Pilot Uniform Guide: What do the stripes mean?
What does 4, 3, 2 or 1 stripe mean on a pilots uniform?
What do the number of stripes on a Pilot’s uniform mean?
The number of stripes on a pilots uniform indicate their rank. Ranks are generally split into the following:
- Training Captain
- Senior First Officer
- First Officer
- Second Officer
There is no worldwide standardisation of stripes across airlines. Different airlines choose to issue a different number of stripes to their pilots depending on their rank, which also varies on experience levels within the airline. The only standardisation is that there is almost always a Captain and First Officer operating the flight (unless it’s a training flight). The Captain and First Officer are sometimes known as a Pilot and Co-pilot).
A Training Captain has all the responsibilities of a normal Captain, but also trains other pilots. A pilot who is new to the aircraft type or company will fly with a Training Captain until they reach the required standard to fly with a normal Captain. Training Captains are more senior than normal Captain’s, a generally paid more and need to be specifically selected after showing continuous above average performance.
Despite a Training Captain being more senior than the rank of Captain, they both wear the same number of stripes on their uniform at the vast majority of airlines. A Training Captain therefore wears 4 stripes on there uniform.
The Captain (sometimes referred to as ‘Pilot’) is ultimately in charge of the aircraft, it’s crew and occupants, unless they are flying with a Training Captain (where the Training Captain would be in charge).
The Captain wears 4 stripes on their uniform.
Senior First Officer
Generally speaking a Senior First Officer is someone who has over approximately 1,500 hours of total flight time. Some airlines may have additional requirements, such as holding a full ATPL or being almost ‘command ready’ which is an airline’s way of saying they have the ability to be promoted to Captain but are waiting for a position to become available.
Anyone other than the rank of Captain or Training Captain is sometimes referred to as the ‘Co-Pilot’.
A Senior First Officer wears 3 stripes on their uniform.
The First Officer usually wears 2 or 3 stripes depending on the airline. Some First Officers are automatically issued 3 stripes from their day of joining (typically at Long Haul airlines), whereas some start of with 2 and only get 3 when they are promoted to Senior First Officer.
Some (but not all) airlines use the role of Second Officer. This sometimes means a cruise relief pilot (i.e. not sat at the controls for take-off and landing until their experience levels increase.
The Second Officer would normally wear 2 stripes on their uniform.
Whilst at flight School, cadet pilots could wear any number of stripes depending on the choosing of that specific flight school. Students will often wear 1 stripe when they hold a Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) and then 2 stripes once their Instrument Rating (IR) is completed.
Some flight schools even issue 3 stripes to their trainee pilots, although this seems a bit over the top given they have not even operated a commercial aircraft at this point!