What does it take to be a pilot?

As I said in the introduction to this section, flying isn’t for everyone. To become a pilot you a good aptitude for flying, as well as the money to see the training through, and a fairly clean bill of health. Lets start with the skills.

What Skills are Required?

Many flying schools will ask you to take a “Pilot Aptitude Test” before you can commence any sort of training. These tests are there to assess specific skill sets that are needed to be a safe pilot. These tests are designed to be challenging. They are set puzzles that you will need to solve in short amounts of time, purposely designed to put you under a lot of pressure. They are there to make sure you are suitable for training by giving a good indication of how you will react under pressure. 

The tests will cover the following:

  • Cognitive Skills. This is how you are able to look at a problem and take in all of the information to find the answer
  • Numerical Reasoning. This tests your ability to interpret data to find an answer. These are usually presented as table or charts, graphs, or word problems.
  • Verbal Reasoning. You will be given a long passage of information, and asked questions about it. All of the answers are in the text, but you are required to find the correct parts quickly, whilst also blocking out the unimportant parts.
  • Spatial Awareness. For this test you will normally be shown a series of patterns and asked to spot the odd one out, or calculate the next pattern. 
  • Psychomotor Skills. You will be asked to use a joystick and pedals to track movement. You may also be asked to do a second task at the same time to assess your ability to multi task.
  • Personality Tests. Finally you will normally be given some statements and asked how you would react to each one. The best advice I can give is to answer honestly and truthfully.

The good news is you can practice for these tests. If you look around online, you will find plenty of websites that allow you to take mock tests. Most airlines and flying schools use tests provided by Cut-e, PILPAT, Compass and TalentQ.

What type of medical do I need?

As well as the aptitude test, you will also need a medical. There are 2 types. Class 1 and Class 2. Both are carried out by specific Aeromedical Examiners (AME). You can find your closest one here. A Class 1 medical has much stricter tolerances and will need to be renewed every year. The class 2 however will last for 5 years as long as you are under 40.

To get your PPL, you only need a Class 2. However, if at any point you want to fly commercially, you’ll need a Class 1. Therefore, I’d recommend getting your Class 1 before you begin training. Unfortunately it is all too common that people will get a Class 2 to begin with to save money, but when they go to get their Class 1 later on, there is some medical reason that they’re unable to get it. By this point you may have paid out £1000’s in training.

To get your initial Class 1, you will have to visit an Aeromedical Centre. For renewals you can visit any AME. At the time of writing, there are only 3 Aeromedical Centres available to get your initial Class 1: Birmingham, London and Heathrow. The test will take about half a day, and to book you will have to access the CAA’s customer portal which can be accessed here.


What's checked at a medical?

  • Medical History. You’ll be asked a series of questions about your medical history and any previous illnesses. If you’ve had any major illnesses in the past, it would be a good idea to bring some notes from your GP with you.
  • Colour Vision. You will need to pass an Ishihara test.
  • Eyesight. If you wear glasses, make sure you take them with you, as long as your last optician’s report. 
  • Physical Examination. This is just a general check that everything works. It covers your lungs, heart, blood pressure, stomach, limbs and nervous system
  • Hearing. You will take an audiometry test to check your hearing. You must not have more than a 35dB loss at frequencies of 500Hz, 1000Hz, and 2000Hz. And no more than 50dB at 3000Hz. 
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test measures the electrical impulses passing through your heart. Any issues here will require further tests with a cardiologist.
  • Lung Test. This is to test your ability to expel air from your lungs quickly. Any issues such as Asthma, will need further testing with a respiratory specialist
  • Haemoglobin Blood Test. This is a quick finger prick test, which measures how efficiently your blood can carry oxygen
  • Liquids and Cholesterol. This is another finger prick test to determine your risk of heart disease.
  • Urine Sample. You’ll be asked to provide a urine sample. This is to check for diabetes, protein or blood in your urine. Remember to drink plenty of water before attending your examination!

How much does it cost?

Finally, we get onto the big one. Money. Depending on the training route you take, training costs can be anywhere from £60,000 to £140,000+. Not many of us have that sort of money just lying around, so more than likely you will need to get a loan to pay for your training. If you’re taking the integrated route, you may be able to get a loan from a specialist such as Pegasus Finance, which offer loans specifically for flight training. There are some eligibility requirements, so make sure you take a read through these.

Another option is “the bank of mum and dad”. Pilot training costs are comparable to going to university. The starting salary for pilots is also normally a lot higher than the average university graduate. One option would be if your parents can take out equity in their home, or loan you their savings.

Finally, if you take the modular route. You can pay in smaller chunks. You may choose to do your PPL, and then wait to continue for a year or two, allowing you to rebuild your savings. By going modular, you can also work alongside your training to help fund it. 


what does it take to be a pilot

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