Meet the man who's flying the plane

For kids: what it takes to become a commercial airline pilot.

You see them crisscross the sky dozens of times a day, but did you ever wonder what it's like to fly those big jumbo jets?

Meet pilot Randy Jolley. He is a first officer at Continental Airlines. The first officer is second in command on the plane – kind of like the vice principal at your school. The first officer assists the captain during takeoff, landing, and throughout the flight. He can also take over if the captain isn't feeling well or if he wants someone to relieve him.

Mr. Jolley is qualified to fly both the Boeing 757 and the Boeing 767 planes. He lives in Virginia, but he flies out of Newark, N.J., which means he has to commute to another state just to start his workday! He flies planes from New Jersey to Europe.

Mr. Jolley knew he wanted to be a pilot when he was about 10 years old. His dad was a maintenance officer in the Air Force, which meant he repaired military airplanes.

As a kid, Mr. Jolley went to a lot of air shows, which have demonstrations of airplanes and often feature aerobatic flying performances. "I just grew up around planes, and I loved that experience," he explains.

While in college, Mr. Jolley took a summer ground school course in Leesburg, Va. Ground school is just what it sounds like: You stay on the ground, but learn everything you need to know to become a pilot.

He then enrolled in flight school at the airport near his college in order to build up actual time flying a plane.

"It was pretty tough to pay for flight school and college at the same time," he recalls.

He had to build up time flying planes in order to get a pilot's license. "There are different levels of licenses," Mr. Jolley explains. "First, you get a private license. Then you can work toward a commercial license, which means people can pay you to fly."

The planes that you see towing banners at the beach are usually flown by pilots who have commercial licenses.

From there, you can work toward becoming a certified flight instructor, or CFI, which means you can teach others to fly a single-engine plane.

The next step up is the MEI – the multi-engine instructor license. This, says Mr. Jolley, is "your ticket to the big leagues." You need that certification to fly jets for a passenger airline such as Continental.

After all that time in the air, does Mr. Jolley ever get scared?

"It does get stressful sometimes," he admits, "but it's never scary. We train intensively in simulators, practicing what we'd do in a real emergency, so we're ready for anything."

What does it take to become a pilot? People who are good at math and science excel at the training, notes Mr. Jolley, "but I was more of a history guy myself." More important, he says, is that you have "a passion for flying, good grades, and good moral character."

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