An armchair pilot is an aviation enthusiast who is not actually qualified to fly an aircraft. Much like armchair generals, armchair pilots are typically very well read, and they know a great deal about aviation. Armchair pilots may choose to work in some aspect of the aviation industry to be closer to planes, or they may have entirely separate careers, treating their interest in aviation as a side hobby, rather than a calling.
The term dates back to the 1930s, when the United States Military began requiring its pilots to pass flight tests to ensure that they were fit for duty, rather than allowing them to turn into armchair pilots who only flew swivel chairs behind desks. As often happens with military terms, the concept spread to civilian society, where armchair pilots abound.
In some cases, an armchair pilot becomes well versed in aviation and related topics with the intent of someday obtaining a pilot's license. He or she may join an aviation club and start taking flight training and fulfilling other requirements to become a pilot, in which case eventually the “armchair” in the title can be dropped. In training, being an armchair pilot can be helpful, because it means that the trainee is extremely knowledgeable about aviation, and he or she may have experience on flight simulators which can be beneficial during flight training.
In other instances, an armchair pilot works in ground control, helping to organize air traffic and to keep airports running smoothly. Other armchair pilots work for aeronautics companies, helping to create the technology with makes flight safer and more efficient, while others simply dabble in aviation topics when they aren't working. Retired pilots may also become armchair pilots, unwilling to give up their interest in aviation and flying altogether.
Often, an armchair pilot has a specific topic of interest, like military planes used during the Second World War, helicopters, or jumbo jets, and he or she may do extensive research to be as well-informed about the topic as possible. Many armchair pilots enjoy using flight simulators and computer games which mimic the flying experience, and they may get together with others to talk about issues in aviation or to go on flying trips with qualified pilots.
An armchair pilot is also often happy to weigh in after a major air accident or a significant breakthrough in aviation, drawing upon his or her virtual experience and education to offer commentary.