How Hard Is It To Become A Pilot?


Short answer: not very. Well if George Bush up there can manage it, it can’t be right? However, as that is not a very good article, I will now expand that answer into this 1400 word illustrated monstrosity. I apologise.

Flying is all about doing lots of little easy things correctly, and in the right order. You could be a master at artistically and dexterously extending the landing gear for example, but that won’t help if you’ve already touched the tarmac.

"Gear Down, Please"

Gear Down, Please

There are two major groups of skills required when you are training to become a pilot: those that you need to fly in the air well (the fun bit), and those that you need to sit on the ground studying well (the slightly more dull bit) to pass all those wonderful as they are difficult exams.

This article looks at what some of these qualities are, whether you want to fly for fun or if you want to become a paid pilot. It also asks how hard it is to pick up the new skills and knowledge that you need to fly, in a manner least conducive towards crashment.

But first, dispelling one widely held belief:

Horrendously Mathsy and Physicsy?

Perhaps pleasingly, Joe public seems to think of pilots as being mathematical and scientific geniuses of the sky. While we try our hardest to maintain this alluring veneer, the fact is: YOU DON’T. As already mentioned in the ‘What Qualifications Do You Need To Become A Pilot?‘ article, you don’t need maths, physics and computing degrees to join the exclusive ranks of the dashing aviator.

OK, so you need to have a basic ability, perhaps a GCSE in these subjects (above a C), but going on all the hype from the Daily Mail about how easy they are these days, all you need to do is urinate on your exam paper for this glory.

The Daily Mail is an awful, awful newspaper.

The Daily Mail is an awful, awful newspaper.

OK, so there is some basic mental arithmetic, unit conversions, distance time calculations, graph reading and the like for your basic Private Pilot Licence. But you do get a flight computer to help (sadly, an item awesome only in name). If you are wanting to progress into commercial pilot territory, then trigonometry, electronics and other physicsy things rear their grotesquely ugly heads in the ATPL Theory Exams.

Hopefully that has dispelled some less than accurate rumours. Or you can continue to think of us as elite demi-gods, I don’t mind.

Ground Exams

If you like exams, you are going to love becoming a pilot. At PPL level, there are seven ground exams to pass, and you can read more about these happy little events in our PPL Theory Exam section. If you are planning on becoming on a commercial pilot, there are an additional 14 ground exams to pass, and you can read about these in our ATPL Theory Exam section.

All of these exams take the same format – multiple choice – which is deeply pleasing. There are four options for each question, and you must choose the correct one (hopefully with the correct answer jogging your memory into action).

The content of these ground exams vary from just remembering the content of great reams of text and rules (like Air Law), to those that require some form of calculation (like Navigation). However, none of them are too hard – there is just a lot to remember. Also, since anyone getting into piloting is obviously very wealthy indeed, there are lots of companies out there willing to take your cold, hard cash for some expensive study aid of dubious requirement, so these should make passing any ground exam a breeze.


Qualities you need to be a half decent pilot

There are plenty of other skills you are going to need to go flyfly other than the ability to add and study well. Have a look through this rather photoshop intensive section. Everybody has at least some of these qualities, and the more you have, the easier you will find it to transfer yourself into the role of skyman/skylady.

One crucial aspect is to have a bit of common sense. See a big black pregnant thunderstorm right ahead of you while under Air Traffic Control? Probably a good idea to ask for a turn then. See a large amount of liquid and bright, hot things pouring out of the wing? I would land.

You will also need to be able to think and to make decisions independently and quickly. Obviously you won’t be expected to do this right off the bat, as you will need experience from your PPL lessons to discover exactly when you need to make those decisions. However, if you are hurtling through the sky in triple figures miles per hour, things can change very quickly, and you need to be aware of the big picture to make the correct choices.

You are also going to need a certain amount of maturity and responsibility when operating these fast moving, potentially-lethal-to-you-and-those-in-quite-a-large-area-around-you metallic vehicles. Performing questionably rehearsed aerobatics around your house when you first go solo would be an example of a rather irresponsible thing to do, especially if you happen to live close to an orphanage.

Screenshot from the emotionally moving profpilot flight training video series

Screenshot from the emotionally moving profpilot flight training video series

Staying calm and collected under pressure would be something else desirable in a pilot. As you can see in the MCC section, there can be an awfully large number of things going on at once. Even at PPL level, training for forced landings; you will be pitching and trimming for a certain airspeed, looking out for and turning towards a suitable landing area (taking into account wind direction), briefing any passengers, advising ATC, and going through emergency checklists all within about a minute. You don’t want to complicate matters panicking and having to worry about the large amount of self-produced sludge you are now sitting in.

Well my day just got alot worse.

Well my day just got alot worse.

As you can imagine then, multi tasking and keeping track of many different elements are also quite a good attributes to have while aviating. Keeping yourself organised and preparing for the flight is also crucial, especially in a venue as… ‘snug‘ as a Cessna cockpit. Let your attention become focussed on trying to find your airport page in the airport directory, and when you look up again, you may well find yourself in an interesting situation.

Oh Dear.

Oh Dear.

Communication and being able to work as a team are other key elements involved in safely getting yourself from A to B in a safe, expedient and altitude filled manner. Talking over the radio as if you have a mouth full of crabs is not going to make anybody’s day easy. You also need to be able to work with Air Traffic Control, your instructor, the admin staff at the flying club, the maintenance team, and if you are flying in a really posh place the refuellers. All these people are employed to get you up in the sky, and you are part of this team.

Patience is also a good virtue to have when learning to fly – especially when you have opted to fly in our fine nation with it’s wonderful weather. If it’s too cloudy, windy, rainy, foggy, snowy, icy, or misty you can’t fly. Aircraft away on maintenance, and instructor/aircraft availability can also hold up proceedings somewhat.

Under a similar train of thought – commitment. You will be throwing huge amounts of money at this venture, so you can’t get bored half way through and then pack it in. You are going to make your wallet shrivel – don’t let it shrivel in vain.


Hopefully that has all lifted the heavy curtain of ignorance from your pilot training knowledge – unless you already knew all that, in which case it was probably a mere dainty net curtain of ignorance.

Pretty much anyone can be a pilot, although some take longer than others – and unless you are hardcore stupid, you can too. Whether you can fly without vomiting all over the instrument panel is another matter.

One good thing about getting a pilot’s licence is that you can then put all those qualities above on your CV with a reasonable demonstration of you actually using those abilities. Although on saying that, it still didn’t get me any temporary administrator positions when I was throwing around CV’s earlier this year. I had to settle for waiter.

I shall leave you with a picture I have been sent by an aviator called Guy. This apparently hangs from the wall of his flight club and it pretty much sums up the whole airline pilot job thing better than I could!


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12 Responses to “How Hard Is It To Become A Pilot?”

  1. I am 25yr old self oriented,hardworking & self disciplined man from Nairobi,Kenya.I was brought up and educated in Bethlehem Children Home,as an orphan for both my primary & secondary education.
    My childhood dream was and still is to be an Airline Pilot.I have a certificate course in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering.from the Kenya Polytechnic University College.I’m currently on Industrial Attachment as an aircraft technician.
    I too would like to take flying lessons,but it’s very expensive here in Kenya.
    Please I sincerely&kindly request for any form of assistance from any well-wisher.
    Your kind considerations will enable to achieve the dreams of my life,and will be a real blessing to my bright future in my Aviation career.

    Thanking you in advance.

  2. profpilot says:


    Well I’m afraid profpilot can only help with the informational side of things. Although if you’re willing to take payment in bizarre Photoshopped scenes then perhaps we can work something out.

    Hopefully a passing millionaire will read and react to your plight.

    At least you’ve used your initiative and got in the industry – I wish you luck on your aviationally related endeavour!

  3. Indian DJ says:

    Hello, sry for my bad english but Ih ave uncovered your website and would say that I uncover your posts great due to the fact they have give me new ideas and new aspects. Thanks for this facts.

  4. soorej says:

    hi , iam soorej and planning on my ppl. been all over net to get the right information most were repetetive n boring. you do have a good humourous way of explainng things which sticks easy in my mnd.cheers.

  5. Matt says:

    I’m 16 years old and will be completing my GCSEs this year. I already have the intention to do Maths, German, Physics, Chemistry & Further Maths at A-Level, probably dropping Chemistry for A2. The problem I have is what to do at degree level. In a perfect world, I would study German to Bachelor and then move to Germany and get training with Lufthansa. However, would an Aerospace Engineering degree put me in with a better chance of getting through to that training process? I find Physics/Maths super dull but I am good at them. As for German, it’s the best of both worlds being good at them and loving the language.

  6. profpilot says:

    Hey Matt,

    I don’t know anything about the Lufthansa employment criteria I’m afraid, but if they’re anything like the legacy carriers over here, then you won’t be able to go straight into Lufthansa as a fresh faced, dewy eyed aviator with 250 hours. Or perhaps the Germans are far more permissive than we are (who knew?). So that’s one thing to check up on – although I’m sure there are some airlines in Germany that would be able to take you fresh out of pilot school, you just might not be able to jump straight into the front of an aircraft with some kind of blue goose encircled by the Sun on its tail.

    The following is my opinion only but I would say that you should do what you enjoy. A pretty good mantra to live by really, unless you enjoy murder or clubbing seals. But let’s not get bogged down in social ethics. If you want to do a degree in German – do a degree in German! Getting an Aerospace Engineering degree that you won’t enjoy is not going to help anybody, and it is not really going to help you get a job at the end of it. All you need is the CPL/ME/IR/MCC shebang (which in itself, only requires cold hard cash to attain). As far as it getting you through the training process – there’s very little to worry about there. The minimum hours that you need to get everything done are quite generous in most cases, and if you need more time to get up to standard, weirdly enough flight schools are MORE than happy to sort that out for you. This might have something to do with the fact that you will be dousing them in further cash.

    Hope that helps a bit.


  7. Sam says:

    Dear PP,

    Thanks very much for an informative and useful article, it was certainly a lot more humorous than other such articles I’ve read, and it’s always nice to have a chuckle when you’re contemplating how to find a 5-figure sum so you can have a chance at maybe accomplishing your dream.

    Onto my question, I’m a 20 year old who has all his life wanted to fly. I joined the ATC at 13, and spent 5 great years there. After finishing college with 5 A-levels I’m in a bit of a stick as to what to do next. My main problem is financial. I come from a low-income family and unfortunately I cannot ask them for any financial assistance. I have heard of professional development loans but I’m not so sure I could get one with no security, and even if I could, it would still not cover me to a full CPL(A).

    Are there any other routes to that large wad of money required? I have considered getting a degree at university to get a job to earn the money I need, however based on the amount of time it would take and the average graduate paycheck, that will probably mean I won’t be flying until I’m almost 30, as well as having to pay off the student loans (which are wonderfully doubling very soon at least). Is that really the only route for me? Is there any potential to earn while you train? Or is this only for those blessed with unrealistically good luck.

    Any advice you can give on this subject would be great, I’d hate to have to wait so long before I can get those wings!


    Sam C.

  8. profpilot says:

    Hi Sam,

    First of all, you have your your and you’res sorted. That is refreshing in a young person. And it is on this theme that I shall start the next paragraph.

    Your problem: not enough money. Many a person has undergone this slight inconvenience. I suggest you have a look at the scholarships and bursary information page on this very website, to have a look at things that I have heard of on this merry plight to aviationship. None of them (bar one) gives you a full CPL/ME/IR/MCC, but they at least give you a peg up in the industry.

    I would suggest any one of them. I too got five A-levels, and even though I completed my training, I did not get a job at the end of it – because of the recession (that’s what I’m blaming it on anyway). However, the present is much different to the past, and while there are not all that many jobs for the low timers right now, there could be in a year and a half when you finish your training (at maximum speed). So: take your time. Even though it may be something you want to get in right away – there is a lot of money riding on it. Surely it would be better to make an investment of this kind when you’re ready and think there might be employment opportunity, rather than getting it done ASAP and not having enough money to keep your licences valid? When I started training, there were a reasonable number of jobs for dewy eyed youngsters – but by the time I finished, the industry was weeping. And its tears were pilots.

    This is only my opinion, however. And I am a random person.

    Hope that helps!

    Sam. (aka PP)

    (PS, If it was my name that was stopping me from getting a job, then you’re in for a rough time too).

  9. Jethro says:

    Hello Profpilot,
    I want to join the RAF as a pilot. But, like every one I need a back up. So if I don’t get in how much, roughly does it cost to get commercial pilots licence for a helicopter or a big jet thing?


  10. profpilot says:


    The quick answer to your question is about £30000 – £50000 for modular, and £50000 – £80000 for integrated. What is this modular and integrated obscurities of which I speak? Well if you go on our article on how to become a pilot, your answers await.

    I’m sure you’re well researched in the tricky tale on how to get an RAF job, if you read that article linked above it will guide you through the process of becoming a civil pilot, and if you go through the starting out section of the website, there are some answers to other common questions too (although in a series of rambling and bizarre articles). Anything else that’s left over that you are still puzzling over – feel free to ask in the forums or email me!

    Hopefully it won’t come to that though – good luck with your RAF application.


  11. Gordon says:

    Flying a plane is easy… although take-off and landing are acquired skills!

    My first lesson was an hour, and I was in charge for everything between take-off and landing.

    My second lesson saw me taking off and flying the plane myself! … all I need to do is to learn to land it!

    My third lesson saw me taking off, flying and landing!!!

    Now I have a further 43 hours or so for my log book, and (providing I pass the theory exams) I look forward to achieving my PPL.

    Not too difficult to gain PPL status, it seems, providing that you take the time and effort to pass the theory stuff!


  12. profpilot says:

    Some people have a natural aptitude for practical flight – which makes the whole PPL thing considerably easier and cheaper. There is a lot more to flying than just take off and landing so don’t get too cocky, but if you’re landing by your third lesson you must be reasonably good. Alternatively, you just have a brave instructor.

    Good luck with the thrill of Air Law!


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