Math & physics and their significance in aviation. Is it important to know how to calculate? Everyone uses a calculator when things need to be calculated, right? And do you actually need to understand physics when you are piloting an aircraft? I received tons of questions about math and physics. It seems there is still a lot of uncertainty about this subject so allow me to enlighten you.
The short answer
Yes & Yes! It is important to have a basic understanding of physics and math. You have to know how to calculate quickly, precisely and by heart. Flying an airplane is all about Mathematics and Physics. Just think about it for a second, how is an airplane able to take off with all that weight? How does lift and drag work and how do you calculate the top of descent or distance an airplane needs to fly in order to maintain a 3 degree glide path to the runway?
During flight training you have to pass exams on 14 theoretical subjects. Some of those require a basic understanding of math and physics because you have to deal with formulas and calculations. Principles of Flight, Mass and Balance, General Navigation and Flight Planning & Monitoring are a few subjects which are all about calculations.
If you never had to do something similar you will have a disadvantage during your flight training. The training is intense and there is simply no time to learn about math or physics when you are in the middle of it. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be incredibly good in mathematics in order to become a pilot. However, you need to convert and understand different formulas and graphs quickly, so a basic understanding of math and physics is required. Ohm’s Law, Turn Radius, Law of Moments, Point of Equal Time, Point of No Return, Departure formula and the Lift formula are just some examples of what you will face during the training.
Airline selection process
Airlines have different mathematics and physics tests in order to select & assess people quickly during their selections. You are often expected to calculate different mathematical questions in a limited amount of time with just a piece of paper and a pen. There is no way you can pass a selection process like this if you haven’t practiced beforehand.
Being an airline pilot
As an airline pilot you face specific calculations on a daily basis. Calculating fuel, Top of Descent, crosswind, tailwind, endurance, time or simply checking the loadsheet is part of the job. Most of these calculations are done by heart since grabbing a calculator is usually not efficient.
There is hope!
If you read this article thinking, wow, I am not able to do that yet, then there is no need to worry. Math and physics are easy to practice. Still in high school? Make sure you add these courses to your curriculum! Left high school years ago? Don’t despair, you are never too old to learn and there are plenty of institutes that offer courses for adults, make sure they come with certificates though. That way you can prove you actually completed these courses since most airlines and flight schools list these courses as a requirement.
Specifically for future Dutch pilots
For all Dutch readers: When you enter the 4th class of high school you have to choose a study program (curriculum). I chose Nature & Technique with Math B (Wiskunde B). Math B because it focuses more on exact sciences. If you are a Havo student you need to go for Math B, as Math A is not enough. Physics is always required, regardless of the level. Don’t forget the English language, you need to cover that as well 😉
That’s it! The only thing standing in your way is the selection process, the medical check and taking care of the financial aspects. No money to pay for the pilot training? This article might help you further! After dealing with everything, you deserve a vacation! Really serious about becoming a pilot? Check out my eBook, it contains everything from you need to know (from A to Z) and be aware of.