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In the air, on the road

Factory demonstration pilots show off the goods

If you like people and you like airplanes, you can combine those skills to become a demonstration pilot for an aircraft manufacturer. The trick is to strike the right balance of knowledge in the aircraft with interest in your potential buyer.
Photography by Peter Herr.
Zoomed image
Photography by Peter Herr.

Peter Herr, senior pilot at flight operations for Textron Aviation, started out in aviation in 1978 when he joined Beechcraft Aircraft (now owned by Textron). He initially was hired to perform research and development before transitioning to sales. “I’m very grateful,” Herr said. “I love airplanes. It’s a wonder to me. I’m fascinated by aviation.”

Potential buyers may be pilots, but not always. “For the pilot demo, we put the pilot in the left seat and show them how the airplane works, and make them love it,” he said. Pilots will ask many more questions. Executive buyers—who will own the airplane but not be pilot in command—are interested in amenities such as the size of the baggage compartment, and the demonstration may not be as technical, perhaps more focused on making buyers and spouses feel comfortable in the airplane.

Herr is type rated in nearly every make and model of Textron’s product line, which ranges from the popular single-engine Cessnas to the speedy Citation jet series. He doesn’t have a favorite, but he said the bigger aircraft are easier to fly, with autothrottles and auto brakes. The smaller aircraft are more challenging. “It’s a different skill set,” he said. “I love the mix between big and small. It keeps the brain busy.”

Demo pilots also spend a lot of time on the road at aviation events and airshows. A passport is a plus because Textron and other aircraft manufacturers exhibit at shows in Asia, Dubai, and the European Union.

Textron hires and trains its pilots via a development program that starts them in piston aircraft and transitions them to turbine aircraft, Herr said. “Demo pilots are hard to find.”

Be professional, be proficient in the airplane, and know when to talk versus when to be quiet. Sounds a lot like being a flight instructor, and it is—except for the fact that you’ll be traveling quite a bit more and seeing much more than the local airport pattern from inside the cockpit.

Jill W. Tallman
Jill W. Tallman
AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who is part-owner of a Cessna 182Q.

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