Profile of A United Airlines Captain:
Unfortunately, the publics’ perception of the airline pilot is that of a glorified bus driver. The public has a vulgar lack of respect for the demanding responsibilities of the airline pilot. This lack of respect is due to an overall lack of knowledge of aviation on the part of the public. The following text is an example of the skills required of an airline pilot in an average day at the office.
Thunder, lightning, and heavy rain engulfs the Boeing 747-400 as it screams through the air. Every single person on board clenches his or her seats as the plane is jarred mercilessly by the heavy turbulence. Twenty miles from Chicago, the plane descends through 10,000 ft. to 4,000 ft trying to break out of the storm.
As the plane maneuvers through the incredibly rough air, the captain wipes his brow, anticipating the last twenty minuets of the flight. As the plane descends, lightening flashes all around the plane while hail bombards the aircraft emanating a sound similar to twenty construction workers hammering a piece of sheet metal.
“United 4261-Chicago Approach-you are cleared for the ILS 14R into O’Hare- maintain 2,500 until established on the localizer-report 15 miles out.”
“Chicago Approach-United 4261-roger leaving 4,000 for 2,500-cleared for the ILS 14R-maintaining 2,500 until established-will report 15 miles out.”
The pilot yet again, descends to the assigned altitude. Uneasy due to the heavy turbulence and the increased frequency of the hail, the pilot activates the anti-icing equipment to ensure the aircraft is free of ice. One minute after the pilot activates the
anti-icing equipment, two aural warnings commence, and engine fire lights for one and three light up.
“Jesus, one and three are on fire, and we are loosing altitude,” exclaims the First Officer.
“Apply full throttles, and pull the extinguishers for one and three,” barks the Captain.
As the First Officer follows the captain’s orders, the obnoxious sound of engines exceeding maximum RPMs echoes throughout the cabin of the plane. With passengers screaming and with the airplane loosing altitude, the captain declares an emergency.
“Chicago Approach-United 4261-Declaring and Emergency-we’ve lost two engines and cannot maintain altitude-request nearest runway and men and equipment standing by!”
“United 4261-Chicago Approach-understand emergency-nearest runway is 14R- report breaking out of the clouds-Last reported weather called the ceiling at 1,500 ft-with 2 miles visibility-winds 165 at 36 knots gusting to 66 knots.”
Descending through 2,000 ft, the captain stubbornly fights to regain control of the wild aircraft. Passing 1,800 ft, the captain is able to steady the wings and maintain his on course heading. Thirty seconds later the massive 747-400 breaks out of the clouds and
becomes visible to O’Hare’s control tower. Lightning and thunder overwhelm the helpless plane as it plummets closer and closer to earth.
The plane, only 200ft. above the ground, struggles to glide the remaining 1000 ft before the runway. The passengers are instructed to assume the crash positions, as the plane nears the ground. With a terrifying, metal crunching sound, the plane slams into the runway shooting sparks to either side of the runway. The force of the impact shattered the landing gear of the battered aircraft, causing it to skid across the runway on its fragile belly. A spark trail 400 ft long streams from the aircraft as it barrels wildly down the runway.
After skidding for 12,000 ft, the badly damaged aircraft finally comes to rest with no casualties. The pilot is responsible for saving the lives of all 285 passengers on board. The captain’s training, experience, and high level of skill, are the reasons he was able to handle the emergency.
As an aviation enthusiast, my career goal is to become an airline pilot. In order to achieve this goal, it was necessary for me to research this profession in detail so that I could fully understand the responsibilities of an airline pilot, the training needed, and the total flight hours required to secure the position. During my research, I interviewed a United Airlines captain in order to understand the process of attaining the credentials needed for the job. My findings have enabled me to discuss the responsibilities of an airline pilot, the process in which one becomes an airline pilot, and why it is an important job.
The first area of discussion is the responsibilities of an airline pilot. As per the Code of Federal Regulation, specifically Title 14, Chapter 1, Federal Aviation Regulation; the pilot is responsible for following all rules and regulations under FAR, Part 121, governing scheduled air carrier operations; Part 91 governing rules of flight; and any and all company rules and regulations. The captain is also responsible for the safety of the aircraft and the safety of all passengers on board. During the pre-flight phase of the flight, the captain is responsible for calculating the weight and balance, fuel needed, course to be flown, and analyzing all weather forecasts that will effect the flight. During the flight, the captain is required to know what each instrument on the control panel of the cockpit is measuring and what they mean to the overall scheme of things. Also, if anything were to go wrong, the captain must intimately know every system of that aircraft so that if one system fails, the captain can troubleshoot and try to bypass the problem. (E.A.Engalheart, personal communication, September 9, 1999).
The next area of discussion is the process in which one would follow in order to become an airline pilot. As with any career, one must start at the very bottom level. For the field of aviation, the bottom level is the initial flight training. There are two routes from which to choose in consideration to flight training. The first route is through the military. Most military aviators attend a four-year college and join the Air Force ROTC program where they are physically conditioned, orientated with the procedure of the military, and recommended for a flight slot upon graduation from college (if qualified). After serving a minimum of six years, the aviator can then apply for a position with one of the major airlines (i.e. United Airlines). This method is the most cost effective but the hardest method to attempt.
The second method is attending a four-year university that offers a degree in aviation flight or management. Southern Illinois University is a great example for this method. At SIU, future aviators take classes in which they earn five FAA pilot licenses: Private Pilot, Instrument Rating, Commercial Single Engine, Commercial Multi-Engine, and Certified Flight Instructor. These classes, along with the appropriate core curriculum classes, earn the student an Associates degree in Aviation Flight. After earning the Associates degree, the student begins the management half of the bachelor degree. Twelve aviation management classes are required along with the previous associate degree to earn the Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management. Upon graduation, the aviator can then apply for a position with a regional airline such as United Express, or Trans World Express, if they have logged enough flight hours.
With the completion of either method, the aviator can then apply for a position with a major airline such as United Airlines, American Airlines, or Delta Airlines. The requirements of the applicant are as follows: Hold a current first class medical, hold a current Air Transport Pilot Certificate, logged 1,500 hours of flight time 500 of which must be pilot in command of a turbine powered aircraft. Following the previous methods will have enabled the aviator to fulfill all of the prerequisites. (Dr. D. NewMyer, personal communication, September 12, 1999).
The final area of discussion is why this career is important to society. The aviation industry was first developed in the early 20’s. During the years, legislation has been passed, specific governing agencies have been developed, and a complex regulatory matrix has been formed, because of the massive importance the aviation industry has on the rest of the economy. Today, every aspect of business is some how related to aviation industry. For example, Motorola Inc., a large telecommunication company, relies heavily on the aviation industry for movement of their merchandise, employees, and for a viable source of business through air phones. Companies around the world are in the same situation as Motorola, which in turn proves how aviation is vital to the world’s economy. With such a high demand for the service provided through aviation, many pilots are needed in order to fulfill the customer demand. Currently, the aviation industry is preparing for a widespread shortage of pilots due to the nearing retirement of the “Baby Boom” generation. With the growth of the economy overall, the demand for air transportation is on the up and up, which in turn results in a booming industry. The position of airline pilot is becoming more and more demanding. The publics’ concern for safety and efficiency are causing the aircraft to become more and more complex, which in turn demands that the pilots be properly trained to handle the newer aircraft. Since the economy relies so heavily on the aviation industry, and since the public want safer skies without a decrease in air service, pilots today are expected to be skilled and knowledgeable, professionals who are able to keep up with the fast pace of today’s economy.
Without pilots, the aviation industry would surely fail. Pilots are the backbone of this industry; without them the industry wouldn’t be able to support the publics’ demand for transportation. One must follow a grueling method in order to become an airline pilot, due to the responsibilities demanded by the position. It is a long, hard, road to become an airline pilot. Once attained, the job has its benefits: average pay of $150,000, work two weekends a month, and actually enjoy your job. If one is an aviation enthusiast, the position of an airline pilot may be a career choice to consider.
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