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U.S. Army test pilot Lt. F.W. "Mike" Hunter wearing a flight suit. Image from the Office of War Information, 1942.

An aviator is a person who flies or travels via aircraft for pleasure or as a profession. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887 as a variation of the French 'aviation', from the Latin 'avis', coined 1863 by G. de la Landelle in "Aviation ou Navigation Aérienne". The term aviatrix is used for a female aviator.

The term is often applied to pilots, but is often extended to include air navigators, bombardiers, Weapon Systems Officers, and electronic warfare Officers. This should not be confused with the term naval aviator, which refers crew members in the United States Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

There are also such minor aviation characters as wing-walkers who take part in aerobatic display sequences.

The term aviator (as opposed to "pilot" or other terms) was used more in the early days of aviation, before anyone had ever seen an airplane fly, and it had connotations of bravery and adventure. For example, the editors at the Dayton Herald, in an article of December 18, 1903 described the Wright Brothers' first airplane thus: "The weight, including the body of the aviator, is slightly over 700 pounds".

To ensure the safety of people in the air as well as on the ground, it soon became a requirement for an aircraft to be under the operational control of a properly trained, certified and current pilot at all times, who is responsible for the safe and legal completion of the flight. The first certificate was delivered by the Aero Club de France to Louis Blériot in 1908, followed by Glenn Curtiss, Leon Delagrange, and Robert Esnault-Pelterie. The absolute authority given to the Pilot in Command is derived from that of a ship's captain.[citation needed]

Beverly Lynn Burns, first woman in the world to captain the Boeing 747 airliner

In recognition of the aviators' qualifications and responsibilities, most militaries and many airlines around the world award aviator badges to their pilots as well as other air crews.

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Female pilots

Pioneers

Pioneer aviatrix include the American Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932), Bessie Coleman, first person of African American descent to become a licensed airplane pilot (1921), and the British Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia (1930).

Soviet Union

A women-only combat regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions from 1942 to the end of the World War II.

United States

In the United States, aviation is a traditionally male occupation. Due to Commerce department regulations, one was virtually required to have flown in the military, and until the 1970s the US Air Force and Navy barred women from flying,[1] thus also preventing them from moving into commercial piloting[citation needed] (see also the WWII-era Women Airforce Service Pilots). Women began to enter US aviation in the 1970s and 1980s, with 1973 seeing the first female pilot at a major US airline, American Airlines, and 1986 seeing the first female captain at a major US airline.[2] In the 1970s women began being permitted to fly in the United States Armed Forces, beginning with the Navy and the Army in 1974, and then the Air Force in 1976.[3] As of 2006, just over 6% of certified civilian pilots (both private and commercial) in the U.S. were women.[4]

Civilian

Commercial Delta Air Lines pilots.
Hot air balloon pilot and passenger in basket.

Civilian pilots fly privately for pleasure, charity, or in pursuance of a business, for non-scheduled commercial air-transport companies, or for airlines. When flying for an airline, pilots are usually referred to as airline pilots, with the pilot in command often referred to as the captain.

United States

In 1930, the Air Commerce Act established pilot licensing requirements for American civil aviation.

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have slashed their pilot pay scales and benefits in the face of fierce competition from low-cost carriers. In fact, Southwest Airlines Captains and First Officers both have higher salaries than their counterparts at legacy carriers. As of May 2004, median annual earnings of airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers were $129,250.[5] However, such salaries represent the upper level of airline pay scales. Salaries at regional airlines can be considerably less - though, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, median annual earnings of commercial pilots were $212,870, with the middle 50 per cent earning between $137,170 and $279,390.[5] Pilots making very large salaries are typically senior airline captains, while pilots making very small salaries are generally low-seniority first officers. A large variability in salaries can easily skew an average; thus, the use of median wages to gauge such things as salary. Where large gaps are seen between a median figure, and a lower-bound figure, this usually reflects those who do not stay in that particular field. Viewing this middle ground in context to the upper-bound numbers can give a burgeoning pilot an idea of what to expect if they are able to stay with flying as a full-time career. Based upon voluntary pilot reports, many United States airline pay scales are listed here: [1]. Most airline pilots are unionized, with the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA)[6] being the largest pilot labor union in the United States.

In the United States, due to pay cuts, airline bankruptcies and other industry problems, there are fewer young people who want to make a career out of flying. First-year pilots at AMR Corporation's outsourced operation called American Connection which is flown by multiple regional partners, would only earn $22,000 a year if they could pick up and fit into their schedule all the extra flying allowed under federal FAA rules.[7]

Commercial airline pilots in the United States have a mandatory retirement age of 65, increased from age 60 in 2007.[8]

International

In some countries like Pakistan, Israel, Thailand and several African nations, there is a strong relationship between the military and the principal national airlines, and many airline pilots come from the military; however, that is no longer the case in the United States and Western Europe. While the flight decks of U.S. and European airliners do have ex-military pilots, many pilots are civilians. Military training and flying, while rigorous, is fundamentally different in many ways from civilian piloting. Military pilots are trained to higher regulatory standards than civilian pilots, and while both paths create a safe pilot, civilian pilots are better versed in civilian regulations. In many newhire classes of civilian airlines, military pilots require a few more hours of study than their civilian counterparts. This, coupled with the increasing popularity of European-style airline-training schools in the U.S., it seems likely that the percentage of ex-military pilots flying for the airlines will continue to decrease.

F-16 pilot in flight.

Military

Military pilots fly under government contract for the defense of countries. Their tasks involve combat and non-combat operations, including direct hostile engagements and support operations. Military pilots undergo specialized training, often with weapons. One example of a military pilot is a fighter pilot.

Military pilots are trained with a different syllabus than civilian pilots, which is delivered by military instructors. This is due to the different aircraft, flight goals, flight situations and chains of responsibility. Many military pilots do transfer over to civilian-pilot qualification after they leave the military, and typically their military experience will be used to grant a civilian pilot's license.

Aviator certifications

Pilots are required to go through many hours of training, that differ depending on the country. the first step is acquiring the Private Pilot License (PPL), or Private Pilot Certificate.

The next step in a pilots progression is either Instrument Rating(IR), or Multi-Engine Rating (MEP) endorsements.

If a professional career or simply professional-level skills are desired, a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) endorsement would also be required. To be the captain of an airliner, one must obtain an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP).

Some countries/carriers require/use a Multi Crew Co-operating Certification (MCC).

Aviators in space

In human spaceflight, a pilot is someone who directly controls the operation of a spacecraft while located within the same craft. This term derives directly from the usage of the word "pilot" in aviation, where it is synonymous with "aviator". Note that on the U.S. Space Shuttle, the term "pilot" is analogous to the term "co-pilot" in aviation, as the "commander" has ultimate responsibility for the shuttle.

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