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I have a question for all airline pilots

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New member
Nov 29, 2001
To all Airline Pilots:

Hello, my name is Nicholas Maxwell and I live in Parker Arizona. I am 14 years old and I am getting close to my second semester in the 9th grade at Parker High School.
I would like to be an airline pilot; it is my all time dream. I have wanted to be an airline pilot most of my life! I would like to direct this question to all of the airline pilots out there, what do I have to do to become an airline pilot. I mean what courses in High School do I need, college, and how do I get a commercial license. I know different ways of getting there but I have never had the advice of a real airline pilot, I mean I have been directed to web sites, teacher, parents, friends have given me advice but really what do they really know about how to achieve that goal...
So if anybody could help me out I would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks so much

Nicholas Maxwell
Future pilot:)

You need to keep at it no matter what! Never give up. Never compare yourself to what your friends are doing. example: all my friends had new cars in high school with after school jobs while I was saving all my money for flying lessons/college. At the time it was very tough to stay focused, but I managed to hold off from following them.

I'd say get all the math and science classes you can take in High School.

There are a lot of great aviation colleges out there (that is what I did, I learned to fly while attending college) Embry-Riddle is good but expensive, University of Illinois, Purdue, Southern Illinois University, Western Michigan University. All these schools are great for leaning the professional way to fly. I'd say get a degree in something that will compliment your flying such as business or computer science etc... I have a degree in Aeronautical Science which is useless outside of aviation...this is just incase you are not able to fly for a living someday, you will have something to fall back onto.

If you want to send me a private message then maybe we can talk more. (my wife is wanting me off the computer).

I'd love to answer any of your questions, because I was in your shoes before. As hunderds of guys/girls on this board were.

You have come to the right place (this board)!

I can only echo what SWA/FO has said about courses: you need a good foundation in math and physics, and then later calculus and engineering (you don't need to get heavy into engineering, but some understanding of mechanics and fluids will be useful).

Although it's possible to get "flying jobs" without a college degree, I'd strongly recommend you get that degree. There are "flying colleges" like Embry-Riddle where you can fly while going to college--what a deal!

Also, you owe it to yourself to check out all your options, and a big option folks sometimes overlook is military flying. Check into the Air Force and Navy ROTC programs (or even the Naval or Air Force Academy) and also your home state Air National Guard units. The military provides some excellent training, and a chance to fly high-performance aircraft at a higher "level of responsibility" quicker than in the civilian world. The airlines usually consider a military background to be a strong qualification for an airline flying job. The drawbacks are that you'll owe the military anywhere from 6-10 years "payback" for pilot training, and the programs are pretty competitive, so you'll need a pretty strong high school and college record to qualify. But by all means get some info now, so you won't be looking back later saying, "You mean I coulda gotten the Air Force to pay for my college and training, flown F-15s for 10 years and THEN got a job with Delta? Wish I had known that..."

Good luck. It won't be easy, but it will be fun.
During high school you should take the courses enumerated from the other posters. Additionally, does your high school offer a "sharing" with a local community college? I have seen where you could take classes at the community college and it will count towards your graduation requirement. If so, many community colleges have at least one class involving aviation -- Private Pilot Ground School. It would be a good way to "get your feet wet."

Most importantly, GO TO COLLEGE. The competitive minimums require some type of 4 year college degree. It doesn't make you a better pilot, it is just a hoop that the major airlines require. And, in times like these, a degree is something to fall back on and utilize.

It is a long road and do not ever waiver in your commitment to flying. There will be days where your friends are having fun and you need to stay in and study and be focused. And once you are a pilot, working that first job, there will be events that you can't make because of your schedule. Stay focused and stay flying.

If you have any additonal questions, please contact me via private message.

And, is Parker anywhere near Cochise? I know the Cochise has an aviation (two year degree) program. Much cheaper than Embry Riddle and the courses from the associate degree usually transfer!!

One more thing, when you turn 16 , trying applying for a job at the local Fixed Base Operator. That is a great job to have, get paid, and be around aircraft.

Good Luck
Civil Air Patrol


You can also look into an organization called the Civil Air Patrol. It is a way to get introduced to flying (& some militarisms) that won't cost you anything but time. They usually meet once a month but have other activities scheduled throughout the months. It does allow young people to be mentored by older aviators & without expending too much cash. There are always lots of contacts with civilian flying organizations with these folks also...if there is one thing that you can take from all these suggestions is the importance of developing as many contacts/people involved in what you want to be doing, as possible. I also sent you a private message with some more detail that goes along with what SWA/FO said & others. Good luck,

Re: Civil Air Patrol


Just a few additional thoughts.

The military option is obviously the least expensive, but the colleges with in-house flight programs are the most expensive. The quality of flight training can be good or bad no matter where you go. As an alternative to a collegiate flight program you can seek instruction on your own at local airports. It's much cheaper and usually much quicker since you're not encumbered by a semester system. The web site Beapilot.com can show what options are nearby wherever you end up going to college. Of course you need only be 17 to obtain a Private License and 18 for a Commercial, so you may even get a head start. You can easily get your Private during a summer month. The Commercial license is quick, however you'll need your Instrument Rating and some flight time beforehand, both of which take additional time.

One thing many aspiring pilots don't think about is your non-school record. I know you're not driving yet, but when you do guard your driving record carefully! Airlines do extensive background checks on all pilot applicants and past jail time or driving tickets can be disqualifying. One speeding ticket won't sink your career, but several make the airlines think you're reckless. And of course DUIs are very bad. And of course avoid drugs, as you'll be tested repeatedly.

An aviation career is unlike most. Most pilots are far happier doing their jobs than even the most satisfied desk-jockeys. It takes a lot of effort to make it to the airlines but it's worth every moment.

Do not be discouraged. It is not difficult. Don't stress too much about the high level math and/or physics unless you plan to join the military. From a civilian side just graduate high school anyway you can and get enrolled in one of the above mentioned college programs. Don't get hung up about which one is best etc., they will all do the job.

Once your in college (which seems like it is so far away, but isn't) just hang in there. If you truly love flying, it will come easy. You will want to study etc. Meanwhile you will watch as some of your friends start falling behind and eventually quit. It just isn't for everyone, and that is not bad, it is better to realize it in college then 10 years and 75k in loans later. Just sit back, do what you think is right, and stay focused! It is within reach of anyone who wants it. We aren't all astronauts or 4.0 students, just regular people who love to fly. One more thing, it is worth it, considering I'm at home on a workday putting up Xmas lights.:D

You've got some really good advice from the guys on this forum. I am going to reiterate some of the same. Number one, work hard in all of your academics and strive to really excel and understand things of a mechanical nature. I can remember well being in your shoes and wanting to fly. I built model airplanes often, even radio controlled ones, learning about flight control surfaces and how an aircraft flies. I crashed model airplanes, but love the hobby and still fly them. I also read almost every issue of FLYING magazine and joined up AOPA because it was a very informative publication and often has articles on basic flying skills and techniques. EAA is another organization that has an EXCELLENT monthly publication on the "mechanical end" of flying. One guy wrote to never compare yourself to your friends as far as them buying car and spending their money on other "extraneous things." That's also fantastic advice too. I got a job scooping ice-cream at a local ice-cream store before the age of 16 so that I could earn up money to pay for flying lessons in highschool. Basically, my entire 2 week's check would go toward paying off my flying account/lessons at the local airport. I was able to solo at 16 and get a Private Pilot Certificate at age 17. I would bet that MANY of the other folks on this board did something very similar in highschool. Another option might be to get a job refueling airplanes...just a thought. It was great to fly when others were still just driving...of course it was a different story trying to get my friend's parents' permission to go with me. And one last comment here, LIVE A CLEAN LIFE. Absolutely NO DRUGS. There's zero tolerance for this sort of lifestyle or behavior in any part of aviation. Demonstrate your maturity, live a life a maturity, and develop a track record of success. Everything else will start to come naturally. Aviators are a unique group of people, we set the bar a bit higher on personal integrity, skill, and leadership compared to the average "joe" on the street. It's because of discipline and hard work that we're able to achieve this.

COLLEGE IS A MUST in my opinion, and most everyone else's opinion on this board too. I went to Embry-Riddle and had a great time flying airplanes AND getting a degree at the same time. I agree that the downside is that it might be a tad expensive...but you'll start to learn that nothing in aviation is cheap. DON'T be discouraged though. An area where you might also want to look into is the Air National Guard, while you're attending college. One of my buddies did this while he was in college, it gave him a tiny bit of extra coin (served one weekend a month during drill), and was able to position himself for a competitive interview flying F16's when he finished up his degree. He now flies F-16's for the Guard. Once you get that slot, you'll start finding opportunities opening up left and right. I would recommend getting a job IN THE FLYING SQUADRON though, as opposed to doing an external job though...just a small piece of advice. This allows you to meet the pilots on a regular basis, and them to get to know you. But I don't want to diverge too much from your original question with details.

KEEP FLYING as often as you can. Once you earn one certification, the next step will be your instrument rating....all those magazines you've been reading will help you understand what that's all about. After your instrument ticket, go for your Commercial Certificate. After that, I'd recommend a CFI and CFII. This is a culmination of EVERYTHING that you've learned about flying, regulations, airspace, weather, and aerodynamics. This could very well be the toughest checkride that you'll take...only because you still have very little experience and you have to rely on your academics and understanding of what you've learned to be successful. You have very limited experience to look back on for examples. After this, you'll be able to start earning a limited amount of money to help offset the cost of your flying. I earned my CFI as part of my last course at Embry-Riddle. I instructed for about six months before going into Air Force.

I chose to go military for additional flight training. I could have gone civilian, but I wanted very much to fly fighters, serve my country, and get the best training in the world. I was fortunate enough to be at the top of my class when I gaduated....something that I'll attribute DIRECTLY to my strong civilian flight background that I had been working on since highschool. I also considered the Marines too. I believe that the Marines offer fantastic opportunity to develop yourself personally, be elite, and offer challenging leadership opportunities. I opted against this because I didn't want to be elite and experience challeging leadership opportunities flying ROTOR wings...a considerable concern in the USMC flight program. You can count on almost 2/3 of the guys flying rotor wing. If this is for you...THEN GO FOR IT! You can't beat 'em for camerderie, esprit-de-corps, and discipline.

After my stint in the Air Force...almost 9 years, I left to go with the airlines. It takes a bit longer to get to the airlines if you go military, but the training is fantastic, and is substantially cheaper if you don't mind spending the best years of your life serving your country as an officer and aviator. A personal choice that I will never live to regret. My resume now includes combat experience, and reflections of opportunity living in many different places in the world. Although civilians also are top notch aviators (especially in their exposure to very specific and focused training regiments in advanced regional jet equipment), many of my non military friends are envious of the opportunities that I've had serving in the military. Again, a personal choice.

And now we come full circle....I'm back on the street after getting to the airlines. I'm STILL learning about aviation...namely how volatile the industry is. You can be on the street with little or no warning we're finding. Always try and be in a position to experience set backs...it's part of being a professional aviator. Have a back up plan...if you can. My back up plan is....hmmmm...well, ahhhh.... hmmmm....well I haven't gotten that far yet. Like I said, I'm still learning. Ha, ha... Maybe I'll go work on my R/C airplanes for a while as I try and develop a game plan.

Best wishes!!

Everything that's been said by the other posters is true. Flying for a living is challenging and incredibly rewarding, not to mention fun! Do your best in High School, and definitely go to college. Your college major is not important in my experience. Sure, a degree in Aeronautical Engineering might help, but having a degree in History or English certainly won't hurt. I'm a big liberal arts proponent. That is, I think more would-be pilots should consider getting liberal arts degrees - it's a very horizon-expanding education. And it worked for me (English major, although I still can't spell).

And one more thing. The best piece of advice any pilot ever gave me was to ignore all the rumors, especially concerning hiring at the airlines. Hiring practices often make no sense at all. You'll hear that X airline hired somebody with 2000 hours of turboprop time, then you'll hear some pilots swear that airline X won't hire anyone with less that 5000 jet. Makes no sense, does it? That's because an airline, like any business, is going to consider the "whole package" when they are considering a pilot. Hours and experience is very important, but so is the applicant's overall personality. That's why airlines conduct extensive interviews. And don't be discouraged if and when you don't get offered a job after those first few interviews. Sometimes certain people just don't "fit" into a given airline's corporate "culture".

Good luck buddy. You'll have a lot of fun, I'm sure.
Nick -
All the above is great advice. You are doing EXACTLY the right thing now by getting you "ducks in line" and mapping out where you want to go after high school. You are probably light years ahead of your contemporaries in getting a head start on the rest of your life. An aviation career is a lot of really hard work to get established, but then you reap the personal and financial rewards later.

I was about your age when I decided that I wanted to fly airplanes in the Air Force, and at that time I'd never even flown in an airplane! The Air National Guard is a great way to get the best possible training in the shortest time possible, as well as the best experience flying high performance airplanes with great people, AND serve your country. Look into USAF or Navy college scholarship programs. They pay your tuition and a monthly living stipend. It's also a great job to fall back on in the event of economic downturns and furloughs in the industry (like is happening now). Regional and Major airlines look very favorably on military pilots when hiring. Competition is tough to get those pilot training slots, but you've already got an advantage on most of your contemporaries - you sound very mature and focused. Military pilot training was the toughest thing I've ever done in my life, but the reward of getting those silver wings pinned on you at the end was worth every drop of sweat that went into them.

If you go the civilian route, I would HIGHLY recommend that you go to a college that has a well respected avaition program. You'll get very good focused training as well as a college degree and secondary skill to fall back on temporarily in case everything doesn't work out perfect timing-wise. One of the best programs I've seen is at the University of North Dakota (of all places) in Grand Forks. Great facilities, new airplanes and a very good academic and flying program. Check out this web site from American Airlines mentoring program. It lists most of the major aviation related degree programs along with web links and aviation scholarships:


To reinterate others advice:

1. Very good grades
2. A college degree
3. Absolutely NO DRUGS nor alcohol problems
4. Absolutley NO PROBLEMS with the law
5. Congenial personality
6. Take care of your health. Stay in shape. Get any small problems taken care of before they become big, career threatening ones.
6. As clean a driving record as you can get. A minor ticket or two won't hurt you, but things like reckless driving, DUI, serial speeding tickets WILL hurt you VERY badly.
7. Financial responsiblity - live within your means

Like we used to say in military aviation - "He who wins is the one who makes the fewest gross errors." That same axiom applies to life as well.

I think you're well on your way to a great career. Good luck, my young friend.
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