The main question is whether the background in the (scientific) field of applied physics and engineering can help one to start a career in aviation (to do it for living)?

It seems impossible and not worth trying, because it looks like many airmans start flying from the very beginning of their lives. After 15 years in the air they are (al least looks like) mature pilots that would be chosen to be hired somewhere instead of "that freshly switched street bum".

On the other hand, that sort of fundamental education and some years of work in the field may pose some advantage. Does it, really? If yes, how can it be exploited?

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    $\begingroup$ Your assumption about pilots starting out young is wrong. I know many who started later in life. In fact COVID has shown that the wise move is to develop a backup career before becoming a pilot. $\endgroup$ – Ben Nov 18 '20 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @StaticZero, your question specifically uses the word aviation, so does that include work other than that of a pilot? $\endgroup$ – skipper44 Nov 19 '20 at 4:14

It's one of those things about the flying game that the actual details of previous education and experience outside of aviation count for relatively little, other than what they may indicate about someone's personality, worldview and leadership potential going forward. This is because the knowledge base and skill set are unique to the trade.

I used to know a Capt of a major carrier who was on a selection board, and he told me once that the only real reason airlines expect a university degree is that it provides a higher than average probability that a candidate will be able to handle the firehose flow of information that a pilot has to deal with on an initial type course. What the degree was actually for was not that important as long it was demanding to some extent (not those "XXX studies" degrees).

If someone is hiring a pilot, they want to know about flying experience, personal attitude, character, and very importantly, leadership potential (since in the long run they are expecting the candidate to be in command of a crew at some point). Previous non-aviation experience that establishes strong leadership potential (the leadership ideal fostered by Crew Resource Management theory specifically) probably has a stronger effect on your desirability as a candidate that any particular technical background.

Now, if you get into a flying career and at some future point, where you have ample flying experience, you apply for a job posting for, say, a production test pilot with an OEM, or something similar at an airline, which is likely to have a dual engineering/flying function, then the physics/engineering background might count for quite a lot.

But at the start, it mostly indicates to a potential employer that you have an above average ability to absorb information, so it can't hurt, but don't expect much more than that.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd say (from experience) that a related degree can certainly help to pass theoretical exams. (In some bad cases, it can even hurt when you know more than your examiner). But this mostly applies at very early stages, for initial training. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Nov 19 '20 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah could say that's related to the "absorb vast amounts of information" angle. People with technical/scientific degrees also tend to have training that makes them very methodical in absorbing and processing information. Across the broader culture, the need for a degree to confirm a minimum level of intelligence followed from the ending of the practice of companies using "aptitude" (IQ) tests on employees to select candidates for advancement and training (automakers would select candidates for their internal engineering schools this way), following several civil rights lawsuits in the 70s. $\endgroup$ – John K Nov 19 '20 at 1:26

This question is prolly getting closed as opinion based, but meanwhile I will try to give you a somewhat-of-an-answer (an opinion, if you will):

If you are asking about becoming a pilot, having a prior education will not harm you. The selection processes involved in pilot career path are, however, very complex, and involve many considerations that might not be obvious at first glance.

While successfully performing the duties of a pilot in command of a modern aircraft does require above average intellect (yes, I dare say so), there is such a thing as being too smart for the job (yep, I dare say this too). The skill set of a professional pilot is a mix of high and steady cognitive performance across a very wide range of circumstances, ability to easily adopt new information, to resolve problems under extreme mental load, good motor skills integrating well with preferably above average sensory capabilities.

Your education and career as a physicist (?) does portray you as a person with the ability to absorb and process difficult concepts, but there is so much more that your employer is looking for, so it hardly is a deal breaker, one way or another. I know pilots with former or parallel careers as engineers, doctors, CEOs, architects and so forth. You name it, they got it. As long as you are not the garden variety Einstein, it's unlikely your intellect will be seen as a problem.

Other aviation careers do not differ much in general sense, unless of course the career you are thinking of specifically can make use of your special skills and knowledge.

P.S. I just noticed John K had already posted an excellent answer, pretty similar to this one, but I'm not gonna let my typing go to waste :)


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