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How to Become a Jet Pilot

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A career as a pilot flying modern day jet aircraft has many rewards and challenges. There are several ways to work toward this goal, but each requires a commitment of both time and/or money.

Experience

Flying a jet aircraft, whether it be a general aviation corporate jet or a commercial airliner, requires many hours of experience in smaller, slower and less complex aircraft. Few pilots start their training in jet aircraft. Even military pilots start with single-engine piston airplanes before moving on to jet trainers like the T-34. The complexities and speed of jet aircraft make them unsuitable for the inexperienced pilot.

Experience as a pilot is measured in flight time. Most pilots are required to have 40 to 50 hours of flight time just to get their private pilot's license. By the time a pilot has gotten the other ratings typically required to fly a jet aircraft, they're looking at a minimum of 250 hours. This includes the minimum times required to obtain the following ratings: commercial and instrument. Jet aircraft that have a gross takeoff weight of over 12,500 pounds also require a specific type rating for that particular aircraft. The type rating alone can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on the aircraft. While some regional airlines have been known to hire pilots with as little as 250 hours to fly as a first officer on a regional jet, 1,500 hours or higher is more typical. Fifteen hundred hours is also the minimum flight time required to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot rating or ATP. Most pilots in general aviation build up flight time as flight instructors.

The physical requirements for flying a jet aircraft are equal to those needed to maintain a first-class physical. Professional pilots flying as captain are required to pass a first-class physical every six months. Some of the medical conditions that might prohibit someone from obtaining a first-class physical include diabetes, color blindness, psychiatric conditions (such as bipolar, depression, or schizophrenia) and vision problems.

Tip

Anyone considering a career as a pilot should consider getting their flight training along with a college degree. There are many fine universities that offer degree programs for the professional pilot.

Warning

Aviation is very much a cyclical industry. When the economy is in recession, people cut back on their travel and airlines suffer as a result. The airlines adjust by reducing capacity. This results in fewer flights and pilots often find themselves out of work, with fierce competition for what few jobs remain. The opposite is true when the economy is growing. During these periods the requirements are lowered and opportunities abound for those who happen to find themselves at the right place at the right time.

About the Author

Emilio Corsetti III is a professional pilot and author. His work has appeared in the "Chicago Tribune," "Multimedia Producer," and "Professional Pilot" magazine. He is the author of the book "35 Miles From Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980." Corsetti has been writing professionally since 1991. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in aviation science from St. Louis University.

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