How Do I Become a Copilot?

Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland
An airplane in flight.
An airplane in flight.

Many hours of training and hard work are necessary to become a copilot. The copilot must understand all of the control panels, handle communications and frequently relieve the pilot of flight duties. There is a ladder of experience that starts with education and continues with logging a great deal of flight time.

A copilot is also called a first officer, and he or she sits next to the captain during a flight. This is a popular way to learn the captain's responsibilities and prepare for the head pilot's job. You must have not only an understanding of planes and controls but also a strong mind for physics, mathematics and weather.

Before being hired as a copilot for a major long-haul carrier, many aviators have first worked as a captain for regional airlines that might fly turboprop powered aircraft.
Before being hired as a copilot for a major long-haul carrier, many aviators have first worked as a captain for regional airlines that might fly turboprop powered aircraft.

In many countries, the most common way to gain this understanding is by attending flight school or joining a military flight program. Every country has different requirements and laws to work on an airplane. For example, the United States' Federal Aviation Administration requires a specific number of hours and licenses in order to become a copilot. No matter where the education comes from, a successful copilot must know how to fly a plane to relieve the captain, know what controls are the copilot's responsibility and how to travel efficiently from destination to destination.

Copilots on large commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747 have usually mustered thousands of flying hours with smaller jets first.
Copilots on large commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747 have usually mustered thousands of flying hours with smaller jets first.

To become a copilot, you also must decide what type of airline to work for in addition to acquiring technical training. Commercial airlines, shipping companies, private jets and other industries all need copilots, and each one offers a different set of challenges. It is important to research each opportunity and learn what is the best fit for you.

Copilots often take care of duties like communicating with ground control when their captain is busy with navigational matters.
Copilots often take care of duties like communicating with ground control when their captain is busy with navigational matters.

Most copilots do not leap directly into the cockpit of a Boeing 747. Instead, you must work your way up the ranks. Regional air carriers and small companies offer a foot in the door in order to become a copilot. Once a resume is built up with flight hours, you can move up the ladder to larger planes and more complex flight plans. This method of promotion provides a copilot with experience operating different planes and flying in various conditions.

A copilot must learn to understand an airline's control panels.
A copilot must learn to understand an airline's control panels.

By working hard and learning every element of flight, you can become a copilot. By educating yourself about the control panels and tendencies of airplanes, you will be preparing yourself for success as a copilot. It takes many years of work and learning to earn a living as a first officer, but the result is like few other jobs.

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    • An airplane in flight.
      An airplane in flight.
    • Before being hired as a copilot for a major long-haul carrier, many aviators have first worked as a captain for regional airlines that might fly turboprop powered aircraft.
      By: vlabo
      Before being hired as a copilot for a major long-haul carrier, many aviators have first worked as a captain for regional airlines that might fly turboprop powered aircraft.
    • Copilots on large commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747 have usually mustered thousands of flying hours with smaller jets first.
      By: hallucion_7
      Copilots on large commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747 have usually mustered thousands of flying hours with smaller jets first.
    • Copilots often take care of duties like communicating with ground control when their captain is busy with navigational matters.
      By: pixel974
      Copilots often take care of duties like communicating with ground control when their captain is busy with navigational matters.
    • A copilot must learn to understand an airline's control panels.
      By: ID1974
      A copilot must learn to understand an airline's control panels.