Math and Physics

Math and Physics – Why a pilot needs to understand these subjects!

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?


Flight training
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.

math and physics

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. Your Pilot Academy provides an extensive Math for Pilots and Physics For Pilots course to fully prepare you for any selection process. 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. 😉

Physics for Pilots Your Pilot Academy Physics assessment

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.

20 thoughts on “Math and Physics – Why a pilot needs to understand these subjects!

  1. Thanks so much for this clearification Madam Michelle…

    You’re doing a great job. I’m grateful

  2. Thank you for making some light regarding this subject
    Principles of Flight, Mass and Balance, General Navigation and Flight Planning & Monitoring are some subjects that will need a lot of my attention since they are all about calculations. Thanks for the solution provided also, it will help a lot.


  3. You don’t need to learn differential equations to fly an airplane! I was told that by a pilot very early in my military career.

  4. Hi Michelle
    I’m a bit confused and I need someone like you as a pilot to guide me. My physics and math grades in high school are very low. But I am studying and strengthening physics and mathematics so that I can enter the flight academy. Can I be accepted to one of the flight academies with these conditions? Is it possible that they do not accept my high school diploma and diploma, even though I am very good at physics and math now?
    Im now 21 years old and studing english in college. What should i do?

    Thank you

  5. Please guide me on how to do this

    Why do airplanes fly? This childish-
    sounding questions is not so simple to answer. Actually, the first airplanes were designed without theoretical knowledge about this phenomena. Before explaining how the wings lift the body of the plane, it is possible to visualize the force that lifts a cylinder using the stream functions.
    The flow around the non-rotating cylinder with radius a and center (0, 0) is described by the function
    φ(x,y)=Ux+ Ua2x , x2 + y2

    where U denotes the velocity of the (horizontal) wind. The flow around the rotating cylinder is described by the function
    φ(x,y)=Ux+ Ua2x +−Γarctan􏰀y􏰁, x2 + y2 2π x
    where Γ is the circulation. These functions are obtained by solving a partial differential equation that may not suitable for a student who did not complete a Differential Equations course. However, a student who completed Calculus 3 and is familiar with partial derivatives can verify that these solution fulfill the Laplace equation and the appropriate boundary conditions.
    Student work:
    1. Use MATLAB (or another software) to sketch the gradient vector field V⃗ = ∇φ around each cylinder using U = 50m/sec, a = 3m and Γ = 2m2/sec. Adjust the values of U, a and Γ to observe the changing behavior of the vector field. Remember to place the cylinder in your picture and sketch the vector fields around it, not inside.
    2. For each cylinder evaluate the integrals 􏰄 V⃗ · d⃗r, where C is the circle C
    with radius a and V⃗ = ∇φ. Compare and explain your results.
    3. Can you explain “what lifts the cylinder”?

  6. I’m enjoying your videos and your no-nonsense approach to flying. Maths and physics are the basis of all science, and maths is at the core of them all. I’m lucky that I’ve always found them easy. From primary school, when we did vectors at around age 10, to high school in the UK in the 1960s, where I did pure maths, applied maths and physics “A” Levels, physics and maths were just common sense. I couldn’t understand why some people thought that it was difficult. I had to think about it a bit at university, but it was still mainly common sense. Why doesn’t everyone understand this?
    I realised later on that our brains are wired differently. Some people “get” maths and physics. Some people don’t. It doesn’t mean that they are unintelligent. Some of them become lawyers.
    Can the people who just don’t get maths or physics pas the exams to become an airline pilot?

  7. Very Interest explanation, if you can preparing more work I will be happy because It’s going help me my taring. I apricate you at all.

  8. I do appreciate your articles, but sometimes you make everything look a lot harder than what it actually is..

    “Knowing when to commence decent for a 3º descent angle is very easy to work out! Take your current flight level, subtract the flight level you wish to end at and divide by 3. For example, to descend from FL410 to FL30, (410-30) = 380. 380 / 3 = 126.667. That means you’ll require 126.667 nautical miles to descend to FL30 from FL410”

    1. You see, it’s not that simple. There are many factors that can affect figuring out a 3 degree glideslope: Aircraft weight, headwind, tailwind, weather. It makes sense after you figure out how it works though.

  9. Hi Michelle, First i wanted to appriciate for all the hardwork you are doing to provide us knowledge for our dream job.Second i have a great problem i am already in a contract where i have to work for five years and i entered this job to earn my fees money that time i had no idea about applying for sponsorships so i am kinda stuck. so my question is can you provide me any source which will help me to gain knowledge about pilot studies and also teach me the type of maths and physics which is needed to become a pilot.I just wanted to make sure that when i apply for aeronautical college i am just ready for it not only ready but extra sharp for the position i will be applying for and even making sure that i spend my time in preparing for my future job while staying at this job.

    Much Respect,

  10. Geography, Algebra, Trigonometry, Basic Physics (must grasp these ideas, have an understanding of How To Calculate as it applies to real world applications)

  11. I really appreciate it that you mentioned that flying lessons don’t simply mean learning to fly an airplane but also to do many mathematical and physics calculations by heart without the help of a calculator. Hence, should my nephew Mark decide to start enrolling in flying lessons, he ought to brush up on his math, too, to make the cut. He’d need to have very high abstract reasoning aptitude aside from being able to compute for fuel, descent, crosswind, and load sheet data on the fly.

  12. Really happy to hear that formulas and math from electronics are included…. Since, I am taking Electronics and Networking course currently, I thought that it might not worth for my dream job…
    It would be really helpful if you could provide a list of topics on math that might possibly appear during the selection process or write an article about the selection process with how to give best on it…
    Really appreciate for inspiring people out there and helping people with problems (mostly finance and pre-preparation)…

  13. If my math is terrible and i do not take physics, can i still be a pilot? I’m still studying in Grade 9 or year 10

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