The Right Stuff: 4 Key Traits of Future Airline Pilots

In Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff, about the early days of America’s space program, the test pilots and astronauts with the proverbial “right stuff” had a certain combination of mental aptitude, physical readiness, and character to lead the way into space. But the important part of the story is how much character matters: technical skills can be learned, but character is innate.

This same lesson applies in deciding whether you have the right stuff to become an airline pilot. We’re here to teach you the skills you need – no prior experience necessary – and our 12,000 graduates working in airplane and helicopter professions are proof enough of that. But deciding whether a professional pilot program is right for you should involve some reflection on whether you possess the traits that all great airline pilots have in common.

Teamwork

When Southwest Airlines Pilots Association ran a survey of airline captains in 2011, they discovered that the most important characteristic in a great captain is an aptitude for CRM, or Crew Resource Management. In layperson’s terms, this refers to the captain’s ability to manage a crew with clear authority and accountability, but also with the humility to listen to the input of others and make decisions based on that input.

Ask yourself: do you have a readiness to take charge in challenging situations, but tempered by a true willingness to listen to others and demonstrate respect for their expertise? If so, you might just be ready for a professional pilot program.

Attentiveness

What the FAA calls “Situational Awareness” refers, in their own words, to “the accurate perception and understanding of all the factors and conditions within the four fundamental risk elements (pilot, aircraft, environment, and type of operation).” Here again, the specific skills are learned through the pilot program, but it starts with having the discipline and presence of mind to pay close attention to your surroundings -- to be able to process multiple inputs all at once.

Ask yourself: do you have the ability to take in and consider all factors quickly when making a decision, and to take note of and respond to changes in your environment? If so, you might just be ready for a professional pilot program.

Communication

As part your training, you’ll learn to be proficient at ATC (Air Traffic Control) communication as one of the most critical skills in navigating complex airspace safely. You’ll become very familiar with the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) as the official guide to the phraseology that is the global language of flight.

But good communication is much more than the ability to memorize phrases and use them in context. Above all else, communication is two-way, and doing it well involves a quality you probably learned in grade school: active listening. That ability to show the other person that you’ve heard and understood what they’ve said is especially critical in ATC communication, as it ensures that there is zero misunderstanding between what the tower is saying and the actions you take in response.

Do you have the ability and willingness to apply active listening to all of your communications, so that all parties understand each other? If so, you might just be ready for a professional pilot program.

Curiosity

As any airline pilot will tell you, training doesn’t end when you put on wings. It’s a lifelong journey, and the logbook you keep throughout your career is the written proof of that journey of constant improvement. While any pilot can go through the motions of learning new aircraft, flight technology, or techniques, the best pilots are intensely curious about all of these things – they keep themselves at the front edge of the learning curve at all times.

Are you reading this blog entry because you possess curiosity about how to become not just an airline pilot, but the best airline pilot you can be? If so, you might just be ready for a professional pilot program.