the ship into the harbor and to the dock.
When a ship sails a pilot is onboard to navi-
gate it safely back out to open water.
A pilot can also be a device to show the
way in other endeavors. For example, many
airplane kits have pilot holes drilled in components. When the pilot holes are lined up
the components are correctly in place.
In the late 1800s France was the hotbed
of aviation, and people
were flying all sorts of
machines. A descriptive term for the
people who operated
these aircraft was
needed, so aviator,
from the French
avia-teur, was coined.
Pilots were guiding
ships in to and out of
harbors, but aviators were
Aviator was commonly used even after
the Wright brothers and others developed
airplanes. Flying was a unique activity, to
say the least, and it must have made sense
to use a new and unique term to describe
the people who operated aircraft.
simply a pilot.
Nobody knows for sure when the term pilot
began to become synonymous with aviator,
but I think it may have happened in the
1920s and ’30s when governments began to
license and regulate aviation. Maritime
pilots were already certified so it probably
made sense, when it came to creating a
licensing system for aviators, to call those
people pilots, too. Many of the operational
techniques and standards we use in aviation
trace their routes to maritime traditions
and standards, so the idea of a captain being
in command, or a pilot in command, made
sense in aviation.
But aviator continues to have a broader
meaning than pilot. For example, it would
be correct to call a navigator or flight engineer or bombardier an aviator. I also think
it is a compliment to call a pilot with well-rounded and broad experience an aviator,
something more than simply a pilot.
The U.S. Navy never shelved the term
aviator and continues to call its pilots naval
aviators and flying activity naval aviation.
Perhaps that is because the Navy was using
pilots for hundreds of years before the first
airplane flew and wants to emphasize the
difference between maritime navigation
and flying. I’m sure some naval aviator will
set me straight on the real reason.
Of course there
are several other
terms for a pilot.
The military typi-
cally calls the PIC
the aircraft com-
mander. If you were
called the pilot on a
space shuttle, you
were actually the
copilot to the com-
mander. There is a
Then we have instructors and examin-
ers who are also pilots in their own right,
but we don’t usually refer to them as
pilots. For many years large airplanes
carried a flight engineer who was most
often also a pilot, but they were called
FEs, not pilots.
My point is that flying titles are
sliced and diced in all manner of ways,
but there is one term that describes anyone qualified to participate in the safe
and effective operation of any type of
aircraft, and that is aviator. We all hold
different pilot certificates and ratings,
but if we are good at what we do in an aircraft, we are aviators, and that’s what I
have always wanted to be.
I think it is a compliment to
call a pilot with well-rounded
and broad experience an
aviator, something more than
J. Mac McClellan, EAA 747337, has been a pilot for more
than 40 years, holds an ATP certificate, and owns a Beechcraft Baron. To contact Mac, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.