The following responses were contributed by First Officer Michael Overbeek, a co-pilot for United Airlines, in response to a Washington Post interview. The material is intended to provide students with an idea of what working as a commercial pilot might be like, and some steps the student can take to prepare now for a career in that field.

Overbeek is a 1977 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and currently resides in Falls Church, Va. NATURE OF THE WORK

"I usually arrive at the airport about an hour before flight time. Prior to every flight, the first step is the exterior examination of the aircraft. We also check weather conditions at our destination, and look for an alternate airport {in case there are problems at the scheduled destination}. The company already has a flight plan which instructs us which route to take and at what altitude to fly. There are a lot of other checks we go through before we are cleared for take-off.

"There really is no fear involved. Of course there is an adrenaline factor involved when you're shooting down a runway at 150 miles per hour, but this becomes second nature. By the time pilots are flying for major airlines, they have received years of training to get to that point and are trained to handle any situation. If people were able to ride in the cockpit and see the preparation a pilot receives before being allowed to fly, they would be amazed at just how safe flying really is."


"Most of the pilots today are college graduates, though not necessarily from the aeronautics field. It helps to have a background in mathematics and physics. Meteorology is good to know, too. Regardless of which route you take, you will need to accumulate {roughly 300 hours} of flight time on your own to acquire the various licenses and ratings you need. Most major airlines require a pilot to have at least 2,000 hours of flying time before being hired.

"Most pilots {accumulate} hours {by flying for} commuter airlines, charter airlines, freight airlines, corporations, the military or working as flight instructors. After gaining the necessary experience and hours, most pilots apply for {higher-paying} jobs with major airlines. Getting hired there can be difficult because it is a very competitive and selective process.

For pilots just starting out with major airlines, the salary begins at about $20,000 per year, but that figure increases considerably with experience. The average salary for experienced pilots at major airlines is about $80,000.


"I could go on about any number of things {skills} that a pilot should have . . . like steady nerves, hand-eye coordination, and a mechanical background. But much of that comes with the training. One thing that is absolutely mandatory is good health.

"Flying may look like a glamorous job, but it isn't. Pilots do travel to a lot of great places, but we usually just see the airports. If you want to do it, you should be prepared to work long hours and be away from home much of the time. We usually fly four or five flights a day and are on duty 10 to 12 hours a day. Still, the reason most of us become pilots is because we love to fly, and we are willing to make the sacrifices for it. You go through a lot of training to get here, but it's definitely worth it."