Debate: is there a pilot brotherhood?

Pilots by airplane
One big happy family?

Many pilots value their license not just for the privileges it unlocks, but also for the membership it represents. That membership is in the unofficial “pilot brotherhood,” which bonds together aviators from around the world–regardless of race, class or age.

Want to see this brotherhood in action? If you’ve ever been stranded on a rainy night away from home, there’s a good chance a fellow pilot (whom you’d never met before) bent over backwards to help. Or walk up to a random group of pilots at Oshkosh and you’ll probably be welcomed like a long lost friend. Aviation is special, these pilots say, because it brings people together who would otherwise never cross paths in everyday life. It has its own built-in support network.

But not everyone is sold on this romantic notion. Some student pilots claim that “the old timers” do a very good job of scaring away new pilots and making the airport an intimidating place to visit. Others point to the numerous cliques in aviation, from homebuilders to pro pilots to warbird enthusiasts. Pilots are hardly a united group, the skeptics say, and we have a lot of room to improve.

What do you think? Is there such thing as a pilot brotherhood that welcomes everyone in? Or are we kidding ourselves? Add your comment below.

22 Comments

  • The answer is “yes” and “no”. Or, “it depends”. Just like anything else that involves human beings.

    Most of the pilots I’ve known run the full gamut, from kindly, considerate “brothers” and “sisters” to ignorant, inconsiderate, nasty people who can be characterized as certain body parts that start with the letter A. There’s no generalization that applies universally to aircraft pilots.

    I guess if there is any generalization that works more often than it doesn’t, it’s when dealing online in comment boards and other online communities, which all too often can be dominated by “trolls” who simply enjoy berating and attacking others. Years ago I used to participate in one online board that catered to backcountry flyers, but it turned out that the board owner and moderator himself was the chief site troll … so I quickly moved on. Some of the aircraft type clubs and other aviation activity groups, both online and in the real world, have from time to time suffered big organizational blowouts that left a trail of anger and hurt feelings.

    Fortunately, trolling and participants with “anger management issues” are not be the case very often here on AirFactsJournal.com .. as those who post ad hominems here are usually called out immediately by others, which is good. That’s not so much a matter of a characteristic of pilots, as it is a matter of some people posting things online they’d probaby never dare say to anyone’s face in the real world.

    The good news is that most pilots can, with a little effort and time, eventually find compatible “brothers and sisters” of aviation to hang with.

  • I agree a brotherhood does exist in the student arena and then another as a certified pilot. The groups are distinctly different. As a student one usually tries to be welcoming, but as evident with the drop out rate there is just so much one at this level has to offer. We need to adopt an attitude of “each one teach one”, if nothing else to replace ourselves with another of aviation passion. In reality we need to do that at least twice. We can help mentor, encourage, engage, and demonstrate what flying means to us… include those with ambition, especially those of limited resources that their investment in themselves will yield. Many a right seat is left empty for a variety of reasons, some valid, but how does anyone know what they could use their certifications for unless it is demonstrated… at least to the point we use it for. It is incredibly difficult to overcome the newsreels, even in our own homes and families. I am respectfully hushed in conversation if aviation is ever a topic with non-pilots by gestures, that familiar look of “I wish I never asked”, and that in private conversation after the fact. The brotherhood could be viewed as “the alternative”, and I/we need to see this as isolation too. I think I would fall out of the chair if someone came up to me and asked a question, just because they knew I was a pilot (and not crazy). B

  • Probably about the same as motorcyclists, boaters, hot rodders, etc. A common interest tends to initiate communication. I think that flyers do tend to be more helpful for others in need; but that’s probably just because the group is smaller and the needs more obvious. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a group of pilot’s welcoming a stranger at Oshkosh like a “long lost friend”. In fact, the way they stake out their “turf” in the campgrounds I’m sure they would put up “Keep Out” signs if it were allowed.

    • Stephen – having been both a boater and an airplane pilot for the last near thirty some years (and a US Navy sailor before that), I’d say that airplane pilots tend more often than not to be pretty considerate (perhaps due to the safety implications of inconsiderate pilot behavior), and also pilots tend take a more professional approach to their activities … even just us private pilot ticketholders … rather more so than do most of the boaters I’ve known.

      There are a lot of exceptions to this generalization, of course … principally associated with those in sailboating, which requires a far greater degree of technical knowledge and proficiency than is required of power boaters, and with serious safety considerations to deal with at sea. Not too many inconsiderate yahoos are willing to learn to sail, or be satisfied with going slow, as opposed to just getting drunk and roaring off in their high powered cruisers and faux cigarette boats, and to heck with anybody who gets tossed about in their wake.

      Although I’ll also grant that a lot of sailboaters I’ve known can also get pretty uppity, snobby, and almost insufferable around other “lesser beings” (i.e., powerboaters, hired yacht crews, and sailors who are less skillful, or who sail “boats” instead of “yachts”). Pilots as a group seem to be a lot less class-conscious and egalitarian than boaters and yachtsmen.

      Many times I’ve mingled with a combination of fellow spam-can pilots, Cirrus-drivers, and executive jet captains and their owners, and found much common ground and camaraderie in gabbing about airplanes of any size and capability … you don’t see that much of that in the stratified world of boating and yachting.

      But again, no generalization applies to all boaters any more than it applies to all airplane pilots.

      All in all, we may not constitute a “brotherhood”, but still, the worst behaving pilots I’ve ever known are still much better behaved than the average power boaters I’ve encountered.

  • There’s a definite hierarchy and pecking order…no question about.

    Just because you have a certificate doesn’t mean that you’ll be invited into the club.

  • The previous commenters all bring up good points and counterpoints. I really think it does run the gamut, depending on who you talk to. I’ve known pilots who will fly nothing but Cessnas, others who fly nothing but low-wing Pipers, and both sides are lobbing volleys at each other. Likewise, there are those who don’t care *how* they get up, as long as it has wings. I’ve met several pilots who will give you the shirts off their backs if it will help re-open the avgas pump that was already closed for the night, and I’ve met others who will turn their noses up at you, if you admit to still flying a Cessna 150 and not a “real airplane”.

    Many of the pilots I know are some of the greatest people I can imagine. There are others whom I can’t stand, due to them constantly complaining and driving away people who could potentially become pilots themselves.

    In other words, as Stephen Phoenix mentioned, not much different than many other groups devoted to one particular passion. The ratio, I think, isn’t too dis-similar from those folks we meet outside aviation, but the differences are perhaps much more pronounced due to our smaller numbers.

  • Well yes, there is a definite “pilot brotherhood” and I am proud to say that I have been part of it for the last 49 years. There are also groups within-mechanics, part 91,135 and 121, IFR and many motor. These are no different than boaters, fisherman and NASCAR lovers.
    I have attended OSH and Sun N Fun several times and must say they are the most considerate and behaved group I have had the pleasure of being with. Heck, I have even seen Dick smile once at an NBAA show!
    Since I have had the good fortune to be a mechanic, pilot and aero structure manufacturer. I was also lucky to be in our exhibits at NBAA (National Business Aircraft Manufacturers Association), HAI (Helicopter Association International) and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) aerospace division.
    Our “brotherhood” is small and growing smaller, but I can find no reason not to admit being part of it and my life’s love of aircraft and engines.

  • There is, to an extent. I try to make it one- and like a smile, when put out there you get it in return. Of course there are D-bags that fly, aviation is a cross section of society like everything else.

  • I feel there is definitely a special club or maybe a bond. I have met some of the most awesome people at Wings classes, club meeting and at any airport in any State I have flown too. Your also right-on regarding a pilot helping you with any issue you may have. Post on any forum or blog and you always get an array of honest answers to any question. I am proud to be part of GA….

  • The first time I walked into the local flying club it was 1966 and I was 17 years old. I was completely ignored. I still to this day remember how terrible I felt because I loved airplanes and aviation and wanted to become a pilot. It was about 5 years before I went back. Now I talk to anyone who will listen and hope to encourage them and become part of the wonderful aviation family.

  • Pilots are definitely in a class by themselves. A flight instructor turned policeman once said “pilots represent the cream of the crop of society”. I once got gas at an FBO that only takes cash, and I didn’t have any. “Just mail me a check when you get home. In 30 years I’ve never had a pilot skip out on a bill. ”

    A select club? You bet!

  • I’ve been around avaition almost all of my life, from flying in the back of a rented piper cub (to small to reach rudder pedals) with my father to power plants trouble shooter on an aircraft carrier. I found most pilots “good people”. As a black pilot i’ve had a few strange encounters (looking for the real pilot while I walked into hanger/office)but no real issues. I do think pilots tend to be drawn together because all were students once and had to master the same / similar requirnments to get “The License”

  • The “filter process” that people go through to become and remain active pilots does seem to make for a generally likeable and convivial group. However, perhaps because they look all the worse by comparison, the “D-bags” that make it though the filter seem to be worse.

  • I have flown into dozens of airports and am convinced that your experience will be determined by the quality of management. Some FBOs are professional and courteous such as Banyan at FXE and Midland, Barstow or total jerks such as the airport authority at KCAD. The latter airport has a history of FBOs gossiping and backstabbing each other for the very limited work in the area. The more direct competition on a airport will create a fractured pilot community and it takes someone like Northwoods Aviation to provide a impartial FBO to keep things together.
    Moving onto student vs older pilots. In my family we have 5 pilots ranging in age from 23-79. From private to MEII. At the airport where 3 of us earned our wings we had older pilots that were thrilled to share and give to the new pilots. Based on first hand experience, every airport community is different. I would search for an airport community that was positive and upbeat and drive the distance to avoid negativity. In our case we rented a hanger at an all weather airport for winter flying and bought our own airport in an effort to create a great experience for new and old pilots alike. PS, I’ve always been treated great at Airventure and Sun n Fun.
    Happy flying to all, Martin

  • I think it depends on the specific personalities. Mostly my experiences have been very positive, with the one vibrant exception being the Stinson Yahoo group where old members actively try to discourage new members, even threatening to refuse to sell parts or provide service.

  • There is NO question…..there is a ‘VERY Tight’ brotherhood of pilots. I have been a pilot and been involved in Aviation for over 57 years. For example: Spent three years in the Air Force flying Piper Cubs, T-28’s, T-33’s, and B-47’s; and about four years in the Mass, ANG flying T-33’s, F-86H’s, and F-84’s. Also had a Cessna 182 for over 10 years that I had flying with my wife and I, flying about 400 youngsters to become an EAA Young Eagle, and traveling lots of places…most of working career was in aircraft advanced technology efforts at Pratt & Whitney, a division of UTC. I continue to mentor youngsters and adults in Aviation related topics…VERY rewarding and Fun!

  • We all share an interest — we defy gravity. Otherwise there is a group or brotherhood associated with a brand, then a model, then one engine or two, piston or turbine or jet, wheels or floats, high wing or low wing and so on…

    The Brotherhood of Gravity — yes, that works for me.

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  • The Pilot Lounge is a great leveler – whether you arrived in a Gulfstream or in a Skyhawk, you’re all eating the same stale cheese crackers and reading the same four-year-old People magazines! And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Such esprit de corps!

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