A historical study of pilot training at United Airlines, 1931-1996

Kenneth Roy Futrell, Tennessee State University


This study traced the development of pilot training at United Airlines from its inception to the end of the 1996 time period. Conceptual changes as well as philosophic shifts in airline pilot training were examined in terms of their origins and effects. The training curriculum was then examined to determine what curriculum evolution and refinement took place due to the conceptual changes and philosophic shifts that occurred over the sixty-five year time period. Three major time periods were studied. First, the period of initial formation of United Airlines and the process of early pilot training. Second, the technological advances in aviation from the early 1940's to the late 1950's that were made possible by record setting pilots and World Wars. The last period studied was the jet age. The conceptual changes that had a major impact on the pilot training curriculum were the jet age, Ground Proximity Warning System Training, Situational Awareness, Windshear and Microburst Training, Line Oriented Flight Training, use of computers for ground school training, and automation. These conceptual changes were originated and developed due to accidents, incidents, or technology. They were all included in the curriculum because of their importance to the training program. The philosophic changes that took place in United's pilot training curriculum completely changed the face of training. These shifts included the first training program United developed, the use of the Link Trainer and then the simulator, a shift from complete technical knowledge of the aircraft to a more operational knowledge base, the Command/Leadership/Resource Management training program, and the Advanced Qualification Program. Each of these philosophic training shifts were structured in such a way to continue to emphasize safety in training, while providing pilots rationale for movement in a new direction. The study analyzed the cockpit concept of crew coordination and the inherent problems of automation and glass cockpit technology. The historical analysis revealed that pilots are capable in terms of perceptual/motor skills, but that cognitive/processing skills of individuals are significantly improved when working in a team. Pilot training has evolved to realize that effective cockpit teams function together and make effective decisions as a group with the captain as the team leader. As a result, airline training has been restructured to develop and foster team-building skills through advances in the training curriculum.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Education history|Vocational education

Recommended Citation

Kenneth Roy Futrell, "A historical study of pilot training at United Airlines, 1931-1996" (1998). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI9907844.