First Year Flight Plan


A Military Aviator’s Survival Guide as an Airline Pilot

The bad news is, I can’t fit everything you need to know about your probation year (first year) as an airline pilot into this article. The good news is, I’ve written a book about it that does provide a ton of great information on the subject. The book is titled, First Year Flight Plan (FYFP) and it was released on Veterans Day 2022 (11/11/22). FYFP is the follow-on to my Amazon Best- Seller book Cockpit to Cockpit (C2C) and it picks up right where C2C left off. (Can you tell I like acronyms?) 

If you followed the advice offered in C2C, you’re a decent stick and a decent person who should have, or soon will have, received a conditional job offer (CJO – more acronyms!) from a major airline (assuming you have competitive credentials). You may be tempted to think that once you have the CJO at your forever airline securely in hand, you can throttle back, but have you considered what’s ahead of you during the next year? 

First, you have a Part 121 airline training program that involves a ton of new acronyms, an unfamiliar publications system, learning a new complex aircraft that may be the first multi-engine heavy you’ve ever flown (depending on your flying background), learning Part 121 airline operations procedures, passing an FAA oral-systems evaluation, and line-oriented evaluation in the simulator that could result in a pink slip in your FAA records if you don’t pass it. And that’s just the beginning!

There are many concepts that are unfamiliar to a military pilot who is just starting their probation year as an airline pilot. Of course, there is always the bro network (non-gender specific) but, did the bro network give you all the gougeyou needed to get hired? More than likely, you had to use a few services like logbook and interview preparation tools or great books like Cockpit to Cockpit (shameless self-promotion … sorry) to get the job. 

You probably had a flight plan for every military sortie you flew, and you did the necessary mission planning ahead of time to increase the chances of success for each sortie. Deviating from the flight plan was okay as real-world circumstances such as weather, mechanical issues, and enemy actions dictated; but without a valid flight plan to start from, you were almost guaranteed to fail. Think of FYFP as the flight plan for your first year (and beyond) to set yourself up for success as an airline pilot – hence the title First Year Flight Plan.

Leaving your comfort zone as a military aviator and branching into a second flying career as an airline pilot can be exciting, but also intimidating. Everything is different, including how you get paid, bidding schedules, training, commuting, crash pads, seniority, insurance, medical benefits, 401Ks, profit sharing, non-revenue travel, and much more. It doesn’t have to be all that intimidating if you do a little research ahead of time to help you know what to expect. The good news is, you can relax because I’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. FYFP is the airline gouge you need to help you show up prepared and confident on day one of airline indoctrination training. 

Let me be upfront about what the book is, and more importantly what it is not. FYFP is designed to help you complete your transition from military to airline pilot. You’ve already made it successfully through the hardest part of transition – getting hired. Now I want to help you complete your transition by preparing you for the great unknown of the Part 121 airline pilot world. The goal is to give you the answers to all the questions you don’t yet know to ask. This book is your go-to resource to bridge the gap between receiving a job offer and starting training. I want you to learn from my experience – having completed two back-to-back airline training programs, one airline Initial Operating Experience or IOE program, a year of probation, and an off-probation check ride, plus six additional years of experience as a line pilot.

Having been an airline pilot for just over seven years now (and still loving it), I can analyze my first-year experience and compile a list of all the things I wish someone had told me before I started. I’ve done my best to pass that knowledge on to you. However, each airline is unique. A first-year experience as a commuter at Delta Air Lines flying the B-717 domiciled in New York City may be a very different experience from an FO living in domicile in Miami flying the B-737 during her first year at American Airlines. Therefore, I have also conducted extensive research and interviews with pilots at other major airlines to help provide perspective from a wide swath of airlines and different situations (e.g., in-domicile, commuter, guard/reserve pilot, narrow-body, wide-body, etc.). 

FYFP is not a detailed guide to how things are done at your airline. I couldn’t possibly cover all the finer details of each airline’s bidding process, pay and benefits, contract work rules, etc. Think of it as more of a FL400 view of information that is common to all airlines. We will occasionally descend to a lower altitude to go more in depth on certain subjects (like how to maximize your paycheck by exploiting certain contract provisions at your airline) and certain airline rules and processes.

We all worked very hard as military pilots with long hours, countless temporary duty assignments, permanent changes of station, deployments, mountains of queep (additional duties unrelated to flying), inspections, exercises … You get the point. In general, most of us were happy to do it and would gladly do it again because we were sacrificing for something greater than ourselves. We did it for our country and for our brothers and sisters in arms. However, the big thing we sacrificed was overall quality of life.

Welcome to the fabulous world of being an airline pilot. One of the themes you will see repeated throughout FYFP is this; being an airline pilot is all about quality of life, and quality of life as an airline pilot is all about seniority! You’ll be making some huge quality-of-life (QOL) decisions during the first few days of your airline training which is called indoctrination, or indoc for short. During indoc, you will be choosing your “equipment” and “domicile,” or what type of aircraft you will fly and where you’ll be based once you’re out of training. Your initial QOL will be directly tied to your initial assignment beyond training. Most airlines require a six-month seat-lock on your initial assignment. In future vacancy bids, you’ll be free to bid any assignment your seniority can hold. However, choose wisely because at most airlines there is usually a two-year seat-lock on subsequent assignments. It’s truly a choose-your-own-adventure book, and you’re the author. FYFP gives an in-depth analysis on this and other QOL decisions based on personal experience and interviews with pilots at other major airlines.

FYFP was written to provide you with all the information you need to not only survive, but also thrive in your first year as an airline pilot! Knowledge is power, and this book will provide you with plenty of both. The book is available to order now at a substantially discounted price as a way of saying Thank You for Your Service to this great nation! Order your copy now by clicking this link: FYFP. If you’re still in the airline application process (or have not started yet) and want to check out our other military-to-airline transition resources, check out our homepage at

SOURCEAero Crew News, December 2022
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LT COL MARC Himelhoch, USAF (Ret), is a pilot with over 5000 hours of flight time. He grew up in Clearwater, Florida, where he met his wife, Missy Shorey. He graduated with honors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, earning a masters degree in aeronautical science. In 1995, Marc joined the US Air Force as a second lieutenant. He served as a T-37, T-6A, and F-16 instructor pilot and as an F-16 higher-headquarters evaluator pilot. He logged nearly three hundred combat flight hours and flew in Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, NORTHERN WATCH, JOINT GUARDIAN, NOBLE EAGLE, and IRAQI FREEDOM. In 2014, Lt Col Himelhoch retired and became a commercial airline pilot. Marc interviewed with and received conditional job offers from Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and XOJET. Marc is now a pilot with Southwest Airlines. He and Missy live in Dallas, Texas.


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