What can you do in your early high school and college years in order to build up your mental and physical skills to later become successful as an Airline First Officer Pilot?
To successfully go through the intensive flight training course and succeed in piloting an airline jet with passengers requires certain aptitude and skills. Many airlines in fact use a number of selection and testing methods to select candidates that demonstrate such aptitude prior to being hired as First Officers.
To begin with, it is a great asset if you are good and competent at maths and physics as these subjects help you throughout to grasp and understand your flight training theory. Mental arithmetic skills are also often used by the airlines as a selection tool. You don't need to go too deep into mathematics. Often people get nervous about this as maths is not an easy subject, however if you equip yourself with the foundations, (e.g. basic calculations, calculating areas and volumes, ratios and percentages, simple fractions, statistics, etc), you will put yourself at a good level to pass your training and selection schemes. The Physics should also be a decent level for you to understand the concept of theory involved. Aircraft are complex machines built with systems such as engines, hydraulics, electrics, etc, so having a good foundation on such subjects will go a long way for you, especially in the ease of understanding and passing your theoretical exams later.
Pilots should generally have good health in order to pass their medical exam prior to starting flight training. This is not a skill but I add it here as it indeed is a very important factor. Failing your medical could mean not being able to pursue your flying career at all. Many people get scared or nervous about the various medical requirements however if you're generally healthy and fit, you should really have no problems with this. If there is something in particular you're worried about in regards to the medical, then you should go to your local aviation medical examiner to have this resolved prior to spending a lot of money on flight training. Having said this is not a skill, there are of course things we can do in life to maintain good health and be fit for such a career. You should play sports and exercise regularly, have a good healthy diet and be mentally fit. Minor issues during the medical will not necessary make you fail the exam but the doctor may ask you to watch and control your health on those issues, e.g. body weight.
The aptitude part involves testing your skills in regards to flying and capacity including multi-tasking, problem solving, flying accuracy, communications, situational awareness, work-load management, etc. Often you will demonstrate these skills during your airline selection through a custom designed software. Airlines use such softwares to then test pilot aptitude on various levels in order to then select their candidates. There are plenty of softwares similar to such airline ones available now days that you should search for and consider practising with. Each one has a different level and you should try several to really test the limits of your aptitude. One that I had created as a basic aptitude game, available on the Apple store is called PAT. If you're interested to learn more about it, then here is the link:
You can also improve your aptitude by practising flying with Microsoft flight simulator. This is great as you can give your self various tasks to do on the side or a friend can ask you mental arithmetic questions whilst you fly a windy approach. Be creative as you can really use this well, especially if you have a partner to do it with. See how many questions you can answer in a 10 mile final approach. The more you practise the better you will become. Another game I used to play with a partner was where one acts like an air traffic controller who gives you several orders at a time to accomplish, e.g. Turn left heading 240, descent at 1000 ft/min to altitude 3000 feet and maintain 150 knots speed. To make this more challenging, why not read it back like real pilots communicating with ATC. The great thing is you can start easy and make it as challenging until you really see the limits of your aptitude. Don't worry if you reach a point where you think you can't handle beyond that because that's how the real world is also. We also sometimes forget to read back correctly something ATC tells us in the real world! We are human at the end of the day and airlines know this. The people behind the selection panel are aware how challenging this is and if you miss something or make mistakes, no need to get stressed about it. Just continue to pick up from every point and keep doing the best you can. Remember, everyone else will be in the same boat! The important thing is to not let stress from mistakes degrade your performance further.
You can train for the various other selection tests using many online sources. English tests and numerical reasoning are available at several websites for free. Read news papers and journals to improve your English as this is the international aviation language and airlines will need you to have a good level. They may even do the interview in English (if it is not the national language) to test how your level is. Build on such skills from a young age and during your education years. You will need them and the earlier you start, the better and more skilful you will become as you approach the start of your flight training journey.
Airlines want to hire great team players and problem solvers. You may be doing a group activity or exercise during your selection to demonstrate team skills. Don't be shy to join such group activities throughout your school and college years. Sports is always a great thing as you can work on both your team skills and fitness which as mentioned earlier, you need as a future airline pilot. Join clubs and groups of your interest and develop on such skills from your early days. This also looks great for your future CV and you will have plenty of good examples to talk about during your pilot interview. Everything you do earlier on will add value, experience and knowledge for you to use in one way or another in your journey to becoming a pilot.
Im sure there are some things I may have missed in this blog but truth is we can use almost anything in our everyday life positively to develop, learn and build our skills, not just to become an airline pilot but for everything else, including the challenges ahead. The important thing is to have a strong mindset and Will to turn these daily experiences into something positive. If you find you are weak at certain things, then find activities or hobbies that can help you develop and improve on them. We all have weaknesses and strengths and everyone is different from each other. It is down to you to explore and work on this. Time really flies and so don't let the mind fool you into laziness. We often leave things to do in the near future but sometimes this never happens or we simply give up. If you set your mind into something, or plan on learning a new skill or starting a hobby, then research your sources and go for it. Remember, education and skills are invaluable for life and there can never be regret in this, expect only if you never do it!
I wish each one of you the best ahead in life and your careers.