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What type of intelligence do pilots have?

Do You Have to Be Smart to Be a Pilot?

Sunset over Dublin Airport

It’s obvious that the field of aviation demands a lot of time and commitment, but do you have to be smart to be a pilot?

The short answer is no, but the details can be a lot more complicated than that.

Being a pilot is, by no means, a simple task, and you’ll need to have a specific skill set to do your job well. While you don’t have to be a genius to master these skills, there are still requirements to keep in mind.

Is There an IQ Requirement for Pilots?

The great news is that there isn’t a specific IQ threshold you have to pass to become a pilot.

That said, IQ still isn’t a completely useless metric.

Flying a plane is difficult in itself. For one, you have to think on your feet and make quick decisions—some even involving on-the-spot calculations!

However, most flight schools recognize that intelligence isn’t 100% measured by IQ tests. In fact, the Theory of Multiple Intelligence can gauge the cognitive processes of pilots even better than traditional IQ scores.

So, you don’t have to worry too much about metrics like IQ. As long as you pass the aptitude tests, you can still become a pilot.

What Do You Actually Need to Become a Pilot?

Now that we’ve established that IQ isn’t the only basis, let’s take a look at what you need to become a pilot.

Excellent Physical and Mental Health

Medical exams are among the first tests you’ll have to take when starting your aviation journey. A team of medical examiners will assess if you have any existing conditions that could get in the way of you flying a plane safely.

For instance, people prone to heart attacks and strokes can be disqualified. Meanwhile, people with bad vision can undergo corrective surgery and get a pass.

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Spatial Intelligence

Spatial intelligence is actually one of the modalities included in the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. All in all, we describe spatial intelligence as the ability to see things three-dimensionally, and it’s one of the most useful skills for a pilot.

Don’t just take our word for it; research shows that abilities in spatial reasoning are excellent predictors of how successful a pilot’s performance will be.

One way you can train your spatial intelligence is by using flight simulators. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a ton of money on equipment since you can start with simple desktop flight simulators like Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane.

You’ll also get more opportunities to work on this aspect in flight school.

Good Navigation Skills

Before you receive a license to fly a plane, you’ll need formal education.

Nobody expects you to be the best navigator on your first day of pilot training. Even if you’re particularly smart, this is something that will take time to master.

The good thing is that flight school will teach you the fundamentals, including aerodynamics, navigation, and propulsion. You’ll learn the theories in the classroom and then get the chance to apply what you’ve learned.

Knowledge of Aviation Regulations

Aside from navigational skills, you’ll also need to know the aviation rules. These can seem a little boring to some people, but you still need to know them like the back of your hand.

The regulations can include the certifications you need to qualify as a pilot as well as what you can and can’t do inside a cockpit.

Passion for Aviation

Being smart certainly helps, but it won’t cut it if you lose motivation halfway through flight school.

The thing is, it’s hard to put in the hours when you’re not passionate about becoming a pilot. After all, this career path it’s not an easy route, nor is it a short one.

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As it happens, a study linked the relationship between pilot motivation and performance—the lower the student motivation level, the poorer the actual performance during flight training.

One way to combat loss of motivation is to look at the success of the pilots that came before you. Take the Wright brothers, for example. Orville and Wilbur Wright were among the earliest pioneers of aviation. Yet, they were inspired by people like Otto Lilienthal.

The Wright brothers went through several prototypes before building the first-ever working aircraft. None of the failed attempts stopped them because they had enough inspiration to push them forward!

Good Leadership Skills

Sure, an aircraft can have more than one pilot. However, there will always be a Pilot in Command (PIC) or a Captain.

This could be you someday!

However, being the Captain in a cockpit isn’t just about being a smart pilot. It also requires excellent leadership skills.

Fortunately, the best way to practice becoming a good leader is to be a great follower. You’ll have plenty of time to do that while you’re building up the flight hours!

Enough Funding

Moving on to the more practical side of the equation, training to become a pilot can be rather expensive. Most flight schools aren’t free, and you’ll have to secure sufficient funding to cover your tuition fees.

Don’t let that discourage you; the demand for pilots has been steadily increasing. As a result, there has also been an increase in the available aviation scholarships. However, landing this kind of scholarship might require outstanding academic performance.

Is Becoming a Pilot Worth All That Hassle?

Overall, becoming a pilot is as rewarding as it is challenging. While flight school can be tough, this profession allows you to travel around the world with great financial compensation!

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Final Thoughts

Do you have to be smart to be a pilot? No, you don’t need to be an absolute genius.

However, you do have to be competent and healthy enough to get into a reputable flight school and pass your classes. Being good at math and science will definitely help, too.

In addition, you’ll need funding, adequate mentoring, tons of practice, and a healthy dose of passion to see this career choice through to the finish line!

What type of intelligence do pilots have?

Intelligence is influenced by heredity, culture, social contexts, personal choices, and certainly age. One distinction in specific intelligences noted in adulthood, is between fluid intelligence, which refers to the capacity to learn new ways of solving problems and performing activities quickly and abstractly, and crystallized intelligence, which refers to the accumulated knowledge of the world we have acquired throughout our lives (Salthouse, 2004). These intelligences are distinct, and crystallized intelligence increases with age, while fluid intelligence tends to decrease with age (Horn, Donaldson, & Engstrom, 1981; Salthouse, 2004).

Figure 8.16

Adapted from Horn, Donaldson and Engstrom (1981)

Research demonstrates that older adults have more crystallized intelligence as reflected in semantic knowledge, vocabulary, and language. As a result, adults generally outperform younger people on measures of history, geography, and even on crossword puzzles, where this information is useful (Salthouse, 2004). It is this superior knowledge, combined with a slower and more complete processing style, along with a more sophisticated understanding of the workings of the world around them, that gives older adults the advantage of “wisdom” over the advantages of fluid intelligence which favor the young (Baltes, Staudinger, & Lindenberger, 1999; Scheibe, Kunzmann, & Baltes, 2009).

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The differential changes in crystallized versus fluid intelligence help explain why older adults do not necessarily show poorer performance on tasks that also require experience (i.e., crystallized intelligence), although they show poorer memory overall. A young chess player may think more quickly, for instance, but a more experienced chess player has more knowledge to draw on.

Seattle Longitudinal Study: The Seattle Longitudinal Study has tracked the cognitive abilities of adults since 1956. Every seven years the current participants are evaluated and new individuals are also added. Approximately 6000 people have participated thus far, and 26 people from the original group are still in the study today. Current results demonstrate that middle-aged adults perform better on four out of six cognitive tasks than those same individuals did when they were young adults. Verbal memory, spatial skills, inductive reasoning (generalizing from particular examples), and vocabulary increase with age until one’s 70s (Schaie, 2005; Willis & Shaie, 1999). However, numerical computation and perceptual speed decline in middle and late adulthood (see Figure 8.17).

Figure 8.17 Seattle Longitudinal Study ages 25 to 88

Cognitive skills in the aging brain have been studied extensively in pilots, and similar to the Seattle Longitudinal Study results, older pilots show declines in processing speed and memory capacity, but their overall performance seems to remain intact. According to Phillips (2011) researchers tested pilots age 40 to 69 as they performed on flight simulators. Older pilots took longer to learn to use the simulators, but performed better than younger pilots at avoiding collisions.

Flow is the mental state of being completely present and fully absorbed in a task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). When in a state of flow, the individual is able to block outside distractions and the mind is fully open to producing. Additionally, the person is achieving great joy or intellectual satisfaction from the activity and accomplishing a goal. Further, when in a state of flow, the individual is not concerned with extrinsic rewards. Csikszentmihalyi (1996) used his theory of flow to research how some people exhibit high levels of creativity as he believed that a state of flow is an important factor to creativity (Kaufman & Gregoire, 2016). Other characteristics of creative people identified by Csikszentmihalyi (1996) include curiosity and drive, a value for intellectual endeavors, and an ability to lose our sense of self and feel a part of something greater. In addition, he believed that the tortured creative person was a myth and that creative people were very happy with their lives. According to Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi (2002) people describe flow as the height of enjoyment. The more they experience it, the more they judge their lives to be gratifying. The qualities that allow for flow are well-developed in middle adulthood.

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Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is pragmatic or practical and learned through experience rather than explicitly taught, and it also increases with age (Hedlund, Antonakis, & Sternberg, 2002). Tacit knowledge might be thought of as “know-how” or “professional instinct.” It is referred to as tacit because it cannot be codified or written down. It does not involve academic knowledge, rather it involves being able to use skills and to problem-solve in practical ways. Tacit knowledge can be understood in the workplace and used by blue collar workers, such as carpenters, chefs, and hair dressers.

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  • Authored by: Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French. Provided by: College of Lake County Foundation. Located at: License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
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