Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nonflying Aerospace Careers

10 dynamic career fields worth considering

10 UAV OPERATIONS: UAVs were a big surprise in our research for this year’s article—they came up in multiple interviews. Everyone we spoke to on the subject expects UAV use to expand rapidly. One told us that, in the long run, every flying job that’s “boring, dangerous or dirty” will move to unmanned vehicles, mentioning firefighting, pipeline patrol and agricultural spraying as examples. There are at least two unique career fields associated with UAVs. UND Professor Mike Nelson (formerly an Air Force fighter pilot with the handle “Spike”) says, “There’s at least one highly qualified pilot in charge of any UAV.” That’s right, we’ve now come up with what may be the ultimate nonflying aerospace job: a pilot who never leaves the ground! Qualifications to fly UAVs are basically the same as those for entry-level airline jobs: An FAA commercial pilot license, preferably multi-engine (though single-engine may be enough, depending on the vehicle) with several hundred hours’ experience. A four-year degree and ATP and CFI certifications are pluses, and for the jobs available now, U.S. citizenship is required. Salaries start at $50,000, reaching $75,000 with a couple years of experience. As Kansas State University Professor R. Kurt Barnhart says, “It sure beats CFI pay!” The catch is that most of the available jobs today are overseas, working for defense contractors, or along the U.S. border. The pilot (or “vehicle operator”) flying the UAV from the “left seat” isn’t the only person involved—most UAVs have a “right seat” mission payload operator to point the sensors and track objects of interest. In the military, those jobs are filled by enlisted personnel who typically earn quite a bit less than the flight-rated officers in the left seat.

Learn More
Airline Dispatchers Federation:
Airport Consultants Council:
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics:
American Meteorological Society:
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University:
Kansas State University:
National Air Traffic Controllers Association:
Spartan College of Aeronautics:
University of North Dakota:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Wright State University:


Add Comment