Pilot Uniform Guide: What do the Stripes Mean?
What does 4, 3, 2 or 1 stripe(s) 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 (both First Officers and Captains). 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, are generally paid more and are selected for the role after showing continuous above average performance in their own checks and tests.
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 wear 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 wear 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 has 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 have 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!