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Being a pilot sounds like an exciting career, and it can be. However, being a pilot also requires a lot of hard work. A commercial pilot is a highly trained professional who may dust crops, put out fires, fly passengers or cargo or rescue people. Depending on the type of pilot you want to be, you will need an education and a high degree of training to do the job you wish to do. Deciding on what kind of pilot you want to be is the first step to training to become one.
The type of degree you get depends on the type of pilot you wish to become. If you wish to fly for an airline or other corporation---large or small--you will likely need a college degree in math, physics, engineering or an aeronautical concentration. There are some colleges, like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, that provide both flight training and a degree, but you don't have to go to such a college to be employed as a pilot.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that those who wish to fly airplanes or other aircraft train both on the ground and in the air for a certain number of hours. There are many flight schools certified by the FAA in the United States. All pilots must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, pilots must understand navigation techniques, FAA regulations and be able to fly by instruments only during periods of low visibility. To work for an airline, a pilot must be at least 23 years old, have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight experience and pass additional written tests and flight exams.
Pilots must have an FAA pilot's license. For some positions, like flying small amounts of cargo to remote locations in a small plane, this might be enough. However, pilots often increase their income potential by becoming licensed as flight instructors and then gain additional licenses as a commercial pilot. Each license has different ratings that a pilot can test and apply for. A new airline pilot may start out as a flight engineer for example, and may need to get a license as a flight engineer before flying.
A pilot needs additional skills that are not always tested for. For example, a pilot has to be able to take off and land a plane, sometimes under adverse conditions. Excellent math skills and the ability to assess a situation are a must. Often a pilot must do calculations to know what his instruments are telling him. Good organizational skills and the ability to perform calmly under pressure are skills that all pilots should have. Being a pilot can mean irregular schedules and mental fatigue, so having the skill to cope with those situations is also essential.
Michelle Hogan is a writer and the author of 13 books including the 2005 bestselling memoir, "Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (With Kids) in America." Hogan studied English at American University and has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in "The New York Times," "Redbook," "Family Circle" and many other publications.