# How important is it to have talent to become airline pilot?

The situation that led me to ask the question is as follows:

I am a student pilot with only about 10 hours of flight time. I passed the aptitude and personality tests prepared by German Aerospace Center (German: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt).

My instructor keeps on telling me since the very first couple of flights that I lack some talent and it's not really possible for me to become an airline pilot. (He has never flown as airliner, only military aircraft but he is obviously a good pilot with long teaching experience.)

So, what is the possibility that he is right? How much and what type of talent is required?

Please note that I haven't caused any major safety problems, and other students claim that they made pretty much the same mistakes I do.

Edit : Since some people misunderstood the situation, I'll clear some issues:
1-) I'm on some scholarship program of an airlines company. Money isn't an issue.
2-) I'm generally considered to be pretty smart.
3-) There's no reason that I could be discriminated by the instructor.

• You might consider switching flight instructors, this particular flight instructor just might not like you for some particular reason. Personal biases can play havoc with their ability to be impartial when assessing skills. Granted, if you go through 3 or 4 instructors and they all say the same thing... But just one instructor does not make a valid sample size. – Jay Carr Jul 7 '15 at 17:00
• From what you've said here, the only conclusion I can draw is that the instructor lacks talent. To say you lack talent, and then not follow that up with a precise, actionable, positive criticism of exactly what that means, where the gap is and how to close that gap would be enough for me to sack my instructor. You're paying the bills! – Simon Jul 7 '15 at 18:20
• You don't disclose much personal information (besides that you are in Germany), however, could it be that for some reason the instruction believes people like you shouldn't become pilots? Are you someone who he could be biased against? Like being female, foreigner, another race? In any case, find objective criteria to determine how good you are. – Quora Feans Jul 7 '15 at 18:25
• Your instructor is an asshole. Find a new one. – egid Jul 7 '15 at 21:51
• @anshabhi With all due respect, I cannot agree that the giving of respect publicly (which this forum is) is a reflection of talent. Here's why: When I was young, and I'm assuming taco is since he is a student pilot, I was reflecting my upbringing by respecting those with greater experience than I. – Terry Jul 8 '15 at 4:16

Do I really want to become a pilot?

If the answer is yes, then you can become a pilot. You only require hard work, and a lot of money (but we are not talking about this).

Having talent is subjective. Sometimes you try to learn something new and you get into that relatively quickly. Sometimes you don't. It doesn't just depend on talent, but on several factors.

If you feel that you are not making any different mistakes than other student pilots, then change your instructor.

There are several discussions about changing flight instructors. You can benefit from these ones:

• Thank you for the answer. I don't have reputation to upvote but I'd do if I can. – taco burrito Jul 7 '15 at 16:42
• @tacoburrito You'll have it soon. – Farhan Jul 7 '15 at 16:44
• Rather than asking yourself "Do I really want to become a pilot?", ask yourself "Do I really want to fly?" It's a subtle but important difference; don't let yourself be dazzled by the lifestyle aspects of being a pilot, focus on the core activity. – Ghillie Dhu Jul 7 '15 at 18:04
• @GhillieDhu In the case of an airline pilot, I think the lifestyle aspects are very important to consider, also (and these may vary depending on your location.) Salary (or lack thereof for at least several years,) being away frequently, and other such factors are also important to consider before committing years of training (and likely lots of money) to the career. – reirab Jul 7 '15 at 19:37
• I attended USAF pilot training, attracted by the idea of "being a pilot"; it took over a year for it to sink in that I didn't actually enjoy the act of flying. YMMV. – Ghillie Dhu Jul 7 '15 at 21:41

A bit of talent surely helps, but most important is the ability to learn and show progress.

A friend of mine had to do six simulator tests before he was admitted to the flight academy of his choice. Each one was a little bit more complicated than the previous one. After five tests he had perfectly demonstrated to lack any talent and they were about to fail him. They told him that he could do the final test if he insisted but that it would probably make little difference.

He flew the final session flawlessly which demonstrated that he was a very good performer under high pressure. So they let him pass. Unfortunately a few months later he didn't pass a medical test due to unforeseen conditions.

So talent isn't really needed, however it surely helps. As Farhan says, with hard work and lot's of money and good health you can become an airline pilot.

The question is whether you really want to spend that money and effort on a job that provides little security in today's market?

This is a bit off topic but you should do yourself a favour and look into the disputes between Lufthansa and their pilots, how Ryanair hires its crew, into the way Middle East airlines employ their pilots, what pay-to-fly schemes are, etc. Becoming an airline pilot today does not mean you will get the same working conditions as those who became airline pilots 40 years ago.

• I like that you presented the ugly truth along with the beautiful dream. – Farhan Jul 7 '15 at 17:23
• The sad reality is that airline pilots are highly skilled, highly trained, often endure extremely difficult working conditions and have responsibility with "consequence of error" far higher than 99% of all other professions but yet, are often treated little better than bus drivers. All in the name of demand for low cost and bean counters who cannot equate quality with quantity. – Simon Jul 7 '15 at 20:03

Like anything, a combination of talent and effort is usually required to become proficient and/or master a complex skill. The less talent you have, the more work you need to get to the same level as someone with more innate talent.

Your instructor is probably adopting the mindset that the commercial airlines get to pick the best of the best, so they will choose new recruits that show a very high aptitude for flight in general and commercial flight training specifically. The same applies to military flight schools like the one your instructor would have gone through; there's usually a hundred applications for every opening, so the recruiters are told to weed out anyone who's not absolutely perfect for the job.

However, let's draw a parallel. If you were to judge a student driver's lifetime aptitude for driving a motor vehicle from the first 10 hours of time you spent in the passenger's seat with them, and that judgment carried any weight for a career doing it, there would be no professional drivers in the United States. Forget it. Insurance companies in the U.S. don't even back off the "teen driver" insurance rate until you're 25; if you got your license at 16 that's 9 years of being considered "high risk" just because of your experience level.

Back to aircraft, you can't even get your commercial pilot's license in the U.S. until you've logged at least 250 hours yoke time (as a PPL holder with at least 50 hours logged already and flying two hours a week for fun, it will take you up to four years to log that much time), and you can't even show your face on a commercial airliner as First Officer until you've logged 1,500 total flight hours, then you have to log another thousand hours minimum as First Officer to fly an airliner as Captain. And those are the absolute minimums, assuming you don't log any flight time that doesn't also directly contribute to another requirement of your commercial license such as cross-country, instrument approaches etc; a PPL can log a thousand hours and not meet the other requirements for a CPL, and most pilots double the minimum logged hours while meeting these other requirements. So, talent or not, if you haven't killed yourself or gotten your license pulled after almost three thousand hours at the controls of an airplane, you know what you're doing and you've likely seen it all.

Back to you and your instructor, I concur that it's probably not a good fit; your instructor is inspecting too much too soon (ten hours is really not even enough to accrue the necessary training for a solo endorsement), and I'd look around for another instructor with a little more patience for you to have some "aha" moments about flying.

• Regarding the driver's license comparison, I would note that part of that is specifically the 'teen' part, rather than the 'experience' part. If you start driving at 25, you don't get the teen rates. While the experience part is a factor, just the fact that the people involved are teenagers (and, as such, statistically much more likely to do stupid stuff) also plays a large role in the risk factor. – reirab Jul 7 '15 at 19:49
• True, but you can also get a student's pilot license at 16 and the minimum age for a commercial is just 18, so the potential for teenagers at the yoke is there if they or their parents have the money for the plane, fuel and instructor. The point remains that whether you're 16 or 36, if you have a total of ten hours' actual driving experience you won't be impressing an instructor or examiner. – KeithS Jul 10 '15 at 17:26

I assume your flying instructor does not work for the airline, and is not responsible for their hiring processes.

If that is true, then I wouldn't worry about it. You're not applying to be a military guy like him and you won't need his particular set of skills - we hope. :)

Finally - much more experienced pilots have said you shouldn't have to rely on your superior flying skills. What you really need is superior judgement, to avoid needing such skills... I guess they know what they're talking about.

• To put this slightly differently - military pilots of certain aircraft definitely need to have a different type of skill than airline pilots, and I know several people who are experienced civilians who haven't made the cut in the military. Maybe he doesn't see that particular skillset in you, @tacoburito, but that doesn't mean you can't be a successful (And safe) airline or private pilot. I'd think about switching flight instructors – SSumner Jul 7 '15 at 21:25

Everybody has his own learning path. A good instructor adapts to the way each student "works". Even if not, you'll just need more time before you learn how to learn with him. I believe, anyone can be taught to become a pilot, eventually.

However, not everyone will make a good pilot. Please keep in mind, that after you've made your license you'll have to compete for the seat in the cockpit. If you are competing against more talented people you are in a weak position.

It can be a hard decision, but you must take it if you don't want your dreams crash disastrously after a few years of hard work (and quite a bunch of money, too). The best way, I believe, is first get your PPL, then ask few friends/instructors to honestly rate your flying skills. Continue towards the ATPL only if they rate you higher than 60%. Otherwise, my honest advice is that you stop there and keep your PPL. After all, it's an amazing hobby!

I wish you to make through your training soon. Success!

Talent is important, so is luck, and so is having decent instruction but in my opinion, most important is having the right attitude. That means when things are not going as you expect, taking positive action to change them.

Your instructor says you don't have talent. Fair enough, maybe they are right, maybe not. Coming here to ask if it is important isn't really addressing the issue though since you still don't know what it is your instructor is talking about and that means you still do not know what action you need to take to change your instructors opinion. You respect your instructor, which is a good thing, but do not grant them authority they do not have or make assumptions without evidence

he is obviously a good pilot...

then why is he teaching beginners and why don't they know what he is talking about?

• then why is he teaching beginers -- I know quite a few excellent pilots who are lousy instructors (often because they'd rather be doing something other than instructing). One skill does not automatically confer the other… . – voretaq7 Jul 8 '15 at 22:05
• then why is he teaching beginers isn't really relevant in this case. I know excellent pilots who teach students of all levels (including beginners) simply because they want to transfer their knowledge to the next generation. Teaching beginners is in no way the sign of a lack of skill. – usernumber Jul 9 '15 at 9:19
• But how many of those excellent pilots have students that don't know what the pilot is talking about? My point was not to degrade pilots that teach beginers, it was to degrade teachers that only teach beginers and still struiggle to be understood. – Paul Smith Jul 9 '15 at 10:28

Maybe you should change your instructor! If the second instructor agrees with the first one then you need to work really hard on the areas they are highlighting.

I am not a professional airline pilot but I am an enthusiast and have flown big jet full motion simulators both airliners and fighters. The hardest aircraft you will fly are small light aircraft in general and particularly IFR, when you are getting tossed around in a bumpy cloud, on your own, with nobody to help you but yourself and its taking you half of your concentration just to keep the wings level. The larger ones are easier.

I would say that your attitude and your approach to your work and your decision making, your ability to think and stay calm, etc etc. is more important than this thing you call "talent". Some people appear to be born with "talent" which just means they pick things up quicker, but this is nothing that hard work cannot replace. You have just got to want it enough and put enough effort in. Good luck!

Please tell your instructor from myself, another flight instructor, that he is, to put it delicately, completely full of sh*t.

Here's the thing about flying an aircraft. It encompasses a wide range of skills and abilities which will highlight your strengths and weaknesses as a human being. A student pilot may be quite skilled with flying, say, steep turns, but then struggle with ground reference maneuvers or instrument flight. What you have to do is simply persevere; if you are weak on a certain skill, you need to practice it more until you are good at it.

And some people are naturally gifted at certain things and lousy at other ones. Itzhak Perlman is gifted at playing a violin, Tom Brady is a gifted football quarterback, and Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager were (are!) gifted pilots. Just because you can't play a violin or chuck a pigskin or fly an airplane like those guys doesn't mean you can do any of those activities for pleasure or for profit. You might even be quite good at them, too. But some are more naturally talented than others.

Second as my scathing remark at the beginning of this post might suggest I have a major problem with a lot of people out there doing flight instruction and the general state of flight instruction today. Most are just building hours until they can get a better paying pilot job or are terrible teachers with little interest in their students. This hurts aviation tremendously.

Keep in mind as well that the fact that someone was once a military pilot does not mean a high degree of skill or proficiency. There are plenty of mediocre or unskilled military pilots out there. Even some fighter pilots are lousy aviators. Its true.

There is also a tendency among some - often ex-military aviators - to take a 'holier than thou' attitude towards civilian pilots and instruct in a manner similar to the mean neighborhood kid who wanted you to feel intimidated when trying out his new 10 speed bicycle. My general opinion of such people is with poor regard; he's abusing students to stroke his own ego. If I have a CFI working for me and find out he's doing that kind of crap with a student, he'll be fired faster than you can say 'pink slip'. Scroll back ten or so years to their training in the military, they were the same people in a T-6 or T-38 crying like a little punk while some hard nosed IP berated them for every mistake they made. They never learn that this sort of crap is a mark of a poor educator, let alone a human being.

All that aside, I'd have to see what it is that you are struggling with to learn. There are only three cases where I would terminate training a student; struggling to learn some skills isn't one of them. If you have the time and commitment to learning to fly, you can do it. It's that simple.

And like any other pilot certificate or rating you get, these are just journeyman's licenses to practice airmanship. Flying takes a lifetime to master; there are people with tens of thousands of hours of flight time who go up and learn something new on each flight.

Don't quit, don't suck, don't be an a**hole. And fly good.

That is a polite way of saying you are not smart enough. You are not alone. For the majority of people who try to fly the same exact thing happens as happened to you. The instructor can tell in the first 5 minutes if a student can "make it", meaning they have the intelligence and coordination to learn to fly a plane. If they are sub-par, then the first flight just becomes a "ride" and when the aircraft gets on the ground the instructor gently breaks the news to the student somehow. In your case he tells you, you "lack talent". Each instructor has his own way of doing it.

Flying an aircraft is HARD. Things happen simultaneously in 3 dimensions with 6 degrees of freedom. You have to be a certain intelligence level to do it, which is about 130-135 IQ. If a person is below this level, it is very dangerous for them to fly and they have a high probability of making an error that will kill them and possibly other people. There is no shame in not being a genius. Every person needs to know and respect their limitations.

You are you lucky you had a good instructor. There are unscrupulous instructors out there who will string a non-candidate along, taking their money even though they know the student can never be soloed. This is greedy and dangerous, because they keep taking dangerous students up in the air. It sounds like your instructor has been taking you up multiple times, however, and he really shouldn't be doing this.

Flying is fun and a great dimension to life, but for most people, unfortunately, they need to do it from the passenger's seat. There are a lot of ways to enjoy flying without being a pilot. I encourage you to explore those other options.

Comment on some of the other answers: Some of the other answerers, who are obviously not CFIs, have said things to the effect that "anybody can fly if they want to hard enough." This is both a factually wrong idea and expresses a dangerous and delusional attitude. An aircraft is not like a car that just runs into a ditch when you screw up. An aircraft WILL kill anybody who is not fully competent and tries to fly, and I know of several such people who have killed themselves in that way. CFIs do not tell unqualified students not to fly because they are jerks. They tell them that to save their money and maybe their life. Listen to them.

• Do you have any sources to cite for your claim that pilots with lower intelligence are in much higher danger? – fooot Jul 8 '15 at 16:30
• My flight instructor's certificate says : AIRPLANE SINGLE AND MULTIENGINE and INSTRUMENT AIRPLANE, and I spent 2000 hours exercising that privilege. During my career I was for a time the chief flight instructor at the flight school that, compliments of the GI bill, trained more pilots than any other school in my state. With all due respect, I have to say that what I observed, both about students and instructors, does not match up with your answer. In particular, I often saw new instructors make the mistake of believing they could evaluate students in the first 5 minutes. – Terry Jul 8 '15 at 19:32
• Driving a standard transmission is HARD. You need to judge the engine's power band by feel and ear. When starting from a stop or on a hill you need to finesse the clutch in order to get the vehicle moving without an uncomfortable lurch. On hills you need to worry about stalling the engine or rolling back into cars. Once moving you must manage the engine's power band while steering and navigating. Some people will never develop the skills necessary to do this, but those who do will almost universally take more than "the first couple of drives" to learn to do it well enough to pass a road test. – voretaq7 Jul 8 '15 at 19:45
• @TylerDurden It's true that not everyone can be taught to fly, just like not everyone can learn to drive a standard transmission, but it's also true that a good chunk of students don't "click" with their first instructor for one reason or another, and that changing instructors can often overcome a learning obstacle. If a student wants to learn but is just "not getting it" I think they owe it to themselves to try a different CFI before just giving up, and I think a good CFI would encourage them to do so, or at least offer more actionable feedback than "you lack talent" (like "Do X, not Y.") – voretaq7 Jul 8 '15 at 22:18
• @TylerDurden - I think you said it best: "I am not a CFI." And until you have been either that, or at the very least some sort of teacher, you don't really have the scope to make the claims that you have, especially about someone's intelligence. If you've talked to a bunch of CFIs who claim pilot skill is quickly obvious, then they really don't know what they're talking about. True pilot skill can take a while to assess properly. – Shawn Jul 9 '15 at 20:04