Military to Civilian Transition:

By Staff Writer | August 1, 2015
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Regarding your new column for military veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce (“Cleared for Transition, Part 1: Introduction,” R&WI July 2015, page 50), I have some thoughts.

The transition is not hard if you get your civilian ratings before the last month of your military service.


I don’t care what the regulations say. You will need an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate if you want a well-paying civilian flying position. Although as a military pilot you have good experience and training, that will not impress anyone until you have the civilian ratings.

The easiest way is to study the Federal Aviation Regulations when you first graduate from flight school and take the Military Competence Test to obtain your commercial and instrument ratings. Becoming a military instructor pilot can get you an instructor’s ratings (with another written test and documentation of your military instructor pilot status).

The good part is no further flight checks are required to obtain these certificates.

Another good certificate to have is ground instructor for both advanced and instrument. This will permit you to teach in a flight simulator without any restrictions. You can teach in a simulator with a flight instructor certificate, but that certificate has to be renewed every two years.

If you want to work for an outfit like CAE, Simcom or FlightSafety International, you also will need an ATP certificate (depending upon the aircraft, as they will give you the type rating—if required—after you are hired).

FAR 61.73 (“Military pilots or former military pilots: Special rules”) clearly states what you must do and how to prepare for the written exams. My experience has been that most military pilots put off obtaining the civilian ratings until just before they get out.

When you go through any military flight training program, you should immediately see if it can be transferred to your civilian certificate. If it can, take the steps to do so. U.S. airlines are now required to hire only those with ATPs as first officer. The same goes for most corporate aviation departments. The hiring company may not care what category or class ratings you have as long as you have the ATP.

For both airplanes and helicopters, VIP or cargo/troop movement flying is the most beneficial in securing civilian employment. But some operations prefer pilots with tactical experience. Don’t limit yourself to just your military background.

Another way to help improve your civilian employment appeal is to join a military flying club and fly small general aviation airplanes. Maybe you can be an instructor at a local flying school, which will add civilian time to your total flight time.

Most branches of the military will allow you to place your civilian time on your official military flight records, which is helpful when documenting your flight experience. Employers normally accept official military flight records without question.

For helicopter pilots, the big jobs are offshore flying for the oil companies and charter operations in remote areas. There are fewer opportunities within the corporate sector, but those of you with VIP and instrument backgrounds will have an advantage. So get as much helicopter IFR experience as you can while you are in the military.

I worked in a moderately large flight department that operated both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. The helicopter pilots just happened to be rated fixed-wing pilots, but at first they were not allowed to fly the airplanes. But eventually we helicopter pilots were allowed to fly fixed-wing as first officers and then later as captains. If you are dual-rated, you are more valuable to a flight department in times of cutbacks.

Craig Wheel
Newark, Del.
ATP SE & MEL, Helicopter
CFII Airplane SE & ME and Helicopter

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