What do the stripes mean on a pilot uniform?

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Airline pilots wear stripes on their sleeves or on the epaulettes on their shoulders. The stripes are an indication of the pilot’s level of flight experience and of his responsibilities in an aircraft.

While airline pilots wear stripes, military pilots in the Navy and Air Force wear different insignia to indicate their level of expertise.


Airline pilots have two, three or four stripes on their shoulders. This part of the uniform is also referred to as an epaulette. One stripe is not normally used for airline pilots but is sometimes used for flight trainees. A flight engineer or second officer wears two stripes. A first officer, also called a co-pilot or second in command, wears three stripes. A captain, or pilot in command, wears four stripes. Stripe colour varies for each airline or company.


Pilots are trained professionals who fly aeroplanes or helicopters. Most are airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers who transport passengers and cargo. About one-third of all pilots are commercial pilots. Except on small aircraft, a cockpit crew usually includes two pilots.


The captain is the most experienced pilot and supervises crew members. He is responsible for the aircraft and all passengers. The first officer is also called the co-pilot or second in command. He sits on the right of the pilot. The first officer is qualified to operate the aircraft in all stages of flight, including take-offs and landings. The flight engineer assists the pilots by monitoring and operating the instruments and systems, making minor in-flight repairs and watching for other aircraft.


Most airlines require at least two years of college and prefer to hire college graduates. Pilots also need flight experience to get a license. The U.S. Armed Forces have historically been a source of experienced pilots. However, people can also become pilots by attending flight schools or by taking lessons from FAA-certified flight instructors.

Additional Requirements and Training

To qualify for FAA licensure, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience. Applicants also must pass a physical exam and have 20/20 vision with or without corrective lenses, good hearing and no physical handicaps. They must pass a written test and must demonstrate their flying ability to FAA-designated examiners.