Real Answers from Real Pilots

Maths Skills to be a Pilot

Math was never a huge strong point of mine. I got through successfully only because I had good math tutors to help guide me along the way. My mom constantly doubts my ability to become a Pilot because of the sophisticated math skills the career requires. I keep trying to tell her, it only requires basic maths skills, good judgment and good navigation skills; that you don’t have to be a Math genius to do this.

What’s the real story behind Math and Aviation? Do I need to have taken high level advanced math classes like Calculous and Physics to succeed in this career? (The highest math classes I’ve taken are Algebra 3 & Statistics and I barely survived them)

Thomas,

If you have made it through algebra 3 and statistics you will be more than fine. There was a time when flying did require a bit more math skills, but even then it was mostly slide rules.

We use basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, all math that can be easily done in your head.

Trust me in this, do not worry about your math skills.

Chris

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I have a question as well. At the university I’m wanting to attend, I would have to take calculus my first year. I am in Algebra I and I have a B in there. I am not bad at math but not the best either. Will I make it with tear scores now?

Wyatt,

Personally I never took calculus but I don’t know how any of us could know how well you’ll do or not in a particular class.

Adam

Tom & Wyatt,

Mental math is definitely part of the job, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it. You will learn all the tricks and techniques that you will need, and with some practice and repetition it will become second nature to you.

Yarden

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Adam,
Ok I just wondered because I have to take applied calculus my first year. I wasn’t expecting any of y’all to know if I would make it, that’s impossible. I was just wondering if y’all thought with a B in algebra I would that mean you think that I can make and pass calculus.

Thanks Yarden

Wyatt,

Again hard to say? Did you kill yourself for that B or could you have worked harder and gotten an A. Honestly I think you’d be better served asking an advisor at the university.

Adam

Honestly Adam If I worked harder I could have achevied an A. For sure. Not as Kk g for a straight out yes or no. Just an opinion.

Thomas,

I would say that is correct, a general working knowledge of math will be more than sufficient.

Chris

I’m currently a junior in high school and really struggle with math as well. I’m in pre algebra right now. What level of math is required to become a commercial pilot? I’m thinking about taking a few math classes by it’s self at like a community college or something to build my skills, before I go into an aviation degree program. Does anybody have any tips?

Kevin,

Nothing more than basic algebra is required. That said, learning to fly is no easy task either. It’s not rocket science but there is a considerable amount knowledge and comprehension required. The flying itself is difficult at first, but the hardest part is arguably the knowledge portion.

Tory

Kevin,

Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are really about it. The example I like to give is you know there are 360° in a circle right. Each can be given as a heading to fly. The reciprocal (opposite direction) of any number within those 360° is 180° away. You get there by either adding or subtracting from the original heading because you can never go over 360° (as there’s only 360° in a circle). So if I ask what’s the reciprocal of 90° you’d take 90+180 giving you an answer of 270. Conversely if I ask for the reciprocal of 270, you can’t add 180 because 270+180= 450 so you need to subtract the 180 from the 270, 270-180=90. If this makes sense AND you can take ANY number from 1-360 and come up with the reciprocal (ie, the opposite heading) that’s about as hard as it gets. If you can’t you need to start working on your math skills.

Btw, I’d also start thinking about something other than an aviation degree. The airlines neither require nor desire an aviation degree, they provide no backup and are usually very expensive.

Adam

Kevin,

Basic math will be just fine, there is no need for advanced math classes.

I have to ask, why the desire to go to an aviation degree program? That is the most expensive and time consuming route you could take, there are other options out there. Any particular reason you are considering the aviation degree path?

Chris

I don’t really have to go through an aviation program… but I don’t really know what other major I would take instead. If you have any ideas that would be really appreciated

Do you have any suggestions on another degree, instead of an aviation degree program?

Kevin,
Like the guys said, just basic arithmetic is most of the “math” you’ll do while in aviation training. In the cockpit you’ll have to do some mental math (descent planning, reciprocals, etc) and on your writtens you will have a calculator available to help with weight and balance problems. No advanced math will be necessary.
As for what degree, what else interests you? Business, tech, finance, etc? Business is a very good general degree to get because it could be applied to many different careers. It really doesn’t matter what you choose. I have a journalism degree but if I were to get furloughed I could go back to my old job as a news producer at any local tv station in the country. So think about what would interest you, that degrees potential job opportunities if you had to use it and it’s flexibility based on where you live.
Hannah

Kevin,

Here’s the thing, you’re still pretty young and while I’m sure you’re quite sure you want to fly, you really won’t know until you’re actually doing it. You could decide it’s really not for you or there could be some circumstance that prevents you from moving forward (ie, medical etc). For those reasons it’s always a great idea to have a backup. It really can be anything you enjoy and wouldn’t mind doing should aviation not pan out.

That said if that’s where all your interest is there’s nothing saying you can’t. I’m just saying it’s always best to have options.

Adam

I appreciate all the help!

Kevin,

I would focus on any degree field that interests you, besides aviation. I have known pilots to have degrees in everything from business administration (myself included) to history, even to piano composition. The majors just want to see a four year degree, they are really not concerned with the field of study.

Chris