Math is often a tough subject for a lot of students. Many prospective pilots worry if they have sufficient math skills to be an airline pilot. Topics like math, algebra, geometry, and physics can be hard classes in college for many, so it’s understandable that this is a common question and concern.
So, do pilots need to be good at math? How much math is even involved with being a pilot? Let’s take a look.
To be a pilot, you will need a good understanding of math topics including geometry, physics, algebra, and arithmetic. Though you’ll have to understand these topics to be a pilot, you won’t actually be doing all of the calculations in your daily job as many of them are handled by technology these days.
When do Pilots Use Math?
There are many instances while working as a pilot that you’ll have to use math. Here are some examples of calculations an situations in which you’ll be using these math skills.
Take-off and Descent
Airplanes have recommended angles for taking off and descending before landing. You’ll need to be able to understand and apply the correct math to calculate how your speed, angle, and distance effect this. If you take take off or land at too steep of an angle, you could damage the aircraft or worse – cause a crash.
Staying on Course
Planning the route you’ll use to arrive at your destination will need you to use geometry. This includes being able to look at a map and understand the route as well as how many degrees the airplane has to turn to take the most efficient course.
Calculating Fuel Usage
Knowing how much fuel you have and how much you’ll need to safely reach your destination is a very important math calculation. Things like weather and wind resistance can change how much fuel you need to reach your destination by a significant amount. In the event you have to stay in the air longer than planned, you’ll also have to be able to calculate how much fuel you’re burning and how long the fuel you have will last you. These are all very important calculations that a good pilot can make quickly and accurately.
Doesn’t the Aircraft/Auto Pilot Handle Most of this?
Yes, most of the above calculations are done by the aircraft and by modern technology these days.
That being said, you still want to have a good understanding of what is going on behind the scenes. There very well could be scenarios where a piece of technology fails or has bad information causing you to get a bad output.
You’ll want to be able to know what’s going on so you can react if you sense something is wrong or someone made a mistake.
- Related Reading: Do you need a college degree to be an airline pilot?
Most Common Types of Math Used by Pilots
As seen in the examples, the most common types of math used by airline pilots includes:
- Basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
Can I be a Pilot if I’m Bad at Math?
This depends on what you consider being bad a math. If you can do some very basic calculations quickly and accurately in your head, you should be fine. This includes things like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
More complex calculations are usually done using the proper tools/technology, so an airline won’t expect you to do all of the math required to be an airline pilot by hand. Although this might have been the case a long time ago, it’s no longer needed.
If you got through many of the college level math classes needed to earn a bachelor’s degree, you should be fine. Anything you need to know specific to flying and being a pilot you will learn when you go through pilot school.
Do Pilots Use Calculators?
Yes! Pilots can and do use calculators (Both physical ones as well as apps) to do math calculations. In addition, there are various tools and software that is used by pilots to do their job every day. There will be times when you have to do quick and accurate math calculations in your head as a pilot, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have resources at your disposal as well.
Flying an airplane involves a lot of math so having a good understanding of it will make your career as a pilot much easier. However, you should not consider a career as a pilot off limits if you aren’t a math wiz. Instead, you should focus on having a good basic understanding of these topics as well as the ability to do basic arithmetic in your head quickly. Everything else, you will learn in flight school and have the resources to help you when you become a airline pilot.