An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

. The first recorded use of the term (aviateur in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

) was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation
Aviation is the design, development, production, operation, and use of aircraft, especially heavier-than-air aircraft. Aviation is derived from avis, the Latin word for bird.-History:...

', from the Latin avis (meaning bird), coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne (Aviation or Air Navigation). The term aviatrix (aviatrice in French), now archaic, was formerly used for a female aviator.

The term is often applied simply to pilots, but can be extended to include aviation navigator
A navigator is the person on board a ship or aircraft responsible for its navigation. The navigator's primary responsibility is to be aware of ship or aircraft position at all times. Responsibilities include planning the journey, advising the Captain or aircraft Commander of estimated timing to...

s, bombardier
Bombardier (air force)
A bombardier , in the United States Army Air Forces and United States Air Force, or a bomb aimer, in the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces, was the crewman of a bomber responsible for assisting the navigator in guiding the plane to a bombing target and releasing the aircraft's bomb...

s, Weapon Systems Officer
Weapon systems officer
A Weapon Systems Officer is an air Flight Officer directly involved in all air operations and weapon systems of the fighter in the United States Navy. A Weapon Systems Officer ("WSO", pronounced "wizzo") is an air Flight Officer directly involved in all air operations and weapon systems of the...

s, and Electronic Warfare Officer
Electronic Warfare Officer
In the U.S. Air Force, an Electronic Warfare Officer is a trained aerial navigator in the Air Force who has received training in enemy threat systems, electronic warfare principles and overcoming enemy air defense systems...

s. This should not be confused with the term naval aviator
Naval Aviator
A United States Naval Aviator is a qualified pilot in the United States Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard.-Naming Conventions:Most Naval Aviators are Unrestricted Line Officers; however, a small number of Limited Duty Officers and Chief Warrant Officers are also trained as Naval Aviators.Until 1981...

, which refers to crew members in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard.

The term "aviator", as opposed to "pilot" or other terms, was used more in the early days of aviation
Aviation history
The history of aviation has extended over more than two thousand years from the earliest attempts in kites and gliders to powered heavier-than-air, supersonic and hypersonic flight.The first form of man-made flying objects were kites...

, before anyone had ever seen an airplane fly, and it was used to show connotations of bravery and adventure. For example, the editors at the Dayton Herald, (in an article of December 18, 1903) described the Wright brothers
Wright brothers
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur , were two Americans credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903...

' first airplane as thus: "The weight, including the body of the aviator, is slightly over 700 pounds".

To ensure the safety of people in the air as well as on the ground, it soon became a requirement for an aircraft to be under the operational control of a properly trained, certified and current pilot at all times, who is responsible for the safe and legal completion of the flight. The first certificate was delivered by the Aéro-Club de France
Aéro-Club de France
The Aéro-Club de France was founded as the Aéro-Club on 20 October 1898 as a society 'to encourage aerial locomotion' by Ernest Archdeacon, Léon Serpollet, Henri de la Valette, Jules Verne and his wife, André Michelin, Albert de Dion, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe, and Henry de...

 to Louis Blériot
Louis Blériot
Louis Charles Joseph Blériot was a French aviator, inventor and engineer. In 1909 he completed the first flight across a large body of water in a heavier-than-air craft, when he crossed the English Channel. For this achievement, he received a prize of £1,000...

 in 1908, followed by Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Hammond Curtiss was an American aviation pioneer and a founder of the U.S. aircraft industry. He began his career as a bicycle then motorcycle builder and racer, later also manufacturing engines for airships as early as 1906...

, Léon Delagrange
Léon Delagrange
Léon Delagrange Léon Delagrange Léon Delagrange (Ferdinand Léon Delagrange; March 13, 1873 was a pioneer French aviator and also a sculptor .He was born at Orléans and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris...

, and Robert Esnault-Pelterie
Robert Esnault-Pelterie
Robert Albert Charles Esnault-Pelterie was a pioneering French aircraft designer and spaceflight theorist. He was born in Paris, the son of a textile industrialist...

. The absolute authority given to the "pilot in command
Pilot in command
The pilot in command of an aircraft is the person aboard the aircraft who is ultimately responsible for its operation and safety during flight. This would be the "captain" in a typical two- or three-pilot flight crew, or "pilot" if there is only one certified and qualified pilot at the controls of...

" is derived from that of a ship's captain.

In recognition of the aviators' qualifications and responsibilities, most militaries and many airlines around the world award aviator badge
Aviator Badge
An Aviator Badge is an insignia used in most of the world’s militaries to designate those who have received training and qualification in military aviation...

s to their pilots, as well as other air crews
Aircrew are the personnel who operate an aircraft while in flight. The composition of the crew depends on the type of aircraft as well as the purpose of the flight.-Civilian:*Aviator** Pilot-in-command** First officer** Second officer** Third officer...



Civilian pilots fly privately for pleasure, charity, or in pursuance of a business, for non-scheduled commercial air-transport companies, or for airlines. When flying for an airline, pilots are usually referred to as airline pilots, with the pilot in command
Pilot in command
The pilot in command of an aircraft is the person aboard the aircraft who is ultimately responsible for its operation and safety during flight. This would be the "captain" in a typical two- or three-pilot flight crew, or "pilot" if there is only one certified and qualified pilot at the controls of...

 often referred to as the captain.

United States

In 1930, the Air Commerce Act established pilot licensing requirements for American civil aviation.

United Airlines
United Airlines
United Air Lines, Inc., is the world's largest airline with 86,852 employees United Air Lines, Inc., is the world's largest airline with 86,852 employees United Air Lines, Inc., is the world's largest airline with 86,852 employees (which includes the entire holding company United Continental...

 and Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines, Inc. is a major airline based in the United States and headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. The airline operates an extensive domestic and international network serving all continents except Antarctica. Delta and its subsidiaries operate over 4,000 flights every day...

 have slashed their pilot pay scales and benefits in the face of fierce competition from low-cost carriers. In fact, Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines Co. is an American low-cost airline based in Dallas, Texas. Southwest is the largest airline in the United States, based upon domestic passengers carried,...

 Captains and First Officers both have higher salaries than their counterparts at legacy carriers. As of May 2008, median annual earnings of airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers were $111,680. However, such salaries represent the upper level of airline pay scales. Salaries at regional airline
Regional airline
Regional airlines are airlines that operate regional aircraft to provide passenger air service to communities without sufficient demand to attract mainline service...

s can be considerably less - though, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, median annual earnings of commercial pilots were $65,340, with the middle 50 per cent earning between $45,680 and $89,540. Pilots making very large salaries are typically senior airline captains, while pilots making very small salaries are generally low-seniority first officers. A large variability in salaries can easily skew an average; thus, the use of median wages to gauge such things as salary. Where large gaps are seen between a median figure, and a lower-bound figure, this usually reflects those who do not stay in that particular field. Viewing this middle ground in context to the upper-bound numbers can give a burgeoning pilot an idea of what to expect if they are able to stay with flying as a full-time career. Based upon voluntary pilot reports, many United States airline pay scales are listed here: http://www.willflyforfood.cc/airlinepilotpay/. Most airline pilots are unionized, with the Air Line Pilots Association, International
Air Line Pilots Association, International
The Air Line Pilots Association, International , is the collective bargaining representative for over 59,000 pilots of 39 U.S. and Canadian airlines. ALPA was formed in 1931 and is a member of the AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labour Congress...

 (ALPA) being the largest pilot labor union in the United States.

In the United States, due to pay cuts, airline bankruptcies and other industry problems, there are fewer young people who want to make a career out of flying. First-year pilots at AMR Corporation's outsourced
Outsourcing is the process of contracting a business function to someone else.-Overview:The term outsourcing is used inconsistently but usually involves the contracting out of a business function - commonly one previously performed in-house - to an external provider...

 operation called AmericanConnection
AmericanConnection is a brand name used by Chautauqua Airlines in the operation of passenger air service as a regional affiliate of American Airlines at its Chicago hub...

, which is flown by multiple regional partners, would only earn $22,000 a year if they could pick up and fit into their schedule all the extra flying allowed under federal FAA rules.

Commercial airline pilots in the United States have a mandatory retirement age of 65, increased from age 60 in 2007.


In some countries, such as Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 and several African nations, there is a strong relationship between the military and the principal national airlines, and many airline pilots come from the military; however, that is no longer the case in the United States and Western Europe. While the flight decks of U.S. and European airliners do have ex-military pilots, many pilots are civilians. Military training and flying, while rigorous, is fundamentally different in many ways from civilian piloting. Military pilots are trained to higher regulatory standards than civilian pilots, and while both paths create a safe pilot, civilian pilots are better versed in civilian regulations.


Military pilots fly with the armed forces of a government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

 or nation-state
The nation state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. The state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity...

. Their tasks involve combat
Combat, or fighting, is a purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over the opposition, or to terminate the opposition forever, or drive the opposition away from a location where it is not wanted or needed....

 and non-combat operations, including direct hostile engagements and support operations. Military pilots undergo specialized training, often with weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

s. Examples of military pilots include fighter pilot
Fighter pilot
A fighter pilot is a military aviator trained in air-to-air combat while piloting a fighter aircraft . Fighter pilots undergo specialized training in aerial warfare and dogfighting...

s, bomber pilots, transport pilots, test pilot
Test pilot
A test pilot is an aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers, known as flight test techniques or FTTs, allowing the results to be measured and the design to be evaluated....

s and astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

s. Military pilots also serve as flight crews on aircraft for government personnel, such as Air Force One
Air Force One
Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. In common parlance the term refers to those Air Force aircraft whose primary mission is to transport the president; however, any U.S. Air Force aircraft...

 and Air Force Two
Air Force Two
Air Force Two is the air traffic control call sign used by any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the Vice President, but not the President. The term is often associated with the Boeing C-32, a modified 757 which is most commonly used as the Vice President's transport. The C-40 Clipper, a...

 in the United States.

Military pilots are trained with a different syllabus than civilian pilots, which is delivered by military instructors. This is due to the different aircraft, flight goals, flight situations and chains of responsibility. Many military pilots do transfer over to civilian-pilot qualification after they leave the military, and typically their military experience will be used to grant a civilian pilot's license.

Aviator certifications

Pilots are required to go through many hours of training and theoretical study, that differ depending on the country. The first step is acquiring the Private Pilot License
Private Pilot License
A Private Pilot License or, in the United States of America, a Private Pilot Certificate, is a license that permits the holder to act as the pilot of an aircraft privately . The requirements to obtain the license are determined by the International Civil Aviation Authority , but the actual...

 (PPL), or Private Pilot Certificate.

The next step in a pilot's progression is either Instrument Rating
Instrument rating
Instrument rating refers to the qualifications that a pilot must have in order to fly under IFR . It requires additional training and instruction beyond what is required for a Private Pilot certificate or Commercial Pilot certificate, including rules and procedures specific to instrument flying,...

 (IR), or Multi-Engine Rating (MEP) endorsements.

If a professional career or simply professional-level skills are desired, a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) endorsement would also be required. To be the captain of an airliner, one must obtain an Airline Transport Pilot License
Airline Transport Pilot License
The Airline Transport Pilot License , or in the United States of America, an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate is the highest level of aircraft pilot rating -- or license...


Some countries/carriers require/use a Multi Crew Co-operating Certification (MCC).

Aviators in space

In human spaceflight
Human spaceflight
Human spaceflight is spaceflight with humans on the spacecraft. When a spacecraft is manned, it can be piloted directly, as opposed to machine or robotic space probes and remotely-controlled satellites....

, a "pilot" is someone who directly controls the operation of a spacecraft
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

, while located within the same craft. This term derives directly from the usage of the word "pilot" in aviation
Aviation is the design, development, production, operation, and use of aircraft, especially heavier-than-air aircraft. Aviation is derived from avis, the Latin word for bird.-History:...

, where it is synonymous with "aviator". Note that on the U.S. Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons...

, the term "pilot" is analogous to the term "co-pilot" in aviation, as the "commander" has ultimate responsibility for the shuttle.

Female pilots


Pioneer aviatrices include French, Raymonde de Laroche
Raymonde de LaRoche
Raymonde de Laroche , born Elise Raymonde Deroche, was a French aviatrix and the first woman in the world to receive an aeroplane pilot's licence.-Early life:...

, the world's first-ever licensed female pilot on March 8 1910; Belgian, Helene Dutrieu
Hélène Dutrieu
Hélène Dutrieu , was a cycling world champion, stunt cyclist, stunt motorcyclist, automobile racer, stunt driver, pioneer aviator, wartime ambulance driver, and director of a military hospital.-Biography:...

, the first woman to fly a passenger, first woman to win an air race (1910), and first woman to pilot a seaplane (1912); French, Marie Marvingt
Marie Marvingt
Marie Marvingt was a French athlete, mountaineer, and aviator, and the most decorated woman in the history of France. She won numerous prizes for her sporting achievements and was the first woman to climb many of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps...

 the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 and the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 in a balloon (October 26, 1909) and first woman to fly as a bomber pilot in combat missions (1915); American, Harriet Quimby
Harriet Quimby
Harriet Quimby was an early American aviator and a movie screenwriter. In 1911 she was awarded a U.S. pilot's certificate by the Aero Club of America, becoming the first woman to gain a pilot's license in the United States. In 1912 she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel...

, the USA's first-ever licensed female pilot in 1911, and the first woman to cross the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 by airplane; American Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart
Amelia Mary Earhart was a noted American aviation pioneer and author. Earhart was the first woman to receive the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for becoming the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean...

, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932); Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was an American civil aviator. She was the first female pilot of African American descent and the first person of African American descent to hold an international pilot license.-Early life:...

, the first person of African-American descent to become a licensed airplane pilot (1921); German, Marga von Etzdorf, first woman to fly for an airline (1927); Opal Kunz
Opal Kunz
Opal Kunz, also known as Opal van Zandt Giberson Kunz was a noted early American aviator, the first president of the "Ninety-Nines", a women pilots’ organization, that was formed in her living room, and an early feminist. She was married to Dr. George Frederick Kunz.As an aviatrix, Opal Kunz...

, one of the few women to train US Navy fighter pilots during World War II in the Civilian Pilot Training Program
Civilian Pilot Training Program
The Civilian Pilot Training Program was a flight training program sponsored by the United States government with the stated purpose of increasing the number of civilian pilots, though having a clear impact on military preparedness....

; and the British Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson CBE, was a pioneering English aviator. Flying solo or with her husband, Jim Mollison, Johnson set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s...

, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia (1930). Valérie André
Valérie André
Valerie Andre is a veteran of the French resistance, a neurosurgeon, an aviator and the first female member of the military to achieve the rank of General Officer, in 1976, as Physician General. In 1981, she was promoted to Inspector General of Medicine. A helicopter pilot, she is the first woman...

, a French neurosurgeon and member of the French army, became the first woman to fly a helicopter in combat, while serving in Indochina
The Indochinese peninsula, is a region in Southeast Asia. It lies roughly southwest of China, and east of India. The name has its origins in the French, Indochine, as a combination of the names of "China" and "India", and was adopted when French colonizers in Vietnam began expanding their territory...


As well as being Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

's first aviatrix, Sabiha Gökçen
Sabiha Gökçen
Sabiha Gökçen was a Turkish aviatrix. First Turkish female combat pilot, aged 23. She was one of the eight adopted children of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.- Early life :...

, born in 1913, became the world's first female fighter pilot at the age of 23.

In 1979, a Jamaican, Maria Ziadie-Haddad, became one of the first women in the Western Hemisphere to become a commercial jet airline pilot when she was hired by Air Jamaica 1968 Ltd as a B727 Second Officer.

Soviet Union

The Night Witches
Night Witches
"Night Witches" is the English translation of Nachthexen, a World War II German nickname , for the female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Air Forces...

, a women-only combat regiment of the Soviet Air Forces, flew harassment
Harassment covers a wide range of behaviors of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is intentional behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing...

A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

ing and precision bombing
Precision bombing
Precision bombing is bombing of a small target with extreme accuracy, to limit side-effect damage. An example would be destroying a single building in a built up area causing minimal damage to the surroundings...

 missions from 1942 to the end of the World War II.

United States

Until the 1970s, aviation had been a traditionally male occupation in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Commerce Department regulations virtually required pilots to have flown in the military to acquire sufficient flight hours, and until the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force and Navy barred women from flying, thus also preventing them from moving into commercial piloting Despite women being trained by the US Army Air Corps and flying every advanced military aircraft the US built (including every bomber, pursuit plane, and the first jet) during WWII as Women Airforce Service Pilots
Women Airforce Service Pilots
The Women Airforce Service Pilots and its predecessor groups the Women's Flying Training Detachment and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron were pioneering organizations of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces...

 (WASP), this program was disbanded in December 1944 and commercial jobs were not generally available to women, though these highly trained women flew as instructors and pilots for flying services throughout the United States. Women began to enter U.S. major commercial aviation in the 1970s and 1980s, with 1973 seeing the first female pilot at a major U.S. airline, American Airlines
American Airlines
American Airlines, Inc. is the world's fourth-largest airline in passenger miles transported and operating revenues. American Airlines is a subsidiary of the AMR Corporation and is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas adjacent to its largest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport...

, and 1986, seeing the first female captain at a major U.S. airline. In the 1970s, women began being permitted to fly in the United States Armed Forces for the first time since WWII, beginning with the Navy and the Army in 1974, and then the Air Force in 1976.

As of 2006, just over 6% of certified civilian pilots (both private and commercial) in the United States were women.


In Japan, the first female captain for commercial passenger flights was Ari Fuji, who began flying as captain for JAL Express
JAL Express
, is a low-cost airline with its headquarters in the on the grounds of Osaka International Airport and in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, and its main hub at Osaka International Airport. The airline also maintains Tokyo offices in the Japan Airlines Building in Shinagawa, Tokyo, Japan...

 in July 2010. Fuji was rejected from admission to Japanese pilot training school on the grounds of being too small (155 cm; standard was previously 163 cm, currently 158 cm (as of spring 2010)), so she got her pilot's license in the United States. There are currently a few other female pilots in Japan, though, , no others in a captain role.

See also

  • Air safety
    Air safety
    Air safety is a term encompassing the theory, investigation and categorization of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel.-United...

    IMSAFE is a mnemonic used by some aircraft pilots to assess their fitness to fly.-Definition:The mnemonic is interpreted as:* Illness - Is the pilot suffering from any illness or symptom of an illness which might affect them in flight,...

     (mnemonic for pilot's fitness to fly)
  • List of aerospace engineers
  • List of aviators
  • List of Russian aviators
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