Upper Limit Aviation’s recent open house was featured on KUTV News, as one of their featured STEM stories.1 Upper Limit staff headed into the 2News studio to show off some aviation related tools and discuss what would be covered at the aviation open house.
ULA started by showing sectional charts, flight plans, and an iPad, and discussing the recent advances in aviation technology aimed at making navigation more streamlined for pilots.
“We’ve really progressed a lot from the paper and pencil charts, and technology has come forward leaps and bounds, and now we’re using iPads, we’re using computers … before you’d have to carry five or six paper charts just to make a flight, now you can just move around the country simply by the scroll of a finger.”
Also discussed in the video were the importance of the weight and balance and center of gravity calculations for an airplane and how they affect flying, and some more details on the upcoming aviation open house.
“We’ll have pathways to careers, from piloting to air traffic control, and all aspects of aviation.”
I stood in front of a Marine Corps recruiting office in 1988. I wanted to take the aviator’s aptitude test and join the Marines as a helicopter pilot. But, after a few minutes with the Sergeant, I realized that wouldn’t happen.
Between thirteen years old and eighteen, my visual acuity had decreased to 20/400. Even though it was still correctable to 20/20, the heavy eyelid morning routine of prying a way in for the contacts and the saline solution was getting rough. I wanted a permanent solution to the problem of seeing only the single, large E on the eye chart. I wanted to read the “made in USA” line without any help!
I had recently read a news article about the Russian military providing a corrective surgery called radial keratotomy (RK) for their soldiers that were nearsighted. Some further investigation revealed that a laser version of RK, called PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) was already being performed by a doctor in Windsor, Canada. Although the procedure was not yet legal within the United States, I could travel to Canada and get my eyesight corrected. That’s exactly what I did.
The improvement to my eyesight was a catalyst for the release of business fuel into my career in aviation. This was a motivation that lasted fifteen years, ending in 2014 when I sold my company.
During my final year at work, I noticed a high-pitched ringing noise in both ears as I would head back into the office after a flight. The episodes would increase in frequency each week and finally after a couple of months, the ringing in my ears was permanent. I went to see an audiologist and after an afternoon of tests, I learned that I had lost most of my hearing within a certain frequency range. The loss of hearing was creating a condition called tinnitus, which I live with today.
Shortly after the diagnosis of tinnitus, I noticed that a corner of the vision in my right eye had turned dark. A trip to the eye doctor revealed my worst fear – I had aggressive glaucoma.
When most people think about flying, they concentrate on protecting their eyes. But don’t forget about maintaining health in other areas. Protect your hearing. Even though I always wore headsets (or a flight helmet) it’s not enough. Put earplugs in as well. This should eliminate any long term hearing damage.
The most important lesson I learned from this experience should be that a routine, thorough medical exam (not just through your friendly FAA medical doctor) is super important in catching additional vision and hearing problems before they develop into serious issues. If I was able to travel back in time to the beginning of my career in aviation, I would go see eye and ear specialists every five years as a pilot. Ask your doctors to compare the condition of your eyes and ears to your last visit(s). There are stresses on those parts of the body that need to be closely tracked. If you can catch a starting and / or worsening condition quickly, it may not become debilitating.
Professional pilot. What was the first image you just thought of? If it was an airline pilot, you’re probably like most everyone else in the country. There are many opportunities to earn a living in a variety of careers in aviation outside of the traditional airline track, however! Below are a few options to get you started.
Agricultural Careers in Aviation
Also known as “crop dusters”, ag pilots perform a critical function for the farmers of America’s agricultural industry. According to the National Agricultural Aviation Association, there are approximately 2,700 ag pilots in the United States with an average age exceeding 50 years old (2015). These pilots will soon be retiring, leaving a unique window of opportunity for those interested in pursuing this exciting path.
Requirements to be an ag pilot include holding a commercial pilot certificate with the respective ratings for the aircraft you’ll be flying (airplane or rotorcraft), a second class medical, a pesticide license for each state you operate in, and being able to meet the insurability requirements for the aircraft you will be flying.
While flying is a significant aspect of the job, there’s more to being an ag pilot than just hopping into the plane or helicopter each morning. It requires a thorough understanding of the chemicals you are applying and knowledge of the crops you are working with. You can expect your first two years on the job to consist of learning the ground operations as a chemical loader before gradually transitioning to the flight side.
Additionally, ag aviation is a seasonal industry. How many crops can you think of that grow in the middle of December? During the summer, ag pilots are up before sunrise and work until the temperature gets too hot for their chemicals to be applied or until the sun goes down, whichever occurs first. In the offseason, ag pilots may work other jobs or complete continuing education in the ag industry.
Most ag pilots are paid based upon the number of acres they treat, with incomes ranging from $20,000-40,000 for first year pilots and rising to $60,000-100,000 for more experienced pilots.
For more information about an ag aviation career, just read this article about Upper Limit Aviation alum Caleb Mason.
Corporate Careers in Aviation
Corporate aviation is another opportunity for an aspiring commercial pilot. According to the NBAA, there are approximately 15,000 business aircraft registered in the United States (2015). These vary from small, single-engine piston aircraft to large, multi-engine transport category aircraft to helicopters. All of these aircraft require someone to fly them! While the first thing that may come to mind when you think of corporate aviation is a Fortune 500 flight department, according to the NBAA only 3% of the U.S. business aircraft fleet is registered to a Fortune 500 company. The rest are operated by smaller companies such as your local supermarket chain or a local law firm.
One exciting aspect of corporate aviation is the variety of airports you will operate into compared to your airline colleagues. According to the NBAA, corporate aviation reaches 10 times the number of airports that U.S. airlines operate into. Rather than fly the New York to Boston milk run for the fourth time in two days, as a corporate pilot, you may fly into Grand Island, Nebraska one day and Jackson Hole, Wyoming the next.
The minimum requirements for obtaining a job as a corporate pilot are a commercial pilot certificate and a second class medical. If the company aircraft requires a type rating, you will, of course, need that as well. Many companies, however, will have established internal hiring minimums, whether as a matter of safety or to meet applicable insurance requirements for the aircraft. Generally, the larger the company and more advanced the aircraft, the higher you can expect the requirements to be.
The pay for a corporate pilot also varies widely from $37,000 as a first officer on a small business jet to upwards of $190,000 as a captain on a Gulfstream 650, according to a 2014 survey conducted by Professional Pilot magazine (Salary study, 2014). In return for these generous salaries, however, you can often expect to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, rather than have the predictable schedule of an airline pilot.
Charter Careers in Aviation
Photo by Fly Jersey
Also referred to as “air taxi” or “on-demand” flying, charter aviation is very similar to corporate aviation. The main distinction is that on-demand flying operates under Part 135 of the Code of Federal Regulations while most corporate flying operates under Part 91.
While Part 91 does not have any explicit regulatory minimums, Part 135 flying does. In order to act as pilot-in-command under IFR during a Part 135 operation, you must hold a commercial pilot certificate and second class medical, have at least 1,200 hours total time, 500 hours cross country, 100 hours night flying experience, and 75 hours of instrument time. In some cases, you must hold an airline transport pilot certificate rather than just a commercial certificate. The requirements to act as pilot-in-command on a VFR flight are slightly less. In this case, you only need 500 hours total time, 100 hours cross country, and 25 hours of night flight (14 CFR Part 135, 2015).
Examples of this type of flying include Grand Canyon sightseeing flights, medical transport companies, or on-demand cargo companies flying small piston or turbo-prop airplanes between small outstations. Some charter companies do operate larger, turbine powered aircraft however.
According to the 2014 Pro Pilot study mentioned earlier, pay as a charter pilot on the low end is comparable to that of an entry-level corporate pilot, with high end salaries for a charter Gulfstream captain topping out around $149,000 per year. Pay will, of course, vary by company, aircraft type, and region.
Law Enforcement Careers in Aviation
Law enforcement aviation is another opportunity for those who are interested in being a professional pilot, but also want to serve their communities. As a law enforcement pilot, you may fly either fixed wing airplanes or helicopters. On any given day, your mission may be to provide airborne assistance to ground units in traffic enforcement, manhunt or search and rescue operations. Additionally, some state law enforcement agencies also provide executive air transport for senior state government officials (OHP, 2015).
In order to become a law enforcement pilot, many agencies require you to first spend some time as a ground based law enforcement officer to get an idea of what those officers are going through while you are in the air. Additionally, during times of budget reductions, you may be sent back to being a ground based officer if the need for aviation law enforcement manpower cannot be funded. If this does not appeal to you, you might give a second thought to this career path.
Salaries and benefits for law enforcement pilots are often comparable to that for ground based law enforcement and varies widely by region, though the benefits and job security are often good, as with most government positions. Minimum requirements, as a rule of thumb, are a commercial pilot certificate and second class medical.
While being an airline pilot can be one of the great careers in aviation, don’t be a victim of tunnel-vision. There is an abundance of other opportunities available to those seeking a career as a professional pilot outside of the traditional airline track. All you have to do is find them!