Mark Zuckerberg Looks to Join Circle of Celebrity Pilots

The Meta CEO would add his name to a list that already includes OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel—and rival Elon Musk.

Mark Zuckerberg pilot

Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook Communities Summit in 2019. [Courtesy: Meta]

Mark Zuckerberg is taking his beef with Elon Musk from the Vegas Octagon to the skies.

Well, kind of. The Meta founder and CEO, whom Musk recently challenged to a cage fight, among other taunts, obtained a student pilot certificate in March, according to FAA records. If Zuckerberg is serious about becoming a fully certified pilot, he would join a short list of Silicon Valley skippers—one that already includes Musk.

Zuckerberg has reached great heights in his time with Meta, building the company into a multibillion dollar powerhouse. But to reach new altitudes as a pilot, he has a ways to go.

The student pilot certificate he secured is actually quite easy to obtain. So long as the prospective student pilot is eligible—at least 16 years of age and able to read, write, and speak English—the most arduous part of the process is getting a medical certificate through an Aviation Medical Examiner office.

Now, Zuckerberg will need to hit the books and get started on his flight hours requirement with a certified flight instructor. On average, students fly around 55 hours before securing a private pilot license, which is what the billionaire tech mogul would likely target. But it could take him as little as 35 hours, depending on the flight school he selected during the student pilot application process.

Should he obtain full certification, he would join a small group of tech executives who have already gotten their wings.

Open AI CEO Sam Altman, who received his pilot license in 2010 per The Information, is one of them. So too is Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, a licensed helicopter pilot. Stripe CEO Patrick Collison is also in the club, as is his brother and co-founder John, noted as a frequent flier.

But the most famous chief executive aviator is, of course, SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter CEO Musk. The mercurial business mogul no longer flies since he’s too tied up with work, he once told The Washington Post. But in a 2018 interview with Business Insider, Musk said he owned three planes: a Piper Meridian single-engine turboprop, a two-engine Cessna Citation CJ2, and the high-velocity Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros, which he said was the “most fun” of the bunch.

Despite his experience flying fighter jets—which he compared to Top Gun—Musk in 2020 ironically told a room full of Air Force pilots that the fighter jet’s era "has passed." Still, the world's richest man remains tethered to aviation through his work with SpaceX—and potentially Tesla down the line.

Zuckerberg would also join the ranks of celebrity pilots, some of whom are more surprising than others.

FLYING has covered Harrison Ford’s aviation achievements (and failures), Tom Cruise’s Top Gun-esque stunts, and John Travolta’s aircraft donations. But the names of A-list aces goes on and on.

Legendary musician Jimmy Buffett is an avid flier and the owner of six airplanes. Actress Hilary Swank learned to fly for her role as Amelia Earhart in 2009’s Amelia. And James Franco, who played World War I pilot Blaine Rawlings in 2006’s Flyboys, was so into the role that he got certified in real life. Other famous fliers include Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, and Kurt Russell.

Though he just launched Threads, a social media app to rival Twitter, Zuckerberg should have plenty of time and money to put into his own pilot certification process. And having already poked the bear in more ways than one, he may even be able to goad Musk out of retirement.

Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

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