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Becoming A Professional Pilot: What It Takes

By Renato Flores


A VAW-26 E-2 Hawkeye’s tailhook of catching the arresting cables on the USS Harry S. Truman. Photo credits: Kristopher Wilson via Creative Commons.

Being a pilot isn’t easy. You get no sleep, minimal income, (at first), and you’re away from your family for a long time. So why do people choose this career path anyways? I talked to three U.S. military officers about why they chose to start a career in aviation, and how they did it.

LTJG. Joshua Newsome of the U.S. Navy, had his first experience with flight at the age of eight. His parents had arranged a flight in the copilot’s seat of a Cessna 172 at Maxwell Air Force Base. According to Newsome, this sparked his interest and it “went all downhill from there.” Newsome had completed the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps course in college, and then joined the Navy as a Lieutenant, where he went through API (Aviation Preflight Indoctrination), which consists of ground training and is the equivalent of ground school in the civilian world of aviation. After asking what some tips are for becoming a pilot, Newsome said, “Your grades in college are probably the most important thing if you want to go the military route. In all cases, don’t do anything stupid.”

Newsome is currently in the process getting his wings, however the Navy has grounded their T-45 Goshawk training aircraft after a mass wave of hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) occurred amongst the pilots, causing other pilots to go on strike due to safety concerns. The Navy says they have grounded the aircraft indefinitely, but once operable, Newsome will complete his training and officially become a pilot for the United States Navy.

T-45 Goshawk training aircraft of TRAWING-1 landing on the USS Harry S. Truman. Photo credits: Kristopher Wilson via Creative Commons.

I talked to another Naval aviator named LT. Matt Axley. He’s currently a certified flight instructor at Meridian Airport in Meridian, Mississippi, which he began in 2016 after his service in the Navy. Axley worked for the Department of Homeland Security from 2004-2006, and graduated from the University of North Alabama in 2008 and joined the Navy. Similar to LTJG. Newsome, Axley had his first experience in aviation with his uncle in a Waco YMF-5, at the age of four. After that flight, he was hooked, and once in college, went through the NROTC program at the University of North Alabama. Once completing the necessary training as a student pilot in the Navy, he was assigned to fly the E-2 Hawkeye, a carrier-based surveillance aircraft. Axley has now been in the Navy for eight years, and has over 1,500 hours in the Hawkeye.

“Never. Stop. Learning. And when you think you know it all– go back and review. Don’t ever let confidence turn into complacency– it’ll kill you. You’re going to have mistakes– acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on.”
-Lieutenant Matt Axley, U.S. Navy

The final officer I spoke to, requested that I keep his name anonymous. He joined the military simply because he thought that being a fighter pilot was the coolest job in the world, and left me with this piece of advice for anyone wanting to become a pilot:

“Do what it takes to become an officer because that’s what comes first. Go to college, get decent grades, don’t get arrested, etc. Look at the different branches and what they have to offer. I chose the Marine Corps partially because if you qualified, they would guarantee you a slot in flight school prior to commitment, also for the physical challenge, and maybe because they have some damn good sales pitches for a guy who wants to get in shape and do something exciting in life. Consider everything each [military] branch flies, not just what you want to fly. The odds of you getting your first choice are low, and it is largely out of your control. Also, give some consideration to which branch you would rather serve in if you could NOT fly, because you could be the unlucky guy who gets found NPQ (not physically qualified) right before starting flight school.”


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