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Becoming a Pilot Requires Aptitude and Attitude

Are you interested in flying as a career or hobby? What does it take for a person to learn to pilot an aircraft? The answer is aptitude and attitude, plus decent health.

Aptitude describes the skills and knowledge you need to master in order to proficiently pilot an airplane. Pilots are constantly learning until the day they stop flying.

Why? Regulations change. There have been several very significant changes in just the past year or so, including a significant overhaul of medical requirements needed to fly an aircraft. Technology changes have been significant over the past 20 years. For example, when I learned to fly, I learned on what pilots refer to as “steam gauges.” This term appears to be mildly derogatory currently, but refers to older instrumentation that determined information like altitude and airspeed from air pressure readings. Today, a modern airplane will have what we pilots call a “glass cockpit,” which means an electronic display, and data is collected by electronic sensors.

Let me outline the various aptitudes a flight student will need to master to become a pilot:

Understanding of basic aeronautical controls, how lift is generated in an aircraft wing and how your flight controls use these effects to make the aircraft turn, bank, climb and descent.

A basic understanding of weather – how to read aeronautical forecast charges and how weather impacts your airplane in flight. This is very important, particularly in Prescott, as our elevation and hot temperatures can combine to make aircraft perform poorly. Understanding how this impacts your flight is critically important and can mean the difference between life and death. One of the most common accidents with small aircraft is caused by pilots flying into weather conditions they were not equipped to handle.

Learning how to communicate with FAA facilities such as the tower and flight service stations. All these people are there to help pilots fly safely. The better your ability to communicate succinctly, the better they can help you.

You will need to learn air navigation; the ability to read charts, determine your position, calculate how much fuel you need to get where you are going and other navigation-related topics. As you can imagine, you will need basic math skills to do some of these calculations.

The ability to pass tests – there is a written exam and a practical flight exam.

Finally, the basic mechanical skills of manipulating the flight controls, which requires some degree of physical coordination as well as spatial awareness.

Please understand this list is not exhaustive and is supplied to help illustrate some of the aptitudes needed for a person to become a pilot. The skills and knowledge on this list are teachable, too.

A brief word on health – you must be reasonably healthy to become a pilot. Depending on the type of pilot’s certificate, the medical requirements get steeper. The good news for a lot of people is the FAA in just the last year has taken steps to make flying more accessible to more people around health requirements.

The last thing is attitude, and attitude can’t be taught. You either have the right mental attitude to be a pilot or you don’t. The most difficult part of a flight instructor’s job is to sit a student down and tell the student that he or she doesn’t have the attitude to be a good and safe pilot.

Let me quote a saying from the World War II era that my dad told me years ago – it sums up what I’m saying quite succinctly: “There are bold pilots; there are old pilots; there are NO old, bold pilots”

The other part of attitude is around decision making. An example is Captain Sullenberger and the airline flight that took a dip in the Hudson River in 2009. On takeoff and climb out, his aircraft was struck by geese, which disabled both engines. In a matter of seconds, a commercial airliner was turned into a big glider – and one that really doesn’t glide all that well.

Captain Sullenberger had seconds to make the right decision. As we all know, he elected to do a ditching landing in the Hudson River versus trying to get back to an airport. Did he have time to break out a calculator and run all the numbers? No, that’s a product of attitude as well as experience: the ability to decide correctly under pressure and then execute the decision. QCBN

By Lance Leighnor

Lance Leighnor has four decades of experience in general aviation aircraft, and active management of rental aircraft since 2011. Lance is the managing member of Leighnor Aircraft. He can be reached by phone at 928-499-3080, by email at or via the Leighnor Aircraft website at


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