Resident pilot 121pilot, a captain for a major U.S. airline, authors a new column on Live and Let’s Fly called Ask Your Captain. His mission: demystify the flight deck and an answer any question you may have on the topic of flying.
Q: I have a 16-year-old son who is very interested in a pilot career. His initial goal is to fly in the Air Force, he’s hoping via ROTC, then to transition to civilian passenger flying. What is his most likely path to make this happen, in your opinion? What things can he do now to improve his chances? Are there specific high school courses he should focus on (he’s pushing heavily into math and science currently)? One option is that our local state university has an aviation program with post graduation internships with Skywest Airlines. Are programs like these a good value? I should say, too, that he’s 6’3″ and worried about his height, is that a valid concern?
A: If your son’s goal is to become a commercial airline pilot, starting out in the Air Force is an excellent way to help him reach that goal. My advice for your son would be to follow that path and try and fly a heavy jet while in the Air Force. Transports like a C-17 or tankers like the KC-135 or KC-10 are the airplanes that are the closest to flying an airliner and will make the transition from a military career directly to a major airline job the easiest.
First and foremost, his best bet for improving his odds are to work hard and do well in school. Math and science courses will certainly serve him well but they are not essential. They key is to excel. The skills that it takes to get great grades will serve him well in college and in the competition to get a pilot slot and then the competition to get the airplane he wants from flight school. I’d also suggest, if possible, taking flying lessons now and/or getting Microsoft flight simulator and working on his skills as a pilot. The more comfortable he is in a cockpit the better he’s going to do when he arrives at flight school.
The internships can have great value in that they usually put you on the fast-track to get a job with that airline. But if he’s going to go into the Air Force then he’s likely going to be able to go straight into a major airline so an internship with a regional wouldn’t have as much value in that scenario. Not that I’d advise him to turn it down if he gets the chance, as you never know what the future holds.
As for his height, he should be fine. The Air Force height limit is 6’5 and a sitting height of 34-40”. However, these requirements can and have been waived and they are most critical in an ejection seat aircraft.
Have a question for the captain? E-mail him at ask121pilot at yahoo dot com and you may see your question appear in a future column!