New Student Pilot Seeking Career Wisdom
Hello all,

My Name is Jacob Abukhader I am a student pilot enrolled at Falcon executive aviation. I am currently training to earn my private pilot certificate and onwards from there to earn my instrument, multi engine, CFI, and ultimately my commercial certification.

However I do not want to fly for the airlines as a commercial pilot. My career goal is to become a professional test pilot.
From what I've learned this is incredibly difficult to do as a civilian, but incredibly difficult is far from the impossible. Im looking for answers as to how i can help pay for training without being able to use financial aid. I decided to pursue flight school over university as the only program they had was ATP which is really oriented towards fast tracking commercial pilots into airline positions. ASU was going to charge me tuition onto of ATP charging me to learn how to fly and fast track me towards a career I didn't want. I decided to attend Falcon Exec as they are a 141 school and are my best option to fly frequent and fly fast. This leaves me the option of pursuing a degree after I complete my flight training. The plan is to use my future earnings as a CFI to pay for the rest of training as well as build hours. 

I can't get off of the ground however. At 20 Its so difficult to pay for training I don't know where to really start to look. I have applied to scholarships, no luck so far but I will continue to do so.

Im looking for any guidance as to how to become a test pilot, what are the bare necessities as qualifications that I need, how can I use flight hours and experience to impress potential employers and make myself a competitive pilot against the former military guys and gals. 4 years for school and 10 years of service just doesn't appeal to me. I want fly and work as a pilot as soon as possible. What are your stories? How did you start flying? Who do you fly for, how did you apply, what did you need? I have open ears. 

Thanks to all within the community for reading this and for your time. Any information I get I will do my best to pass on to other students to perhaps motivate them into a career in aviation.


Jake Abukhader
5 Replies
Thanks for the pointers everyone. Really appreciate everyone taking time to reply. Embry is high on my list. I was already accepted I will just have to renew my application. FAFSA as well as (hopefully) the money I earn from being a CFI will help pay for me to attend Embry Riddle. Planning to attend after finishing my flight training as this will provide me with advantages such as not needing certain classes if I already have a commercial certificate. 

While I fully understand the difficulty of competing  with former military pilots for civilian careers, it is not impossible.

I looked into NTPS. You need to already be a pilot with a degree. You don't have to be military to go to school there, although most who attend are. The test pilot program does not teach you how to fly, they teach you how to be a test pilot. That sounds like the same thing but it isn't. Their program focuses more on the actual "testing" part of the job. How to set up procedures, file reports, etc. the 12 month course there is $970,000. Again no flight training included in that.

The general consensus for where to begin this career path among the pilots I have spoken to, the companies I have spoken to and the members here seems to be this in a nutshell.

-Complete the flight training first
-Build a hefty resume earning a minimum of at least 1000 hours in multiple varieties of aircraft and continue to earn hours as a CFI. Gain as much experience as possible.
-Finish Flight training, by this I mean earn Commercial certification as well as possibly ATP rating depending on what you fly and who you fly for.
-After completing flight training go back and get a degree. Preferably in engineering, physics, science, or anything related in that field.

Again the goal of my inquiry was to reach to find some sort of common ground amongst those of you who actually do fly professionally within the industry to provide input on where to start.
This is by no means an attempt to over simplify the complexity of being a test pilot or take some sort of lazy or quick route into this line of work.

As previously stated, many test pilots are former military, but its not impossible to become a test pilot using the civilian route. The reality may be that its difficult and will take a long time of vigorous training. however it is an accomplishable feat. 

Again thanks to those who took time to share their input!


Jacob Abukhader. 

Ronald Levy
1169 Posts
BTW, as an example, here are the requirements to be a research ("test") pilot for NASA:

Appropriate Fields of Study

Required college majors for applicants qualifying on the basis of undergraduate education only:

Aeronautical Engineering, Aeronautics, Aerospace Engineering, Astronautical Engineering, Ceramic Engineering, Ceramics, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Electronics Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Materials Engineering, Applied Mechanics, Engineering Mechanics, Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Nuclear Engineering Physics, Optical Engineering, Structural Engineering, Welding Engineering.

Other majors will qualify if the major includes or is supplemented as shown below:

Astronautics, Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Geology, Materials Science, Mathematics (Pure or Applied), Metallurgy, Physics, Applied Physics, Engineering Physics (or other related field), if includes or is supplemented by 12 semester hours (or the equivalent) in appropriate physical science or engineering courses.

Additional Requirements for Research Piloting Positions

(NOTE: Research Piloting positions are extremely rare)

In addition to the basic education requirements (successful completion of a standard professional curriculurn in an accredited college or university leading to a bachelor's degree with major study in an appropriate field of engineering, physical science, life science or mathematics), you must have a current FAA commercial pilot's license with instrument rating or a pilot and instrument rating from the armed service. One, or a combination, of the following criteria must also be met:


  A minimum of 900 hours of pilot in command (or first pilot) flight time which included at least 500 hours on jet aircraft having at least 3,000 pounds of thrust per engine; or one year of research piloting experience.


  A minimum of 1,000 hours of pilot in command (or first pilot) flight time which included at least 500 hours on jet aircraft having at least 3,000 pounds of thrust per engine; or one year of research piloting experience equivalent to grade GS-9.


  A minimum of 1,500 hours of pilot in command (or first pilot) flight time which included at least 500 hours on jet aircraft having at least 3,000 pounds of thrust per engine; plus one year of research piloting experience equivalent to the next lower grade in the Federal service; or one year of progressive research piloting experience equivalent to the next lower grade.
Note that the 4-year degree in engineering or similar field is an absolute requirement, and then think about how you're going to get 500 hours of PIC time in jet aircraft with engines that big -- even the T-1A. (Beechjet 400A) used by the USAF for tanker/transport pilot training doesn't have engines that big.
Ronald Levy
1169 Posts
I'm not sure what you mean by "test pilot".  There are a lot of different sorts of test flying jobs out there, ranging from the engineering test pilots involved in the development of new civil and military aircraft by aircraft manufacturers to the folks who do the post-production test flights of newly built aircraft at places like Cessna and Cirrus.  Exactly what do you think you want to do?

In all cases, you'll need a solid body of flying experience and some engineering expertise.  The best first step would to get a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or other engineering field closely related to aviation.  Nobody is going to look at you in that business without an engineering degree.  While ERAU is a good choice for that, allowing you to pursue both engineering and piloting courses simultaneously, major university engineering programs are at least as good -- for example, the University of Michigan's engineering program is the only one outside the service academies to have had three graduates fly together on a space mission.  Really, any major university aerospace engineering program will do for this.

You'll also need to gain a large body of flying experience in a wide range of aircraft.  That means gaining all the necessary initial certifications (Private, Commercial, Instrument, Multiengine, and Flight Instructor) and then working as a pilot for quite a few years.  Completion of a recognized test pilot program such those offered by the National Test Pilot School is another important step if you want to be doing serious engineering test piloting, and that ain't cheap.  The most important thing to recognize is that you'll be competing with people who went through US military flight training, flew a few thousand hours in a range of military aircraft, completed military test pilot school, and then worked for several years as test pilots in the military.  That's going to take an impressive resume which will take many years to build outside the military.

The question I have to ask at this point is if "4 years of school and 10 years of service just doesn't appeal to [you]", you may not have the patience and dedication needed to be a successful test pilot.  However, if simply getting into aviation and flying as a pilot is your immediate goal, it's going to take a significant pile of money -- on the order of $50-75,000 to buy the 300 hours of so of flying time necessary to be qualified for even the most basic entry level piloting jobs, and the number of grants and scholarships out there is extremely small.  Loans for flight training are hard to come by outside of collegiate aviation programs, but since you're going to need a 4-year college degree (preferably in engineering) to get where you say you want to go, you should be thinking along those lines.  Many of the best collegiate aviation programs are at universities with excellent engineering programs, like Purdue, Auburn, and others.  For starters, try checking the schools which have nationally accredited aviation programs -- see the list at here:

You're going to see some big names there, including schools with top flight engineering programs.
Hi Jake, et al.,
1. As money is a problem for you (and most of us); then pursue the LIGHT SPORT PILOT CERTIFICATE as you can/should be able to earn that rating at 1/3rd the cost of a Private Pilot Certificate.  It requires 20-hours of instructional time compared to the 60-hours for a Private.  Next, the SPORT PILOT only requires 5-hours of solo time.  The PPL requires 10-hours.  It means that for 1/3rd (approximate cost)(at the minimum required hours; you can be flying ON YOUR OWN (VFR/GOOD WEATHER).  Depending where you live, a PPL can cost you over $10,000+, especially have you have an unethical flight school "milking you" for more coins.

Here is what the Experimental Aircraft Association tells you on it:

2. As you already live in AZ, then you should be looking at attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as you can use your FEDERAL STUDENT FINANCIAL AID to both attend college AND to take flight lessons.  Visit, but you need to look for their primary campus, which there are TWO, one in Florida and the other in AZ.

3. There are many groups that have AVIATION SCHOLARSHIPS and the younger a student pilot tends to be, the more likely you can get money.  Each scholarship has application rules/dates/times/goals/expectations, and you still only get a fraction of what you need to move forward.  Some requirements might include you working on ratings AFTER you get your PPL.  That does not help you NOW.  I have started a similar spreadsheet for me because I sincerely need to find flight training money.  At age 20, there are MANY more options for you than someone at 52-years of age.

4. "TEST PILOT" you need to appreciate that if you are an eventual "test pilot," the first thing you can do is to visit the library to learn about someone that I admired and had the honor of meeting, USAF General Chuck Yeager.  I encourage you to read his books because it will help you understand his life as "the fastest man alive" in the 1940s and thereafter. 

What you will begin to appreciate is that being a "test pilot" means you must comprehend all of the aeronautical skills, higher math, technology, and so much more.  Therefore, a traditional college is not going to be combining all of these skills.  There are other aeronautical universities for you to consider.  I earned a Masters Degree: a Masters of Aeronautical Sciences with two specializations: 1. Aviation/Aerospace Safety Systems; 2. Space Studies.  Then I got an additional Certification in Aviation/Aerospace Safety Systems.  This is the same degree that astronauts on the International Space Station have earned from the same university.

Test pilots in 2018 are going to be far more educated and technical than General Yeager was 50+ years ago.  No disrespect is meant/intended toward him.  I have great admiration and respect for he and his career!

Therefore, just earning a few FAA ratings will not and does not make you a "test pilot."  You need to appreciate that a great deal of work on aircraft these days is done virtually with software.  The company called "Siemens" has software that you can and should start to learn how to use.  They have constant online webinars and in-person seminars across the world and you are not going to become an expert in one-hour webinars; but you start becoming familiar with some of the many capabilities of the software.  You can attend their webinars and seminars FREE OF CHARGE!  They want folks learning how to use their software.  Visit: for more information.eme

Their software is called: "PLM" which stands for Products Lifecycle Management.

COLLEGE INTERNSHIPS: You can and should start learning about aviation manufacturers in your area.  For example, I am researching and designing my own aviation safety equipment I call "AIRBAGS FOR ULTRALIGHTS" due to the tragic death of a friend of mine who was in a Weight-Shift Control (Trike) Ultralight Plane crash 26 Feb 2009, and he died hours later on 27 Feb 2009, in Torrance, CA.  I have spent the years since then investigating and then trying to determine how to make that accident "preventable" and to minimize the risk for other ultralights.

In 2013-2014, I got Veterans Administration funding for my "Technical Certificate in Design Technology" to learn the Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs to start understanding better how to take my concepts to the next level.  I already had 7 other completed college degrees from 28-years of previous college.  Therefore, this Technical Certificate was all of the funding I could find to help me on the project.  The "Veterans Retraining Assistance Program" (VRAP) only paid for one-year of college at the undergraduate level at a "community college."  There normally is not much you can learn or do in one year to get something that relates to aviation.  As I already had over 600+ college credit hours; it meant I automatically had over 350-credit hours absorbed to complete the Technical Certificate.  Most students never do all of that.

While working on that certificate, I did an internship with to apply my concepts to one of the seven types of aircraft they have made over the last 40ish years.  I am still working on the research and design because I had hoped to spend my life with my deceased friend, but instead, I am now investing the time to create the safety equipment that would have kept him alive.  Yes, I am dedicating these last nine years of work to my beloved friend.  It is my attempt to make a positive legacy for him as the result of his tragic death.  At some point, after all of my research and design, I have to determine when/how the AIRBAGS FOR ULTRALIGHTS will be tested.  Some of it will be virtual (computer based testing), but then the use of a full-scale plane at various military or civilian test wind tunnels, with cranes, and even the ability to do water-based splash-downs.  All of that is done the road.

Even after earning seven completed college degrees and many other Technical Certificates, the fact is that I must involve many other folks with lots of other degrees and life experience if my AIRBAGS FOR ULTRALIGHTS gets completed.

Therefore, you need to be asking several questions:

2. If you cannot attend the primary campus of Embry-Riddle in AZ, did you know they have about 130+ "extended campuses" that are all over the world?  Did you know they can help you earn a degree ONLINE through their "Worldwide Campus?"

3. You need to start asking, "What is my day-job" until you get several other ratings.  For example, you can earn the FAA REMOTE PILOT (see and the identical "Aeronautical Knowledge" for your PPL ground school is the same information you have to learn for the REMOTE PILOT, but for the "small Unmanned Aerial Systems" (sUAS), you must also learn Federal Aviation Regulation FAR: Part 107.  All of the FAA manuals you need are FREE on and DO NOT BUY THEM from any of the aviation supply companies.

You need to know that while there are "convenient" packages you can buy from the aviation suppliers, the fact is that many of them put their own covers on the front of the FAA manuals and then charge you for those materials.  WRONG!  Get them FREE.

The pilot shortage in the USA is based on many factors, but mostly because there is too much high cost for absolutely ever aspect of aviation.  There is far too much fraud and greed in aviation.  There are too many flight schools that want to tell you that the LIGHT SPORT PILOT and RECREATIONAL PILOT ratings are a waste of your time.  WRONG.  They want as much money from you as they can get to keep their flight schools operating.  Additionally, LIGHT SPORT AVIATION (LSA) requires those planes to be 1,320 lbs. or less and there are few older planes that meet the LSA requirements.  The brand new LSA planes are too expensive and existing flight schools are not purchasing these planes.

In 2004, the LIGHT SPORT PILOT RULES were created and there was great hope for that rejuvenating the obvious pilot shortage, but then the FAA hurt the new creation by telling the LSA Instructors they were not going to get to use their Experimental Aircraft (that the instructors owned) for instructional purposes.  These instructors and no one else could comprehend why they were encouraged to buy planes for instructional purposes and then had the rugs pulled out from their businesses! 

Jake, you have many options ahead of you.  The fact that you are in Arizona near one of Embry-Riddle's two primary campuses means you can learn those skills we discussed; you can get FEDERAL STUDENT AID to help pay for your schooling, but this DOES NOT PLAY FOR YOUR FUEL, etc.  It only pays for PART of that.  Get with the ERAU staff for precise/current details.

Before any aircraft manufacturer is going to want to hire you as a "test pilot," you will need SEVERAL THOUSAND HOURS OF FLYING TIME and you will need a couple of college degrees that are TECHNICAL.  ERAU can give you more specifics.  Just attending your local community college can be find to earn the general education classes as that can be cheaper than earning them at ERAU, but you need to understand another value of attending an aeronautical university:
1. Networking with like-minded aeronautical students/professors/alumni
2. The school specializes in all courses and professors comprehending your obsession with aviation/aerospace, and they love that about you.
3. You can do internships that will lead you to future aviation jobs.
4. When you graduate, then you find other ERAU alumni around the world; automatically you will have a connection with them.  It can make the immediate difference of finding employment.
5. It tells potential employers that you are sincere/serious about aviation/aerospace.

I do not mean disrespect towards non-aviation colleges/universities.  Six of my other degrees are non-aviation.  I perform Underwater Archaeology searching the waterways of the USA looking for wrecked vessels and I wanted to start using Light Sport Aircraft to help make my documentary films and to mount multi-spectral remote sensing equipment to survey rivers more efficiently.  Now I want to add using "cube satellites" and searching rivers within nano-seconds compared to the weeks and months it takes to canoe rivers.

Jake, you understand some of what you want and I appreciate you joining AOPA HANGER and writing everyone about your unique hopes, dreams, an ambitions.  Realize that we are not in the 1940s and you cannot use the same methods that General Yeager used.  Combining the formal education with your FAA ratings is going to be the key to your success.

I wish you well.  You are welcome to write me individually too.

Best wishes,
Brennan Callan
Aeronautical Scientist / Certified Underwater Archaeologist.