21 Apr 2014

Six Unusual Jobs for Pilots


When most people think of civilian pilot jobs, they think of airline pilots ferrying passengers from one airport to another. But the truth is that becoming an airline pilot takes years of dues-paying in other commercial jobs that have nothing to do with airlines. Some of these are obvious, and some are truly unusual. In this article, Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology reviews six types of less well-known pilot jobs you could prepare for in flight school.


Weather Research


Satellite weather detection systems rely on ground-based transmitters and often can’t give detailed information about what’s happening within a specific storm in terms of barometric pressure or even wind speed. Pilots can assist with weather research by flying planes equipped with special detection equipment straight into storms or other areas of interest. These jobs are not for the faint of heart (or for those with low hours).

The “Hurricane Hunters”, comprised of pilots from the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s in-house squadron. These pilots fly heavy-duty craft with belly-mounted radar setups straight into hurricanes to gather live data about the storms.

Aerial Archaeology

It’s possible to spot long-buried archaeological sites from the air simply by looking at erosion patterns or ridges in fields of crops. While some satellite imagery is detailed enough to provide initial images, low-altitude flights in small aircraft can help archaeologists spot important details. Aerial photography produced using different types of film, such as infrared, can also unmask otherwise easy-to-miss clues.

Banner Towing

If you’ve been to a beach, you’ve probably seen light aircraft towing advertising banners. Banner towing is one less well-known entry level job for pilots, although a tailwheel endorsement may be necessary to qualify for openings.

Sky Writing

Sky writing isn’t an entry-level pilot job, but it does sound like a lot of fun. It requires precision flying and a keen understanding of factors such as wind and visibility; there’s no point going out to write an elaborate message if the wind will blow it away immediately.

Sadly, this form of flying is unlikely to provide a steady income nowadays, although it was a huge form of advertising in the first half of the 20th Century. Today, very few companies use the medium for marketing. Sky-written marriage proposals, however, are still very popular.

Herd Management

Wildlife management agencies and large-scale ranching operations need to keep track of animals over a wide range of land. Pilots can help with herd surveys and management by flying personnel over remote areas to get a first-hand look at where the animals are and how their habitat is supporting them. Sometimes the pilot may only fly a couple of scientists. Other times, special imaging equipment may need to be mounted on the aircraft to help detect the heat signatures of animals.

In addition to counting animal herds, pilots can also help keep tabs on human herds—aerial surveying flights have been used to count the number of attendees at marches, open-air concerts, and other large gatherings.

Backcountry Pilots

Want to fly a variety of different jobs over beautiful wild landscapes? Become a bush or backcountry pilot. You may fly sightseers, or take alpine climbers (or skiiers and snowboarders) to their base camps. You may make deliveries to remote clinics, villages, or schools. You may also drop off hunters or help with search and rescue missions.

Bush piloting is most popular in Alaska—a state twice the size of Texas. However, the Dakotas, Pacific Northwest, and Canada all hire bush pilots. You will need extra training that teaches you to make landings on snowy surfaces, gravel, sand, and tundra. As a bush pilot, you’ll gain experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.