How to Transition Your Military Experience

How to Transition Your Military Experience to a Civilian Career in Aviation


The military provides you with a wide range of benefits that develop your personal character, but it also instills some real, practical skills and knowledge that can carry over to life outside the military base. Whether you have aviation experience from your time in the Military or not, becoming a pilot is a fantastic career choice after your service. Luckily if you’ve had prior aviation experience, there are several military jobs that transfer to civilian life quite nicely. With the right information, plan, flight instruction, and strategy, you can find a career in civilian aviation. Read on for tips and information on how you can transition from a military pilot to commercial pilotHow to Transition Your Military Experience to a Civilian Career in Aviation:


Ex-Military Without Flight Experience


Even if you’ve never flown a plane, there is still room for you within the aviation industry. If you’re just starting to turn your dream of becoming a pilot into a reality, you will first have to earn a Private Pilot License. This license is the baseline training needed to fly all private aircraft. However, keep in mind that the PPL is not the only credential needed to start a career in the aviation industry. This license is solely meant for individuals who want to use their flight skills as a personal hobby. If you want to be compensated for your service, you will then have to get a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). Depending on your desired career, you will then need to acquire more specific licenses based on the type of plane you want to be flying.


Military Helicopter Pilot Experience


For individuals that were once a helicopter pilot in the military, their transition into a civilian career will be a slightly different process. Depending on the desired career, helicopter pilots will need to gain further certifications for operating a commercial aircraft. In order to have a successful transition, you will need a CPL with Rotorcraft category, helicopter class ratings with an instrument rating, and a written commercial helicopter license.

There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to careers in the aviation industry. Each profession will need specific training and certifications depending on what you’ll be flying and for what purpose.


If you have ever been a pilot in the military and are looking to transition into a civilian career, use this comprehensive flow chart by Sheppard Air. This chart outlines the necessary tests and certifications that need to be taken in order to transition from a military to civilian career in aviation.


Professional ATP Certification and Requirements


Most military pilots seeking flight employment should already have their commercial pilot certification with an instrument rating. If not, it is a fairly simple process that involves turning in some forms to the Federal Aviation Administration and taking a written test. However, very few pilots coming out of the military seek out an airport transport pilot certificate (ATP), which is considered the highest level of certification for a pilot. If you have an ATP, you are authorized to act as the pilot in command on the aircraft of a scheduled air carrier.


Obtaining an airport transport pilot certificate requires:


  • A commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating
  • Completion of an ATP certification training program
  • An ATP knowledge and practical test
  • A flight time requirement of about 1,500 hours along with about 200 hours of cross-country flight time


The most difficult part of this process is the required flight time, but there is an exception for pilots who have come from certain training programs, including the military. Military pilots can gain a R-ATP, which is an ATP with restricted privileges. Military pilots need only 750 hours total flight time of which 200 hours must be cross-country and 250 must be fixed wing time for a restricted ATP. The restricted privileges ATP certificate allows you to serve as a co-pilot until you get the total required hours for an unrestricted ATP certificate. In other words, you can start a job as a civilian First Officer pilot and accrue hours for your ATP at the same time. Once you have achieved the normal requirements, you can remove the restriction and become a pilot in command.


Logging Your Flight Time


Ideally, you should be keeping track of your flight time in your logbook, though understandably, many pilots either forget to write their flight times down or misplace their logbooks over time. It happens to even the best pilots. Thankfully, you can recreate your logbook using your CAFRs (comprehensive annual financial reports) and DA 759 forms to fill in any blanks. It will not be completely accurate, but it’s a good enough representation of your flight times for potential employers.


Read the FAR/AIM


Make sure you read the Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual. Most military regulations are based on FAR/AIMs, so you are probably already familiar with most of the basic regulations. However, there are still some differences, particularly the regulations involving how you obtain a license, how you may lose your license, transportation, and general use of your commercial license.


Not studying up on these FAA regulations will make you seem unprepared or not as serious when you start getting interviews. The good news: if you get an ATP, you should already be learning everything in the FAR/AIM. The written exam for the ATP is based mainly on these regulations.


Pilot Currency


Staying current might seem unnecessary to many pilots who feel that flying a plane is equivalent to riding a bike. While you never truly forget how to fly, staying current and keeping your flying and ATC skills sharp will prepare you for the transition to commercial operations.


Technology is constantly advancing, which means that not flying for a few months could leave you scratching your head when you do reenter the cockpit. Currency is not just about what you deem passable; it is required by the FAA for any pilots who want to carry passengers in any capacity, including flying at night, in a tailwheel airplane, and in certain weather conditions.


There are other requirements if you want to be a pilot in command under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules. To fly IFR, you must have logged at least six instrument approaches, intercept and tracking courses, and holding procedures in the last six months. If you haven’t, you must pass an instrument proficiency check. Granted, unless you are already an active flyer, you may have trouble getting in six approaches in six months, so many pilots will fly six approaches with a safety pilot.


Currency is all about ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you. If you ended your military tenure with a desk job for a couple years, you may want to consider re-currency training and check rides, both of which can be acquired through airline academy’s like VT_AAA offering a range of aviation programs. However, this may cost you at least $5,000.


From there, make sure you stay consistent, not only with regulations, but also with your own piloting skills and equipment usage. You should not go more than a month without flying a plane.


Networking with Other Pilots


In the modern age, networking, meeting new people, and creating potential business connections is integral to developing your personal growth and landing a job that is satisfying in all areas.


You should be leaving your military life with a fair  bit of personal connections to help your transition, but to expand your network further, consider attending events like Heli-Expo or Heli-Success. These events not only offer a great forum for meeting aviators in the industry, but also hold a wide range of seminars and panels that give you information about jobs in the civilian market or help you build your resume, write cover letters, and get interviews.


Furthermore, many recruiters, chief pilots, and potential employers attend these events. While you should not attend these events just to hand out resumes, you should absolutely feel free to talk to these professionals for information. It’s a great way for them to put a face to a name if and when you do apply for a job. Creating that initial networking relationship can give you the edge you need in order to get an interview over other candidates.


Writing Your Resume


Your resume gives potential employers a quick look at your flight time and your experience in the cockpit. They should generally be no longer than a page. Employers should be able to get a good idea of you as a pilot with one brief glance at your resume.


One important thing to remember: remove any military-specific vernacular from your resume. Only about a third of civilian pilots were trained in the military, meaning that most people who see your resume will not understand your “military speak,” putting you at a potential disadvantage. Avoid military acronyms.


Your resume should also mention references. You do not need to list them in the resume, but you should have them prepared ahead of time should your employer ask for them. Print them out or save them in a usable format. Aim for three to four references from a mix of both military and civilian personnel.


Applying for the Job


Your resume is polished, and you have all the right certifications and flight time requirements. Now it’s time to actually find and apply to jobs. When you do find an employer you want to work with, avoid applying to every single opening. A recruiter seeing your name multiple times for different positions will only be confusing and seem over-desperate. As a rule of thumb, stick with up to three positions or locations that work for you.


Don’t overestimate the timeline. Do not apply for positions more than three months from your actual date of availability. In reality, it could take no more than 30 days. Essentially, apply to positions with the intent of being ready to go almost immediately. Customs and Border Patrol are some of the exceptions as they require flight proficiency tests and background checks.


Above all, be patient and gracious. Most companies will hire internally before they even look at outside applications. You can expect recruiters to take two to three weeks to get back to you. After that time, you can follow up. Assuming you have been networking properly, you should be able to send the recruiter a personal email to let them know you have applied.


If you are transitioning into civilian life and want to convert your military experience into a job in the aviation industry, the Aviation Academy of America can help. The VT AAA Flight School offers a pilot training program that is tailored to your specific needs to help you transition into a civilian career as a commercial airline pilot. The program assigns a flight instructor to you to audit your flight time and determine how much fixed wing time you need, so whether you have been flying for years, spent time away from the cockpit, or have no experience at all, VT AAA can make sure you get the exact instruction you need.


VT AAA will also help you pay for training by consulting with airline bridge partners, including Delta, United, and American. You can also train and fly based on your own schedule, allowing you to gain experience and knowledge without sacrificing time at work or time with your friends and family.


If you have questions or are ready to submit an application, contact VT AAA admissions at (830) 423-4664 today.

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