Five of the Coolest Aviation Jobs

Flying a commercial airliner from city to city may represent the pinnacle of many aviation careers, but a broad range of career opportunities exist throughout the aviation and aerospace sectors — including some that qualify for genuine "cool" status.

Experimental Test Pilot - Do you want to fly the latest and most advanced civilian or military aircraft? Since 1981, the not-for-profit National Test Pilot School (NTPS) has specialized in training pilots to meet professional flight test standards established in the U.S. and international aviation communities, with test pilot and flight-test engineer candidates often placed in military or civilian test and evaluation organizations shortly upon graduation. Although many test pilots come from the military ranks, anyone demonstrating the "right stuff" is encouraged to learn more about this highly sought-after career in aviation and aerospace.

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Pilot - Not just for the military anymore, the growing use of unmanned aircraft systems has created significant demand for qualified candidates prepared to operate, observe, and administer operations in this exciting field. Since 2011, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) offers a Bachelor Degree in UAS Sciences and flight training; salaries in the field may run as high as $100,000 or more.

Flight Simulator Software Development – From recreational aviation to commercial airline training – and even spacecraft systems proficiency – flight-training devices (FTD) are now common throughout all segments of aviation. Today's most advanced Level D FTDs replicate the look, sound, and feel of actual aircraft flight decks to the degree that the FAA deems them acceptable alternatives to actual flight time for many training situations. Although most of these systems are used to replicate aircraft and helicopters, the sky is no longer the limit for this field: experienced software engineers are also in demand to assist with developing training systems for private space capsules too.

Aerial Firefighting - While fighting forest fires may come to mind upon hearing the term, in truth aerial firefighters combat fires not only in nature, but in the urban jungle as well. Pilots are not only needed to operate water tanker aircraft but also to deliver firefighting crews to the front lines of major conflagrations, and to fly forward observer missions ahead of "fire bombers." Operating in a dangerous environment under stressful conditions is a hallmark of this job, but the rewards go far beyond the financial payoff as your efforts directly contribute to the preservation of forests, property, and lives.

Bush Pilots - The prospect of flying small aircraft throughout "bush country" in Alaska and other remote locations around the globe not only offers a unique and challenging alternative to building time as a flight instructor but also an attractive career choice for pilots seeking a job closer to nature. Bush flying offers several opportunities for pilots looking for adventure, frequent missions in adverse conditions, and true "seat of the pants" flying — all surrounded by terrain and scenery most people will only experience through a postcard.

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