by Jason Depew, TPN Staff Writer
As a person who writes about how to get hired by the airlines, I get a lot of requests to look at resumes, applications, etc. I’m not shy to say that I’ve lost count of how many superstars I’ve helped leave active duty military service for a better life. I’ve noticed a trend on the resumes of some military pilots that leaves me concerned, and I want to address it here to help everyone avoid causing themselves problems. Let’s start by setting the stage:
Let’s say you want to fly for the Thunderbirds. You’re an F-15 pilot, but they fly the F-16. Would you walk into the interview and immediately start talking about how the F-15 is better in every way, saying that the Lawn Dart is just a pile of junk and John Boyd didn’t know what he was talking about? No. At the interview, they’re going to ask you questions about the F-16. Would you give answers like, “There’s no way a fly-by-wire control system could ever be as good as the hydraulic one on the F-15…so I just haven’t bothered looking into it. I guess you’ll teach me what I absolutely have to know when the time comes, right?”
How do you think that interview would go?
The same goes for the heavy side. Let’s say you’re leaving active duty and applying to a reserve job. You really want to live in California, and really want a DC-10 type rating. Would you, as a C-130 pilot, walk in talking about how tactical airlift is the tip of the spear, saying you’re so glad you got to spend your active duty time “doing stuff that really matters,” instead of flying circles in the sky on a tanker? I hope not. They’ll probably ask you if you’re ready to operate high bypass ratio turbofans at high altitudes after being a low-level turboprop pilot for so long. Are you going to tell them, “It’s basically the same so why should I waste my time looking up the differences? The qualification course will teach me what I need to know, right?”
Again, do you think you’ll get that job?
These same principles apply for the airlines. When you decide to leave the military for an airline, you’re applying for a civilian job. You need to make sure that you prepare for this transition and approach it with the right attitude.
The trend I see on resumes is military pilots incorrectly listing or referring to their civilian pilot ratings or experience.
Yes, recruiters know that you’re a military pilot, inexperienced in General Aviation (GA). However, as a guy who’s always been heavily involved in both worlds, I know the high standards that you purport to hold yourself to in the military. I assert that civilian aviation deserves similar care and attention from you, especially if you expect to make it your profession for the next 20-30 years. If your resume displays glaring gaps in your civilian aviation knowledge, you’re at risk of your airline’s hiring team assuming the rest of your pilot knowledge is lacking too.
This probably won’t hurt most military pilots. Your qualifications will be overwhelming and, frankly, they need you as badly as you need them. However, what if your panel interview didn’t go so well because Bad Cop got under your skin? What if you only ever flew single engine turboprops, or you only have 37.8 hours of turbine PIC time to your name? What if you’re an F-22 pilot who could only scrape together a grand total of 700-1000 hours in 10 years and you even need the company to cover the cost of getting you a Restricted ATP? For people cruising along in these types of boats, I recommend you at least make sure you don’t have any glaring faux pas in your application and/or resume.
It’s not that hard. All you have to do (all I did) is RTFM: Read The…uh…Fine…Manual. You should start with source documents: read Parts 61, 91, and 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. I read the first two of those as a 17-year old punk in high school. If former-Emet could buckle down to do the reading and comprehend it, then you are fully capable. (Once you get through those three parts, you might as well read Part 117 too. It’s useful and important.) If you do this, you’ll figure out most of what you need to not look like a fool when you submit a resume or show up at an interview.
However, since we’re all lazy pilots, here’s Uncle Emet’s Translation Guide…my cheat sheet for you. They’re arranged in a semi-logical order, not alphabetically.
Also known as a pilot’s license. A piece of plastic the size of a driver’s license. These come in different levels:
- Student Pilot
- Sport Pilot
- Recreational Pilot
- Private Pilot
- Commercial Pilot
- Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP)
- Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)
- Flight Instructor
- Ground Instructor
What you’re qualified (rated) to fly. Ratings are placed/listed on a certificate. Pilot Ratings are designated with a hierarchy:
(Flight Instructor Ratings have their own separate hierarchy. More in a moment)
The highest level of the aircraft classification hierarchy on a pilot rating. The options for pilot ratings that you probably care about are:
- Powered-lift (aka: tiltrotor, aka: braver or dumber than me!)
The level of aircraft classification that falls under Category. For our purposes, you can have pilot ratings in the Classes shown nested under these Categories:
- Single-engine land (SEL)
- Multiengine land (MEL)
- Single-engine sea (SES)
- Multiengine sea (MES)
You may notice that Glider and Powered-lift don’t have any Classes. Those aircraft all fall into single Categories.
The level of aircraft classification that falls under Class. Only large aircraft (other than lighter-than-air,) and turbojet-powered airplanes have type ratings. (There are plenty of exceptions to this rule.)
The FAA only recognizes a specific list of Type Ratings. You can find that list here: https://registry.faa.gov/TypeRatings/
A Type Rating allows you to fly an aircraft as the Pilot In Command (PIC.) The FAA also awards Second In Command (SIC) Type Ratings for aircraft that require more than one pilot. In the US these are meaningless. You can fly on and even log SIC time on an aircraft on the Type Rating list without holding an SIC Type Rating as long as you’re in the US. Other countries have different rules, so you may need an SIC type rating for international flying. Most Type Rating courses don’t even bother with SIC. They train all pilots to the PIC standard and issue regular, old PIC Type Ratings…unless you ask for something else. (The only place I commonly see this is on warbirds. You can get an official SIC Type Rating on something like a B-25 for $5000, while a full PIC Type Rating could easily cost 5 times as much.)
Term: Instrument Rating
You can earn a (separate) Instrument Rating for a Private or Commercial certificate. These ratings are only awarded for the following Categories:
- Instrument – Airplane
- Instrument – Helicopter
- Instrument – Powered Lift
There are some interesting notes to go with this:
- The Instrument – Airplane Rating is good for all Classes of airplane (SEL, SES, MEL, and MES.)
- There is no provision here for an Instrument Rating in a Gyroplane.
- Instrument Ratings are for Private and Commercial Certificates only. An ATP must, by definition, be Instrument Rated. Once you get an ATP, you may think that your Instrument Rating “disappeared.” It didn’t, it’s just assumed.
You only get one pilot certificate, one piece of plastic. However, adding a Rating for a new Category/Class/Type doesn’t upgrade your other ratings. Let’s say you had a Private Pilot Certificate with an ASEL Rating. Then, you use the Military Competency rules to add on Commerical Pilot Certificate with AMEL and Instrument – Airplane Ratings.
The FAA will send you a new pilot’s license…a (plastic) Certificate that says Commercial Pilot. Under ratings it’ll list AMEL and Instrument – Airplane. Then, there will be another line that reads “Private Pilot Privileges for ASEL.”
This means that you could get paid to take people flying in something fancy like a Twin Otter, but you still couldn’t get paid to fly them in a C-172.
Yes, this is moronic. Stop whining. If you really care, get involved with your Congressional Reps and to have the FAA change its rules. I’m sure you’ll find great success. I’ll even hold my breath while I wait.
Term: Flight Instructor Certificate
A Flight Instructor Certificate is a separate piece of plastic from your Pilot Certificate. (They look a lot alike. The Flight Instructor Certificate has a note at the bottom saying that it’s only valid if it’s accompanied by your Pilot Certificate.) We frequently refer to this Certificate (or the person holding it) as a CFI, or Certificated Flight Instructor.
99% of the resumes I see incorrectly refer to this as a “Certified” Flight Instructor certificate. I was once told by a very crusty FAA examiner, “Son, the FAA doesn’t certify instructors. We only certificate them! Now I’m going to fail the right engine of your Piper Seminole. Fly an NDB circling approach in moderate turbulence while wearing foggles.” (I still passed that check ride. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.)
You can earn a Flight Instructor Certificate for the following Categories and Classes:
- Sport Pilot
Many people use abbreviations for these different flavors of CFI. Though not formal or approved abbreviations, our industry standards are:
- CFI – CFI Airplane Single-engine
- MEI – CFI Airplane Multiengine
- CFIG – CFI Glider
- CFIH – CFI Helicopter
- CFII – CFI Instrument Airplane (If you’re a helicopter pilot talking to other helicopters pilots, you could say, “I’m a CFII” and they’d interpret you as saying “CFI Instrument Helicopter” based on the context.)
Some pilots seem to think that CFII is a “higher” rating than CFI, and that the two terms are somewhat interchangeable. This is wrong. You can hold a CFII without holding a CFI, and instruct instrument rating students. For all-civilian pilots, it’s actually easier to earn the CFII first and worry about the CFI later.
For military pilots using equivalency rules to get flight instructor ratings based, you only get ratings for the types of aircraft that you’ve instructed in. If you only ever instructed in the C-130 or F-15, the FAA will give you an MEI and CFII. They won’t give you a CFI because you’ve never been an instructor in that category and class of aircraft (Airplane Single Engine.)
Note that the airplane Category ratings don’t differentiate between Land and Sea. If you have a Commercial Pilot Certificate with an ASEL rating and a CFI (for Airplane Single Engine,) then you go add an ASES Rating to your Commercial Pilot Certificate, you’re automatically a seaplane CFI. (Not that you’d want to turn around and start instructing in seaplanes with that little experience, but you could….)
Term: Ground Instructor Certificate
For people who love teaching, but aren’t otherwise able to obtain any type of CFI, the FAA has a Ground Instructor (GI) Certificate that allows a person to teach ground school. There are three possible Ratings for a Ground Instructor Certificate. They are:
- Basic Ground Instructor (BGI)
- Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI)
- Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI)
Note that this is completely separate from your Flight Instructor Certificate. It’s a different piece of plastic. Having a CFI does not mean you hold any flavor of GI. This can be confusing because a CFI can do everything that a GI can do. If you have a Flight Instructor Certificate (CFI) there is probably no reason for you to obtain a Ground Instructor Certificate.
Even though a CFI can do everything that a GI can, you should not claim to hold any GI rating unless you have a piece of plastic in your wallet that specifically states as much. This would probably read as ignorance, rather than deception in your airline interview, but I recommend you avoid being associated with either of those qualities. Don’t check the GI boxes on your airline application unless you have a piece of plastic in your pocket that specifically has the words “Ground Instructor” on it.
If you don’t have a CFI and/or aren’t able to obtain one, but you’re applying to the airlines, I’d definitely go earn an AGI and IGI. A CFI would be better, but having AGI and IGI will improve the score of your application as well.
Those are the basics of the terminology you need to speak intelligently about Certificates and Ratings. Next, let’s talk about some of the agencies you may have to deal with in civilian/commercial aviation that you won’t be used to if you’ve only been flying military aircraft until now.
Term: Flight Service Station (FSS)
An official Air Traffic Control facility that provides services for pilots, but can’t “clear” you for anything or provide any air traffic separation services.
You call FSS primarily to get clearances, get weather updates, and provide PIREPs. Your tower, approach, or center controllers may provide some of these services as well. However, in remote areas, or at an airport without a control tower, you may have to contact FSS instead.
Term: Clearance Delivery
Even most military pilots are familiar with this one. Unique to the airlines: some busy airports will also require you to verify your callsign, the ATIS identifier, your parking location, or provide other information on this frequency, even if you get your clearance digitally. Know what you need before you call any given station, or you’ll look stupid.
A Universal Communications station is a person at an airport who can provide you with information about local weather conditions and services available. They can’t provide any type of clearance or traffic separation services. There is no qualification required for this job, so realize that the voice on this frequency could be a pedestrian hired for his or her…assets…other than aviation knowledge. At some airports, this station uses the same frequency for UNICOM and CTAF (next.)
The Common Traffic Advisory Frequency is the radio frequency designated for all aircraft to communicate on while they’re flying at an airport without a control tower.
All calls are advisory only, and in most cases aircraft aren’t even required to have a radio onboard. Don’t get angry if you see non-participating aircraft. They’re just exercising their fundamental right to enjoy the airspace above our country. Think of it as the aviation equivalent of the freedoms of speech, religion, press, etc.
Large commercial airports may have one or more ramp or apron controllers with their own radio frequency. Ramps aren’t as tightly controlled or regulated by the FAA as taxiways and runways. In fact, they’re downright chaotic. You’ll call them to get permission to “push back” from the gate, start taxiing after you’ve completed push back and engine start, and you’ll need their permission to enter the ramp.
Don’t worry if you’ve never spoken to some of these agencies. Your simulator instructors will make mention of them during training. However, once you get out to the line you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. If you aren’t sure whom you need to call next, don’t hesitate to ask the captain. He or she would rather answer a stupid question in private than have you make everyone look like fools publicly on the radio.
Next, let’s look at some useful terminology for traffic patterns and instrument approaches. Military traffic patterns tend to be very different than civilian ones, and they differ from branch to branch. It’s easy to incorrectly conflate military pattern/approach terminology with civilian terminology. Hopefully, this will help clear things up.
Term: Traffic Pattern
The route you fly to get to the runway when operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR.) By definition, you’re not flying a VFR pattern if you’re operating on an IFR flight plan.
Aircraft fly a traffic pattern if operating on a VFR flight plan, or on no flight plan at all. (Yes, you can fly without being on any kind of flight plan. I do it all the time. It’s wonderful.)
Sometimes controllers refer to an Instrument Traffic Pattern with similar terminology. Don’t confuse this with the pattern that VFR aircraft fly.
The leg of the traffic pattern parallel to the runway. If you’re entering this under VFR, you should normally arrive at a 45° angle. You can be on a “left” or “right” downwind, depending on which direction your traffic pattern turns are.
You may hear “Radar Downwind” if you’re being vectored to final on an instrument approach. You probably have a crosstrack of 2-8 miles from the runway on this leg. Realize that you are nowhere near the regular VFR downwind leg.
The leg perpendicular to both downwind and the runway. In the civilian world, this is not a curved path. It’s a squared-off, perpendicular leg. You fly a “left” or “right” base.
In the military, you’re frequently required to report “gear down” when you report your base turn. In the civilian world nobody cares. Add this to your radio call and “they’re all gonna laugh at you!”
You may hear controllers refer to “Radar Base.” Again, not the same as base in a VFR pattern.
The last leg of the traffic pattern. There is no “left” or “right” final. If you include one of those in your radio call, you’ll never hear the end of it.
A leg of the Radar/Instrument pattern that takes you from Radar Base to join final at an angle other than 90°. It would be concise and appropriate to check in with “Dogleg ILS 27L” as your position when you contact the tower.
Term: Visual Approach
A visual approach to landing. This maneuver is conducted by an aircraft on an IFR flight plan in lieu of an instrument approach. Flying “The Visual” is not the same as flying a VFR traffic pattern.
When I’m playing airline pilot, I’ll occasionally report something like “left base, visual 22” when the approach controller hands me off to tower to give everyone a better picture of where I am. However, it’s critical to note that this is not the same as the Base leg flown by a VFR Cessna.
For reasons we don’t fully understand, large jet pilots are known for crashing airplanes when trying to fly visual approaches. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/11/asiana-airlines-pilot-concerned-san-francisco-crash, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20020726-0) I almost never fly a visual approach without also having guidance from an underlying instrument approach displayed in my aircraft. I use the ILS if possible because it provides glideslope guidance. (An LPV would also do, if I had that capability.) I recommend you do the same.
Flying can be fun and exciting, but I believe that Part 121 airline operations are not the time for that. In my opinion, airline flying done well should be as boring as possible. If you want fun and excitement, find some buddies and go in together on an XCub from CubCrafters. (http://cubcrafters.com/xcub)
Term: Continuous Descent Final Approach
There are many names for a CDFA, so the concept may sound familiar even if you don’t call it a CDFA.
If you fly an airplane with modern avionics, you’ll just tell it to fly a -3° angle starting at the FAF. At MDA + 50’ you’ll get one split-second look outside the airplane. If you see the runway, you’ll continue descending along angle you’re already flying and land. If not, you’ll execute a missed approach. (If you’re flying an older airplane, you’ll do the math in training and find out that setting -800 FPM on your VS is a pretty decent approximation of 3° at most airline groundspeeds.)
The airlines use the CDFA instead of the dive-and-drive technique for non-precision approaches. Though they have some potential benefits, I hate them. They completely defeat the purpose of non-precision approach design and cost you 50’ of ceiling. Nobody cares what Emet thinks though, so get used to the idea of flying them. Don’t bother trying to argue otherwise in training. Thankfully, most airline airports have an ILS anyway.
Depending on where you come from, you may have even flown these types of approaches in the military. If not, you can read the FAA Advisory Circular on the subject to prepare for training.
Term: RNAV Approach
RNAV stands for aRea NAVigation. It means navigation by GPS, but could also include aircraft that rely on GLONASS, INS, or DME-DME. Some approaches are GPS-only and have names like “GPS 27L;” however, most GPS approaches will have names like “RNAV 27L.” There are several types of RNAV approaches. (ICAO is trying to confuse all of us by changing this nomenclature. This guidance will eventually become obsolete.)
Term: LNAV Approach
LNAV stands for Lateral NAVigation. It’s like a VOR or LOC approach in that it doesn’t give you glideslope guidance. Although there are other types of RNAV approaches that offer lower minimums, many Part 121 airlines only certify their airplanes for LNAV approaches. Don’t get confused when you see other options on an approach plate.
This is an approach with Lateral and Vertical Navigational guidance. They’re an older type of GPS approach that were designed for baro-aided GPS units. (A WAAS GPS unit will provide vertical guidance for these approaches, without a baro input.) They can provide glideslope information, but they aren’t as accurate as better approaches.
LPV stands for Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance. Although they aren’t considered “precision” approaches, they’re better than LNAV or LNAV/VNAV because the lateral guidance gets tighter as you get closer to the runway (just like a localizer.) You can find LPV approaches with minimums almost as good as an ILS. (I recently saw one with minimums of 200-¾.) These approaches require WAAS guidance. (See next.)
GPS is great, but there’s some inherent error in a system that relies on satellites orbiting our planet at thousands of miles per hour. The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) aims to overcome those errors by providing extra sources of position data…in the form of ground stations that don’t move. GPS systems that use these stations are more accurate, so they can be used to fly more accurate instrument approaches.
Required Navigation Performance is the position accuracy required to be able to fly a given route or approach. An LNAV approach has an RNP of 0.3 nm, and you’ve probably been trained to check that your GPS is operating with those tolerances. (You check your system’s Actual Navigation Performance, ANP, against the RPN for any given operation.)
The near- to mid-term future of GPS approaches are RNP 0.1 approaches. Alaska and some other airlines already use these to fly approaches down mountain valleys. These approaches can have curved segments and provide glideslope guidance throughout the approach.
Equivalent to Aircraft Commander in the military.
At a commercial airport, most other service workers will also refer to the FO as “Captain.” Don’t take offense or correct them. It’s just the way of the world. Also, getting called “FO” sounds dumb on the rare occasions that it happens.
Term: First Officer (FO)
Equivalent to Copilot in the military. It’s appropriate to say “FO” when telling airline stories and “copilot” when telling military ones.
Term: Line Check Airman
A combination Instructor and Evaluator Pilot. This sets up an interesting dynamic during your initial training on the line, called Operational Experience. You’ll fly several legs with your LCA acting like an instructor, then he or she will change hats and become your flight examiner. Don’t get worked up over conflicts of interest or crew dynamics. Airlines have been doing it this way longer than you’ve been alive. Fly like you always do.
It’s also worth noting that, just like standards pilots in the military, an LCA is never fully off duty. If you have one on your jumpseat, or even in the cabin, he or she will probably be obligated to report anything that goes wrong with your flight. You may not be due for a check ride, but if the other person on the flight deck is getting one, then so are you. Don’t sweat things too much. This job isn’t cosmic and it should feel pretty repetitive. If you do things right every time you fly, having an LCA on your jumpseat should be no threat.
This is definitely not Air Mobility Command where morons and toxic leaders take every opportunity to hammer pilots for small mistakes. Your LCA is still a fellow pilot and operates under “cooperate and graduate.” Worst case, you have the backing of a very powerful union that can defend you. Your LCA is also a member of the same union and has zero interest in hammering you just for the sake of it.
Term: Chief Pilot
This one is more equivalent to Squadron or Battalion Commander than the chief pilot you may be used to from the military. However, the beauty of the airlines is that as long as you show up for work when you’re supposed to, and don’t get in trouble, there’s almost no reason for you to even meet your chief pilot, per se.
In some companies, especially the regionals, line pilots are scared of Chief Pilots. They tend to focus more on discipline, so most pilots choose to avoid them. This isn’t the case at any major airline I know of. Yes, they’ll talk to you if you’re in trouble, but that only occupies a tiny fraction of their time. Their main purpose in life is to make life easier for you. If you have a problem, you should try to fix it yourself. If that doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to go to a Chief Pilot!
Term: Flight Leader or Purser
This is the flight attendant in charge of your cabin crew. Your flight attendants are a part of your crew just like WSOs, NFOs, gunners, load masters, boomers, etc. were in your past life. Treat them well and you’ll enjoy your trip a lot more. The Flight Leader is your authoritative link to the cabin crew in the chain of command. Some airlines use the term “Purser” for the same position on international flights.
If you flew for AMC, this is like having one specific person you can contact at TACC about your flight. At the airlines, you don’t do any flight or load planning. None. It’s awesome. The dispatcher takes care of everything. You show up at a gate and all the paperwork you need just appears on a printer and/or on your iPad.
Under the FAA, the Dispactacher and the Pilot in Command (the Captain) share joint responsibility for the safe conduct of the flight. If you have concerns, you should be able to call your dispatcher directly on the phone or radio. While you’re enroute, you should be able to use a text-based datalink system called ACARS to talk to him or her. If you’re worried about fuel, diverting, emergencies, or anything else, you can reach out and get what you need. Unless you’re facing a no-time emergency, the Captain should reach out to the Dispatcher as part of his decision-making process for most abnormal occurrences. In my experience, major airline dispatchers are fantastic and are truly on your team, unlike everything I’ve ever heard about TACC.
Although only tangentially related to this set of definitions, the Aviation Safety Action Program is similar to the Aviation Safety Reporting System for civilian pilots. (Have you ever heard of filing a NASA report?)
This is almost a get-out-of-jail-free card. If you make a mistake that wasn’t intentional or criminal, you just submit this report (within a specific time period, usually 24 hours) explaining the situation and circumstances. Your personal information is kept anonymous, and neither the FAA nor your airline is allowed to take any disciplinary action against you for the incident as long as you filed the report correctly. Military pilots can file under the NASA program, but your military chain of command can (and far too often does) hang you out to dry anyway. Under ASAP, you’re protected from everyone. It’s a great thing and you should never hesitate to file an ASAP report if something abnormal happens.
I feel like this is a pretty useful list that can go a long way toward making your words and your application/resume look like they represent an informed and conscientious pilot. However, it’s just a cheat sheet. It should prompted some questions. I highly recommend looking around TPN, and the rest of the internet at large, for some answers.
One good place to start is the book: Everything Explained for the Professional Pilot (http://amzn.to/2tGauvm) <Editor’s Note: This is an affiliate link, meaning TPN gets a small commission for recommending the book> The author does a great job of spelling out everything, and giving you references to find his source material.
Wow Emet, does all this minutia get your motor running or something?
The main reason I write any of this is that I believe it will help you land the job you want, whether it’s because your resume/application are better or it just helps you sound more educated in your interview. Helping you achieve that doesn’t detract anything from me. I’ll admit that since I’m already at a major airline, I don’t mind the seniority bump I get every time one of you shows up. However, I’m a pilot and a computer engineer, which means that I see beauty in optimization. I prefer to minimize the confused thrashing that comes from pilots subjected to incomplete or bad information.
Unless you retire from the military after age 45, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll work at your airline longer than you served in the military. You may not need to invest as much effort at the start of your airline career to do well as you did in military pilot training. However, it’s still worth putting some effort into preparing for the transition. I feel like learning to “speak airline” is a pretty good way to use part of your interview prep time. I hope this helps you get started.