard work and determination, the rewards and adventures of flying airplanes can fulfill your highest aspirations.


Deciding if being a pilot is the right career path is a complex choice with many considerations. Critically examining your interests, abilities, health, mindset, and life circumstances can determine if you’re up for this ambitious yet gratifying profession. With ample preparation and realistic expectations, piloting may prove one of the most satisfying vocations possible for those passionate about aviation.