Agricultural Pilots


Education and Training Requirements

High School

There are a number of classes you can take in high school to help prepare you for becoming a pilot. You should take science classes, such as chemistry and physics, as well as mathematics, such as algebra and geometry. Take computer science classes, as solid computer skills are a vital requirement for being a pilot. Since you will be responsible for the maintenance and care of a plane, you may also benefit from taking an electronics shop class or other shop class where you get to work on engines. Take English classes to improve your research and writing skills. Throughout your career you will need to study flying or repair manuals, file reports, and communicate with customers. Since you may be responsible for record keeping, take business or accounting classes. If your school offers agriculture classes, take any that will teach you about soils, crops, and growing methods.

Postsecondary Training

Many companies that employ pilots prefer to hire candidates with at least two years of college training. Courses in engineering, meteorology, physics, mathematics, and agriculture are helpful in preparing for this career. In addition to these courses, you will need training as a pilot. There are approximately 600 civilian flying schools certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including some colleges and universities that offer degree credit for pilot training. A number of schools offer training specifically in agricultural aviation. Some people take up this career after leaving the military, where they trained as pilots.

Other Education or Training

The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) offers a variety of continuing education opportunities at its annual aviation convention and trade show. Recent sessions focused on chemical application techniques and industrial pest control. Additionally, the NAAA has developed the Professional Aerial Applicators’ Support System to provide pilots continuing education about safety, security, and drift mitigation. Contact the association for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Agricultural pilots must hold a commercial pilot's license from the FAA. A fairly long and rigorous process is involved in obtaining a commercial license. The first step in this process is to receive flying instruction. Anyone who is 16 or over and can pass a rigid mandatory physical exam can apply for permission to take flying lessons. When you have finished this training, you can take a written exam. If you pass the exam and fulfill such requirements as being at least 17 years of age and have completed a solo flying requirement of 20 hours or more, you can apply for your private pilot's license. The next step in getting a commercial license is to continue to log flying time and increase your knowledge and skills. To receive your commercial license you must be at least 18 years of age, have 250 hours of flying time, and successfully complete a number of exams. These tests include a physical exam; a written test given by the FAA covering such topics as safe flight operations, navigation principles, and federal aviation regulations; and a practical test to demonstrate your flying skills. Pilots must also receive a rating for the kind of plane they can fly (such as single-engine or multi-engine). In addition, a commercial pilot needs an instrument rating by the FAA and a restricted radio telephone operator's permit by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In states where they spray restricted pesticides, agricultural pilots must be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Other Requirements

Professional pilots must be at least 17 years old and in good physical condition.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any flight experience you can obtain will be useful as you prepare to apply for your commercial license. While there is no specific age limit on when you can begin flying instruction, you must be at least 16 to fly solo. To apply for a private pilot's license, you must take a written examination. To qualify for it, you must be at least 17 years of age, successfully fulfill a solo flying requirement of 20 hours or more, and meet instrument flying and cross-country flying requirements.

All pilots must have sound physical and emotional health. They need excellent eyesight and eye-hand coordination as well as excellent hearing and normal heart rate and blood pressure. The successful agricultural pilot is also detail-oriented since the job requires processing paperwork, planning, and the following of regulations. Those who are self-employed or working for smaller companies may find that they have frequent contact with customers, and so they must be able to work well with others. Naturally, an agricultural pilot should have an interest in farming methods and the environment as well as a love of flying. Good judgment is essential for this work.