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Military Vs. Civilian Route

Posted by on June 28, 2010 5 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags : , ,

Cameron writes asking:

I am interested in becoming a pilot but with todays job market I feel like it might be trouble. My first concern is, do military pilots excel further, faster than civilian trained pilots? Like most careers I’m told that starting out I won’t make a dime. How long would it be before I would be able to make a living being a pilot?

Hi Cameron!

Great question and I’m glad  that you are considering becoming a pilot.  What I always tell people is do what you love and the money will follow. I consider myself very fortunate that as a pilot, I love going to work each day.   Flying is what I was meant to do.

That being said, becoming a career pilot definitely has its challenges, especially in the early stages. Monetarily, the civilian route is much harder. Not only do you have to pay for your certificates and ratings but you also have to pay in the form of low paying jobs while you gain experience.  You asked the question, “do military or civilian pilots excel faster?”  Do you mean excel in pay? You won’t get rich flying in the military but you won’t go broke either.  However, civilian pilots are able to determine their own pay by finding jobs that pay well.  If you goal is major airline flying, you can get there with either a civilian or military pilot background.   You also asked, how long would it be before I would be able to make a living as a pilot?  In the military? Pretty much instantly.  Civilian? All depends on the opportunities you are able to uncover in your network (and make no doubt about it, civilian flying is all about networking!)

How about this for an answer? If my son (who is currently 3) asked me for advice about the best way to become a career pilot, I would recommend that he strongly consider the military. If he could pass the strict medical requirements, he would have several advantages of choosing this route. One, he would have the honor of serving his country. Two, he would get the absolute best training and experience in some of the world’s most advanced aircraft.  And three, as a member of the military, he would be more likely to get better overall compensation than his civilian counterparts, especially early on.

If you decide to go the civilian route, then a couple more recommendations.  Definitely get a 4 year college degree in something other than flying and second, go to a local flight school at a nearby airport for your training.  You will find it much more affordable.

Again, just my two cents. There are many other personal factors you have to consider when choosing between civilian and military route.

Good luck and be sure to let me know what you end up doing.



  1. jared on Jul 07, 2010

    Hi Paul-

    To what extent does one get to “choose” military flight training?

    As a teenager taking flight lessons (15 year ago, or se), I considered joining the military seriously enough to raise the question with a recruiter. The deal always sounded to me like the “joining up” decision always preceded, by a wide margin, any serious consideration for flight school.

    The civilian route is expensive, but lacks the non-trivial risk of “military without flight school.”


  2. jim c on Jul 08, 2010

    Another consideration is that there is never a guarantee that you will be assigned to pilot training once you are in the military. No matter what the recruiter says, the “needs of the service” always come first. You may find yourself in a job that is the last thing in the world that you considered doing, and you will have to do it for 3 – 5 years. I was very lucky and got a Navy pilot training slot through ROTC, as there were several 100 slots awarded. The year prior, there were about 25, the following year, – about 10 I think. The flip side of argument is that there will be a flying club on almost any base that you are assigned to, and cheap rates.

  3. Matt on Jul 11, 2010

    I think it’s important to state that the military route has its fair share of challenges, not the least of which is the possibility that you won’t end up a pilot when you join the Air Force or Navy. The military has the ability to be highly selective over who gets to fly their billion-dollar aircraft, and you can bet there are many qualified applicants, each of whom would make excellent choices. Before jumping right in to the military path, be sure to do as much research as possible over what hiring conditions are like, and what sort of contract you’ll be expected to sign. Not to mention, you have to get over the moral issues of killing human beings. The Air Force isn’t just an awesome flight school with big toys and fun all day long, it’s a highly stressful work environment where the chances are you’ll end up not only NOT in the cockpit of a plane, but half-way around the world tasked with directly or indirectly taking lives.

    That said, there’s a lot to be had in the military, especially if “pilot” is your chosen career path, just remember that either route has a large burden. In the military it’s a multi-year contract and the chance you won’t get flight training; as a civilian, it’s paying a lot of money up front, working long hours in shit jobs and the chance you won’t get an airline job.

  4. Willie on Feb 03, 2012

    Pardon me, I omitted the word “am” in the next to the last sentence.

  5. David A Hatcher on Mar 25, 2013

    24 hours after I graduated high school I was at basic training. 14 months later I was in Vietnam flying UH1M gunships, I was 20 years old.
    My brother joined the Army went to ATC school, became an aviator, got out and is flying Hawker 125s
    My son joined the Army was an Air Traffic Controller, became an aviator, qualified in the CH47 Chinook, UH1 and C12 (King Air 200)
    All three of us have our college degrees, ratings, experience, and were employed all our adult lives.
    I’ve done amazing things, in amazing places, under amazing conditions. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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