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Life as an Airline Pilot


Hello! I’m Matt, one of the volunteers here at the Gatwick Aviation Museum and I would like to share with you an insight into life as an airline pilot.


When you see something written that is underlined, this relates to something you can see at Gatwick Aviation Museum, next time you visit.

In this blog, I’ll explain what a normal day is for a pilot, how pilots are trained and a few other interesting bits and pieces you may not know!


First let’s have a look at what a normal day looks like for an airline pilot. You’ve probably seen pilots working on the flight deck whilst an airliner is on the ground, and it’s fairly obvious that they’re flying the aeroplane when the flight deck door is closed in flight, but what else do they do?


You’ll probably have noticed that lots of different airlines operate from Gatwick. Some will fly ‘short-haul’, such as to other UK or Europe airports, or ‘long-haul’, where they may go to America or the Far East. Pilots are limited in the number of hours they are allowed to fly, so they might fly several short-haul flights in a day but would usually stay in a long haul destination at least overnight.


So, on the day of the flight, a pilot would have a ‘report time’ on their schedule – when they are required to be at the airport to meet the rest of the crew. This is usually a few hours before the flight, probably about the same time most passengers will arrive. They will have a check in process and be subject to exactly that same security procedures as passengers. You probably won’t see pilots checking in at the same desk as passengers though, as they will go to a separate staff area. Unusually, if you do see pilots at passenger check in wearing uniform, they are probably ‘positioning’ – this means they will fly as a passenger for the first flight, then fly the aeroplane for a later flight.



When the pilots meet, they will go through a briefing to discuss things like the weather for the day, the flight times, the amount of fuel to take, any problems with the aircraft or airport, and much more. If you work for a big airline, you may never have met the other crew members before, so helpfully, the uniform can give a clue as to who is who!


Why not have a look at our pilot uniform collection and see if you can find:

  • 1 Stripe = Senior cabin crew or Purser – only used by some airlines now. Or, on some long-haul airlines, ‘Second Officer’ - a junior pilot.

  • 2 Stripes = First Officer. A junior pilot, but fully qualified to fly the aircraft.

  • 3 Stripes = Senior First Officer. A more senior pilot, usually training to become a Captain.

  • 4 Stripes = Captain. The Commander of the aircraft, who will usually sit in the left-hand seat on the flight deck.

At the briefing, the operations staff would give you the details for which aircraft you are going to fly and where it is parked! Today, that is usually given to you by computer, but you can see the Dan-Air Operations Whiteboard which shows all the aircraft registrations and where they were. The cabin crew are very much part of the briefing too – it is important they know what the weather is like, and what the flight times will be (This can change a lot with the effect of the wind!).


They will brief how many passengers we expect, any passengers with reduced mobility, and anything unusual – such as VIPs, or sometimes, even prisoners! The Senior Cabin Crew Member will check the other cabin crew as well, making sure they are all wearing the uniform correctly (just like our cabin crew mannequins!), and revise some of the emergency procedures.




The crew will then all go out to the aircraft for the first flight, either by a bus, or just walking to the aircraft if it is near the terminal. The cabin crew will go and prepare the cabin, check all the safety equipment is working correctly and load the catering. The pilots will split their jobs at this point. Even though there is a Captain and First Officer, either can physically fly the plane just the same. So, it is usual for one pilot to actually fly the plane ‘Pilot Flying’ and one to do everything else, such as talk on the radio, run checklists and manage the navigation equipment – a ‘Pilot Monitoring’.


Most modern aircraft have electronic displays, but some have traditional ‘clockwork’ dials, or use them as a backup. Why not have a look at our aircraft instrument display and see if you can figure out what instrument does what! On the ground, the Pilot Flying will walk around the outside of the aircraft as a last check that everything is ready for flight. The engineers will have completed many checks to the aircraft overnight, so this is usually just a check that nothing has been missed or changed. Why not have a look at our turbofan engine, what do you think would you be looking for there on a pre-flight check?


Keep an eye for my next blog installment..... coming soon!

Take off! How the flight controls work, and how airliners land.

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