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A pilot or aviator is a person who controls the flight of an aircraft by operating its directional flight controls. While other members of a flight crew such as flight engineers or navigators are also considered aviators, they are not pilots and do not command a flight or aircraft. Aircrew who are not involved in operating the aircraft's flight systems (such as flight attendants and mechanics) as well as ground crew are not generally classified as aviators.
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.
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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, when airplanes were extremely rare, and connoted bravery and adventure. For example, a 1905 reference work described the Wright brothers' first airplane: "The weight, including the body of the aviator, is a little more than 700 pounds".
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.
Civilian pilots fly aircraft of all types privately for pleasure, charity, or in pursuance of a business, and/or commercially for non-scheduled (charter) and scheduled passenger and cargo air carriers (airlines), corporate aviation, agriculture (crop dusting, etc.), forest fire control, law enforcement, etc. When flying for an airline, pilots are usually referred to as airline pilots, with the pilot in command often referred to as the captain.
Africa and Asia
In some countries, such as Pakistan, 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. 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.
Pilots licensing in Canada is similar to the United States.
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.
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.
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.
Unmanned aerial vehicles
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as "drones") operate without a pilot on-board and are classed into two categories: autonomous aircraft that operate without active human control during flight and remotely piloted UAVs which are operated remotely by one or more persons. The person controlling a remotely piloted UAV may be referred to as its pilot or operator. Depending on the sophistication and use of the UAV, pilots/operators of UAVs may require certification or training, but are generally not subject to the licensing/certification requirements of pilots of manned aircraft.
Most jurisdictions have restrictions on the use of UAVs which have greatly limited their use in controlled airspace; UAVs have mostly been limited to military and hobbyist use. In the United States, use of UAVs is very limited in controlled airspace (generally, above 400 ft/122m and away from airports) and the FAA prohibits nearly all commercial use. Once regulations are made to allow expanded use of UAVs in controlled airspace, there is expected to be a large surge of UAVs in use and, consequently, high demand for pilots/operators of these aircraft.
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 N.A.S.A Space Shuttle, the term "pilot" is analogous to the term "co-pilot" in aviation, as the "commander" has ultimate responsibility for the shuttle.
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. This takes at least 40 hours of flight time with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).
In the United States, an LSA (Light Sport Aircraft) license can be obtained in at least 20 hours of flight time.
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). After 1 August 2013, even when being a First Officer (FO), an ATPL is required.
Some countries/carriers require/use a Multi Crew Coordination (MCC).
- Aircrew (flight crew)
- Airline pilot uniforms
- Air safety
- Pilot Fatigue
- IMSAFE (mnemonic for pilot's fitness to fly)
- List of aerospace engineers
- List of aviators
- List of Russian aviators
- Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, an international celebration of all women of aviation
- "Aeronautics in 1904". Collier's Self-Indexing Annual. New York: P. F. Collier & Son. 1905. p. 6.
- Vanessa Lu (January 24, 2013). "Air Canada pilots can continue flying past age 60 under new rules". Toronto Star. Retrieved November 5, 2013.
- 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.
- Rooney, Ben (November 25, 2014). "Drone pilot wanted: Starting salary $100,000". CNN. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
- Pope, Stephen (July 11, 2013). "FAA Finalizes ATP Rule for First Officers". Flying Magazine. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
Media related to Aviators at Wikimedia Commons