How Do Pilots Use Math?

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Whether you are just curious about pilots or want to become one someday, you might come across one question often in your mind: How do pilots use math?

Stress not! I have got you covered with the answers you need to satisfy your curiosity about the relationship between aviation and maths.

Flying an aeroplane is all about maths & physics. Now, you might think that this means pilots have to solve complex maths problems on daily basis but this is usually not the case.

Nowadays, planes have software and devices that do most of the computation, the pilots are there to make sure that the data is not incorrect.

However, this does not mean that the pilots rely completely on machines. Instead, most pilots have to learn maths & give tests while at pilot school to become a pilot.

The maths used by pilots usually differs from 8th-grade maths to sometimes college-grade maths.

Pilots use maths on a daily basis for staying on course, taking off and descent, calculating weight, calculating wind corrections and crosswind. These are just a few of the many tasks that pilots have to do on a daily basis using maths.

As a pilot gains more experience, these tasks usually become repetitive and the pilot can do them much faster & efficiently.

How do pilots use algebra?

Algebra is one of the most important math skills that you’ll need to fly a plane.

Algebra is pretty hard to hard. However, you won’t be doing it manually by yourself. There will be flight planning systems in place to help you. This is why you need to have a good understanding of it.

Having a good understanding of algebra will help you decide if the output given by the system is valid or not.

The maths of manipulating mathematical symbols into formulas, algebra is used by pilots to figure out the approximate amount of fuel.

Algebra is also used for how radio and radar communications and how can they manipulate flight variables.

Is there a lot of math in being a pilot?

Being a pilot means being able to use basic arithmetics, geometry, interpolation, trigonometry & mental maths.

Most of the math that is needed for being a pilot will already be there in your high school curriculum. You just have to make sure that you are taking the right subjects. For example, in dutch countries, you’ll have to take math B instead of math A because of its real-life use.

However, this does not mean that you have to be some maths genius.

Most of the math being used by a pilot is basic arithmetics, meaning, subtraction, addition, division and multiplication. These are what you need to be the best at. Luckily, you start learning about them when you start school, so these should not be that big of an issue.

Strictly speaking, if you are really good at maths, being a pilot might not be the best idea for you. Pilot maths can become really repetitive and you’re probably better off doing something better as a mathematician.

On the other side of the coin, if you are average at maths, you’ll do just fine as a pilot.

Do pilots use calculus?

Yes, pilots use calculus regarding the plane’s fuel.

Is calculus required for pilot training?

Just like other branches of maths that are required for pilot training, calculus is no different.

Aspirants are required to have knowledge of college-grade calculus for pilot training.

How do pilots use trigonometry?


Trigonometry is one of the most extensively used types of maths by pilots. It is used in many critical tasks of flying a plane.

There is not a lot of trigonometry that a pilot does by themselves because of the modern GPS system. However, these systems can provide a wrong answer or there is a small probability that they’ll stop working completely, this is why you need to have a good understanding of trigonometry.

Some of the tasks that pilots use trigonometry for:

  1. Wing angles
  2. Navigation
  3. Takeoff
  4. Landing
  5. Figuring out speed & velocity

Although most of these tasks are now done by the GPS system, the pilots are there to make sure that it is providing reliable information.

How does NASA use trigonometry?

Trigonometry is widely used by NASA to find the size, speed, distance & direction of an object in space.

NASA uses it for a variety of things.

Here are some of the cool things that NASA uses trigonometry for:

  • To map out planets & asteroids
  • To figure out the effects of gravity of a planet or asteroid on their orbit
  • To create robots
  • Distance between satellite & receiver
  • To design & launch rockets and space shuttles

Is pilot math hard?

No, pilot math is not hard. Pilots suggest you have a basic understanding of all required branches of math.

You’ll mostly be doing Basic arithmetics, geometry, trigonometry, interpolation & mental maths.

Pilots describe the math being used as a pilot as ‘repetitive’. So, as you gain more experience being a pilot the easier it will be to solve day-to-day math problems & the more efficient you’ll become.

Although there is a lot of math you’ll be studying to get into being a pilot, actual math there isn’t that hard. Moreover, with the help of machines, most of your task will be to verify the answer that the machine will provide you with.

If you are trying to become a pilot, do not let the fear of math get in your way. It gets easier as you progress in it.

Aviation mathematics pdf

There are countless informative resources on aviation mathematics.

However, the one that stands out the most is the one that is provided by Microsoft themselves.

Microsoft is provided with beginner-friendly data for you to easily understand it.

Unless you want to dig deeper, this pdf will work just fine.

However, for those who do want to learn about aviation mathematics in-depth, Basic Mathematics for Aviation by Frank J. Ayres, Jr. is the perfect book.

Frank Ayres, Jr. was an instructor in the Army Air Corps program at a college and his book, Basic Mathematics for Aviation was adopted across the Air Corps training system. There can’t be a better resource for you to learn about aviation than this book.

You find the book pdf online for free.

Maths and physics for pilots pdf

Maths and physics for pilots is a great resources for up-and-coming pilots. It is written by experienced pilots. The book is about providing you with all the basics of essential mathematical and physical principles.

Whether you are curious about these subjects in regards to being a pilot or are an aspiring aspirant to become one, this book is perfect for all scenarios.

You can find the pdf on several websites. Just search up the term ‘Maths and physics for pilots’ pdf and the first result on google will be the pdf of the book itself.

What type of physics do pilots need?

Physics is an important part of being a pilot, and you need to have an understanding of various parts of physics to become a pilot.

These can include:

  • Principal of flight, mass, and balance
  • General navigation
  • Flight planning & monitoring

How much physics is required for a pilot?

You need to, at the very least, have a good understanding of different concepts of physics.

Some airline requires their pilots to have good grades in physics while others don’t even require a degree.

If you are trying to fly your own plane then you do not need a degree.

Make sure you are well prepared for physics before starting the training.

FAQ relating to how pilots use math

How do pilots use math in their careers?

Pilot use math for a variety of reasons. This is why they are required to have a good understanding of different branches of maths.

The different types of math branches required for becoming a pilot are:

  1. Trigonometry
  2. Algebra
  3. Calculus
  4. Simple arithmetics
  5. Geometry
  6. Interpolation
  7. Mental math

Do pilots need math skills?

Yes, pilots are required to have math skills. However, this does not mean that you have to excel at it. An average person who has a good understanding of math can easily become a pilot.

Pilots perform most of their calculations on a calculator, or with flight planning software. More times than not, pilots are there to validate if the output provided by the software is valid or not.

The main math skills that are required to become a pilot are:

  • Basic arithmetics
  • Trigonometry
  • Algebra
  • Calculus
  • Interpolation

How does a fighter pilot use math?

Flying a fighter plane is all about numbers. From take-off to landing most of it depends upon numbers. However, this does not mean that you need to be another Euclid.

The math used by fighter pilots is usually basic arithmetics.

However, being good at mental math will only benefit you.

Since flying a fighter plane is all about being fast-paced, most of the information that you’ll require is already fed into the computer system.

There are a lot of fighter pilots who weren’t exactly good at math but they still cleared the exam and became fighter pilots.

The main thing is, do not sweat over math all that much. Don’t let it stop you from chasing your dreams.

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