Career and Job Search Guide

Aircraft Pilot and Flight Engineer

Airplane and helicopter pilots are well trained, skilled professionals. The majority of pilots are classified as flight engineers, copilots, and airline pilots. Most pilots fly airplane carrying freight and people. About 20 percent of pilots assist firefighters, report on traffic conditions, dust crops, transport freight to areas not serviced by commercial flights, and perform search and rescue operations.

Before taking off, pilots must make careful preparations by ensuring instruments, flight controls, and the engines are working properly. Pilots are also responsible to ensure freight and luggage has been properly loaded onto the plane. Pilots also speak with tower operators about weather conditions prior to departure. Once they have determined what the weather will be like during their flight, they select a safe altitude, airspeed, and flight route. If a plane is flying in poor conditions, decreasing visibility, pilots must rely on their instruments to fly with assistance from air traffic control workers. The most difficult task for pilots is taking off and landing, requiring collaboration between the pilot and co-pilot. During takeoff, one pilot focuses on the runway while the other on the instrument panel. Pilots must consider plane weight, wind speed, temperature, and airport altitude before they can determine the speed necessary to take off. Once a plane has reached this speed, the copilot notifies the pilot who then proceeds to take off. Pilots and co-pilots usually alternate flying responsibilities during a flight.

During normal weather, flying is usually a routine task. Pilots usually set their autopilot controls once they have reached their desired routes and altitudes. During their flight, their position is monitored by air traffic controllers. Pilots regularly check fuel level and monitor the engines, ventilation, and hydraulic systems. During turbulent and rough conditions, pilots often alter the plane's altitude. Helicopter pilots on the other hand, fly at lower altitudes, so they must be careful to avoid bridges, power lines, trees, or other objects that could cause damage. No matter what type of aircraft a pilot is flying, they must constantly pay attention to warning indicators in case the wind changes directions or increases in veracity.

During poor visibility, pilots are required to rely on flight instruments. Using their altimeter, pilots can measure their altitude and determine whether flying over a mountain would be safe. Pilots can use navigation radios and flight charts to determine their location. State of the art flight technology also enables pilots to land on a runway without seeing it. After a pilot has landed a plane, he or she must fill out records for the airline company and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Certain pilots have duties when they are not in the air or unrelated to flying. For example, if a passenger is disruptive and causing problems, a pilot will often confront the passenger. Moreover, pilots who complete training required by the Federal light Deck Officer Program are permitted to carry guns with them in case a terrorist enters the cockpit. Pilots flying private chartered flights have numerous responsibilities including monitoring baggage loading and unloading, maintaining records, and scheduling engine maintenance.

Two pilots usually man a cockpit unless the plane is small. The pilot with the most experience, commonly known as the captain, is in charge of the flight. The pilot in conjunction with the copilot, also known as the first mate, share flight responsibilities. Larger airplanes usually fly with flight engineers. These professionals monitor the engines and mechanical systems, as well as perform in-flight maintenance. A flight engineer additionally helps pilots with communication with crew members and air traffic controllers. State of the art automated flight technology conducts many of the plane's operations.

Many pilots work as flight instruction specialists. These pilots provide flight instruction for potential pilots using flight simulators and classroom instruction. Some pilots with extensive experience and training, known as check pilots, fly with pilot candidates to determine their qualifications.

Work environment. Pilots are away from their homes and families for extended periods of time. If a pilot cannot return to their homes during a layover, airline companies pay for their hotel rooms, food, and transportation expenses.

Pilots who fly international flights crossing numerous time zones sometimes experience flight fatigue known as jet lag. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that pilots have at least 8 hours off before piloting another flight.

There are safety hazards associated with commercial flight. Flying new planes or those recently construction can be dangerous for test pilots. Crop dusters are sometimes exposed to hazardous chemicals. Helicopter pilots that perform search and rescue missions face many dangerous.

Flying does not cause a lot of physical stress, but it can cause considerable mental stress since pilots are responsible for the safety of their passengers, and it is difficult flying in poor weather. Pilots must respond quickly to problems especially when landing or taking off.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that pilots fly no more than 100 hours every month or 1,000 hours annually. Pilots usually fly between 65-75 hours every month with about the same amount of time devoted to performing non flight duties. Pilots have flexible schedules, often working several long days followed by a few days off. Since commercial planes fly all hours of the day, pilots work nights, weekends, and have erratic schedules. Pilots with seniority usually determine their schedules.

Pilots flying commercially usually have erratic schedules, often spending 30 hours in the air one month and 90 hours in the air another month. Since commercial pilots have numerous non-flight related responsibilities, they enjoy less down time than other pilots. Commercial pilots usually return home after their flights, but pilots working for corporate flight divisions often stay overnight in hotels. Chartering companies that operate an entire fleet usually provide their pilots with consistent flight schedules.

Pilots that specialize in flight instruction work varied schedules, working around their students' schedules and weather conditions. They often work nights and weekends.