You may have watched pilots walking through the airport and wondered what the stripes and badges worn on their uniforms mean. Pilot’s uniforms are usually professional suit-and-tie looks, and their badges and epaulettes reflect their rank and training. We’ve broken down the rhyme and reason behind what pilots wear; a handy guide for what our students will end up rocking when they’re qualified!
Getting your wings
Aside from being an extremely cool term, getting your ‘wings’ also means that you get to wear a badge that signifies something pretty special. An airline pilot’s uniform is based on a naval officer’s uniform, and follows the same rules for the insignia. Once you have your pilot’s license, you officially get your ‘wings,’ and are able to wear a pin or badge that feature double wings that are sometimes plain, or if you are flying with a company, their logo or mascot will feature in the middle of the wings.
For example, at SAFT, our students will gain a pair of silver wings upon completion of their Private Pilot’s License (PPL). Once you finish your Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL), you get to wear a gold set of wings. If you fly with major airlines as a First Officer, you are able to wear your wings with a star. Once you graduate to Captain, your wings will have added an extra feature such as a wreath to signify your status.
Epaulettes are the shoulder badges worn by pilots. The word epaulette is French, meaning ‘little shoulder.’ The history of epaulettes can be traced as far back as Roman times, but in more recent history they were worn by military personnel in the 17th century. As time went on, they were used to signify a soldier’s rank. For pilots, the number of bars on their epaulettes equates to their status.
Although most airlines differ in how they ascribe rank, the general rule is one or two bars for a Commercial Pilot, three stripes for a First Officer, and four stripes for a Captain. If the pilot is also wearing a blazer, these stripes are repeated on the cuffs of the jacket. At Soar, our students are able to wear epaulettes with one stripe; junior flight instructors wear two bars; senior instructors and training managers wear three bars, and our Chief Flying Instructors wear four bars.
If you’d like to get your wings and epaulettes, why not find out more about getting your Commercial Pilot Licence! If you found this post interesting, you may enjoy reading our post on life lessons you’ll learn as a pilot.