What Does Strips On Pilot’s Uniform Mean?



  • Why do pilots wear a uniform?
  • What do the stripes represent?
  • History of pilot’s uniform?
  • How is a pilot’s uniform made?


You have all seen before pilots strolling through the airport followed by a couple of beautiful flight attendants, but this wasn’t always like that. Before the 1930s, pilots wore clothing derived from military tradition established during WorldWar-1, the uniforms were practical, comfortable and especially warm as WorldWar-1 planes were open top cockpits. large oversized front pockets to allow easy access to navigational charts whilst wearing thick gloves, a scarf to keep the neck protected from the cold, khaki trousers, black boots and a soft leather helmet with pockets for the intercom or radio headsets. Practicality was key and looks were secondary. This outfit was quickly adopted into the civil aviation sector by ex-military pilots who during peacetime worked in airmail and cargo transport. 9 years after World war 1 had ended, good old Panam started operation in 1927 and the Juan Trip the founder and the CEO of PanAm introduced the first official pilots uniform as we know them today but the question rises why even wear a uniform in the first place, now at the beginning of Panam’s great success, most of their planes were flying boats like the Sikorsky S40 or the boeing 314 and airports were rare but harbours and docking ports for boards were available as boat were the primary means of transportation, and therefore, passengers boarded planes and docks as if they were boarding a boat. Well, initially they did until that boat started flying and as we all know captains and ships wore uniforms long before planes were even invented and both captains wouldn’t mingle with their passengers during the evening and therefore wore representable attire. The clothing that stood out from the crowd. Juan Tripp was very particular about customer service satisfaction, and he wanted his passengers to feel as if they were boarding a luxury cruise liner and pilots wouldn’t have the time to chat with their passengers like boat captains, but they would greet them at the door during boarding. so, Juan Tripp adapted the naval uniform making the pilots look tidy and professional not just boarding but also during flight as the cockpit back then had no doors.

So panam pilots were offered black trousers and black jackets with braided stripes on the lower sleeve representing the crew members rank added with a black and white hat with a golden insignia representing the airlines name and its logo. If something looks and turns out great, others will copy it, so by the 1950s every airline that wanted to mimic the success of PanAm had implemented the naval look like a pilot’s uniform.

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When we talk about the Stripes, it varies a little depending on which operator you fly for and which country.


pilot's uniform

One stripe is relatively rare among airline pilots, but they do exist. One stripe indicates that the pilot is a second officer in training meaning he is likely a young pilot who just finished a type rating for a specific type of plane and is now receiving the line training by a captain and senior first officer.


pilot's uniform

Two stripes represent the second officer. This varres from airline to airline for how long they will have their two stripes. For example, Aerologic, a cargo carrier from backstop Germany, within Aerologic, the second officer is also known as the cruise relief pilot. as they are only permitted to fly the plane once they pass flight level 200 and return to the seat during descent.

After a year and a half or 2 years, they upgrade from second officer to first officer after landing training in the simulator and a first officer’s line check but I said before this can vary a lot among airlines.


pilot's uniform

Three strips mean the pilot qualifies as a first officer. For example, Air Ryan pilots have two stripes at the beginning of their career but once they’ve accumulated 1500 hours in the right-hand seat, they receive their third stripes. After 8 to 10 years, as the first officer, some airlines, for example air Lufthansa promote their pilots to senior first officer which have two normal side stripes and one thicker one.


pilot's uniform

Who stripes is the ultimate goal for most pilots in their flying career which represents that they are a flight captain. You might spot some captains with four stripes and a star on their sleeves which might represent that they are very senior captains or have other higher-ranking duties such as a senior examiner or even a chief pilot of that company, but this can vary a lot and they are very rarely seen.

Do let us know in the comment below if you’ve ever seen such rare pilots having four stripes with a star on their stripes

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