If you want to become a pilot, the path is ready for you: training, logging flight hours, passing tests.
However, there’s a bit more to flying than simply getting licensed. The best pilots are true leaders and professionals. They all have a few things in common that helped them to not only earn their license, but also to continue growing their skills and inspiring other pilots to do the same.
You might be surprised about some of the shared qualities of great pilots. For instance, when first starting out on my path to becoming a pilot, it was my belief that excellent math skills were near the top of this list. A fear of math actually caused me to put off taking my first step toward a life in aviation. Lucky for me, it’s actually a misconception that you need intense math skills to become a pilot, but if math isn’t the main requirement, what is?
What makes a good pilot?
This is especially true when you’re first starting out, because it’s not easy becoming a pilot (That’s probably a good thing, by the way. Don’t forget you’re in charge of a huge hunk of metal rocketing through the sky)! For this reason and many others, a pilot must be self-motivated. You need to be a go-getter if you’re going to not only acquire your license but also stay current on your training and proficient with your skills.
The key factor when learning aviation is commitment. You have to really want it if you’re going to become a pilot. It’s hard, it’s expensive, and it’s time consuming. Determination is the only way you will get through it.
Just remember, you’re never in it alone and a great support group can go a long way in encouraging you along the path. In my case, my family has been encouraging, as well as the many other pilots I’ve built relationships with through social media.
Still, self-motivation is key. When you decide to become a pilot, that’s that: From that moment on, YOU make it happen!
2) Great planning skills
Planning is huge. A solid flight plan is essential whenever you set off on a new trip, and as most flyGIRL fans will know, planning a flight takes time. You have to think about your path, the weather, the airports along your route, your fuel, and more.
The trick is to always be thinking ahead and forming plans to deal with any situation (Of course, you also need to know when to throw the plans out the window if the situation calls for it).
Confidence is key in so many parts of life, but it’s especially true when you’re in charge of flying through the skies.
Whether you’re in charge of a small one-seater prop plane or a state-of-the-art multi-engine aircraft, there are hundreds of decisions you have to make during flight. It’s important to be confident in your decision making, because second-guessing yourself can lead to real problems.
When you’re eyeing a storm system on the radar, for example, there will be a moment when you have to decide whether or not to land your plane or determine the best diversion around the storm. Once you decide to land, that’s it. Stick to it and don’t look back or second-guess yourself.
While confidence is crucial, you need to balance it with humility, too.
Great pilots have the self-awareness and the discipline to correct their own weaknesses. Beginner pilots must especially be humble and willing to ask questions because you need to clarify anything that’s unclear before you’re up in the air.
Know when to ask for help or when to get a second opinion. For example, I routinely ask for help with my calculations. Take stock of your own weaknesses and act accordingly. Don’t be afraid to admit you need help!
Another facet of self-reflection is being aware of your stress levels during flights. A handy acronym known as IMSAFE helps pilots assess their fitness for flying based on things like emotions, illness, fatigue and more.
5) Clear communication
When airborne, we pilots have our own language. The language used in the sky is just something you have to learn to use and understand if you’re going to be flying planes.
Good pilots need to not only know the words to use, but they need to be clear and articulate when they use them. Air traffic control communications need to be especially quick and concise when you’re navigating through the skies. However, don’t be afraid to slow down or ask for clarification if the situation requires it or there is any uncertainty. Air traffic controllers are generally very helpful and kind. There has only been one instance where ATC got a little snippy with me and it was well-deserved.
6) Situational awareness
Decisive, quick thinkers can make for successful pilots. A big part of this comes down to situational awareness. That means the pilot always knows what’s happening inside the plane and out. You have to keep a constant eye on things like storms, airports, and passengers.
The best pilots get into the zone while in flight. After you fire up the engine, you have to be on your A-game from then until landing. For me, this is one of the reasons flying is so enjoyable. Everything else going on in my life has to be put on hold.
7) Ongoing training
A desire to learn made the list because pilots really need to stay sharp and consistent. In my experience, even just a week or two away from my plane can leave me feeling a bit awkward upon finally getting back in the cockpit.
After you’ve finished your training, you may be legally capable of flying whenever you want but it’s still much safer if you’re routinely getting flights in. Every flight has something you can learn from.
Yep, there can be a lot of pressure when you’re flying, and the ability to keep your cool could make a huge difference in the most dramatic and high-pressure situations. Compartmentalizing is a bonus. There have been times, right before a lesson, before opening the door to the flight school, when I consciously take a few deep breaths and tell myself “everything else has to wait starting right now.” That process or ritual literally puts everything in perspective and helps me start the lesson in a “clean slate” state-of-mind.
There have never been any life threatening situations in my flight experiences, but pop-up thunderstorms have creeped across my route during multiple solo flights. In those situations, it’s important to stick to the training: stay aware of the storm, or potential storm system and know exactly when and where to land and wait it out.
Your Next Steps
So there you have it: The top qualities of the top pilots!
To my fellow pilots out there:
- Do you agree with the list?
- Are there any qualities you were surprised to find in yourself?
- What important skills are missing from the list?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
To those who are considering taking the first step toward becoming a pilot:
What’s holding you back?
Trust me, if becoming a pilot is your dream, you just need to start. Your success is just a matter of time. There might be certain qualities or skills that make for great pilots, but with the proper motivation, anyone can form new habits.
If you’re looking for help making the first step, connect with me! I’m happy to offer some advice.