pi·​lot | \ˈpī-lət \

Definition of pilot 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a : one employed to steer a ship : helmsman

b : a person who is qualified and usually licensed to conduct a ship into and out of a port or in specified waters

c : a person who flies or is qualified to fly an aircraft or spacecraft

2 : guide, leader

4 : a piece that guides a tool or machine part

5 : a television show produced and filmed or taped as a sample of a proposed series


piloted; piloting; pilots

Definition of pilot (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to act as a guide to : lead or conduct over a usually difficult course

2a : to set and conn the course of pilot a ship

b : to act as pilot of pilot a plane



Definition of pilot (Entry 3 of 3)

: serving as a guiding or tracing device, an activating or auxiliary unit, or a trial apparatus or operation a pilot study

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Other Words from pilot


pilotless \ ˈpī-​lət-​ləs \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for pilot

Synonyms: Noun

airman, aviator, birdman, flier (also flyer)

Synonyms: Verb

conduct, direct, guide, lead, marshal (also marshall), route, show, steer, usher

Synonyms: Adjective

developmental, experimental, trial

Antonyms: Verb

follow, trail

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Choose the Right Synonym for pilot


guide, lead, steer, pilot, engineer mean to direct in a course or show the way to be followed. guide implies intimate knowledge of the way and of all its difficulties and dangers. guided the scouts through the cave lead implies showing the way and often keeping those that follow under control and in order. led his team to victory steer implies an ability to keep to a course and stresses the capacity of maneuvering correctly. steered the ship through a narrow channel pilot suggests guidance over a dangerous or complicated course. piloted the bill through the Senate engineer implies finding ways to avoid or overcome difficulties in achieving an end or carrying out a plan. engineered his son's election to the governorship

Examples of pilot in a Sentence


the airline is seeking experienced pilots to fly the new airplane


He is learning how to pilot a helicopter. He skillfully piloted the ship into port during the storm.


The group conducted a pilot program. a new pilot program to train inner-city residents for jobs in the tech sector
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

When another volunteer canceled, Hera enrolled in a crew that included two PhD scientists and an Air Force pilot. Bruce Henderson, charlotteobserver, "Concord native flew space mission to an asteroid. Without leaving Houston.," 3 July 2018 Purchased for $1,300 by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shawn P. Miller, a CH-47 helicopter pilot, the flag was damaged in May at Bagram. Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Oak Creek-based Eder Flag repairs treasured American flag damaged in Afghanistan," 13 July 2018 In December 2017, The New York Times published an account involving U.S. Navy fighter pilots and their encounter with unidentified flying objects. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "70 Years and Counting, the UFO Phenomenon Is as Mysterious As Ever," 2 July 2018 The Air Traffic Noise Working Group, created in January, has 12 members, some of whom are former airline pilots. Priscella Vega, latimes.com, "Huntington Beach group gives workshop crowd a status report on efforts to alleviate air traffic noise," 14 June 2018 In the Republican primary, Comstock won around 61 percent of the vote against former Air Force pilot Shak Hill. Jenna Portnoy, Washington Post, "State Sen. Jennifer Wexton wins the Democratic race to run against Rep. Comstock," 12 June 2018 Former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill scored an overwhelming win in last week's Democratic primary and has $1.8 million in the bank at last check. Terence Burlij, CNN, "CNN House Key Races: 4 races move toward Democrats, 3 toward Republicans," 12 June 2018 With her spitfire, no-frills style, the former combat pilot is driving home to voters her military background and Congressional experience one stump speech at a time. Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, azcentral, "Kelli Ward may have missed her shot in the GOP primary for Senate. Here's why," 11 June 2018 In another midterm battleground 3,000 miles away, former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill bested a field of Democratic rivals in the race to replace retiring New Jersey Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. Steve Peoples And Michael R. Blood, BostonGlobe.com, "Democrats hope for ‘blue wave’ push from 8-state primary day," 6 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The Pulse 10 Meter glider Buchanan was piloting was manufactured in 1995, registration records from the Federal Aviation Administration say. John Sowell, idahostatesman, "Comedy routine that went awry led to pilot's death at Mountain Home airshow, report says," 26 June 2018 Caporella, a rare CEO who also pilots the corporate jet, and the company have denied the allegations in court documents. Fox News, "Billionaire behind LaCroix accused of improper touching by pilots," 4 July 2018 Jockey Edgard Zayas, who piloted Alter Moon to the win, backed that up riding Pay Any Price to a 1 1/4-length win in the Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint. Tim Dwyer, Sun-Sentinel.com, "X Y Jet wins Smile Sprint at Gulfstream; long shot Stormy Embrace earns spot in Breeders’ Cup," 30 June 2018 Col John Donalson, in the 101st Airborne’s initial jump ahead of the 82nd Airborne, said Andy Maag, 43, a software developer and flight instructor who co-piloted the plane Wednesday with Simon Diver, the command pilot. Sig Christenson, San Antonio Express-News, "Surviving Doolittle Raider flies on restored D-Day plane," 6 June 2018 For the Block Party, the Hideout has partnered with Touch and Go Records and with grassroots arts groups such as Opera-Matic, who piloted a translucent, glowing whale through the crowd during an Andrew Bird set in 2011. Leor Galil, Chicago Reader, "Does Chicago have too many music festivals?," 30 May 2018 This trick isn't anything especially new, especially not for Kent Pietsch who's piloting this Jelly Belly plane. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, "Watch This Plane Make a Harrowing Landing on the Top of a Moving Truck," 25 Mar. 2016 The principal and teachers at Scobee Middle asked the district for permission to pilot universal eighth-grade algebra, and Southwest’s three other middle schools latched on after seeing Scobee’s success, Fey said. Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, "S.A. school districts made all eighth-graders take algebra — and it worked," 26 June 2018 Airboat operators carrying passengers on their boats will soon have more stringent requirements to pilot their vessels, after a deadly crash that killed a University of Miami graduate last year. Elizabeth Koh, miamiherald, "FWC sets new requirements for airboat operators, spurred by death of UM grad," 22 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Within the pilot study area, any current on-street time restriction would become a flat three-hour limit. Steve Schering, chicagotribune.com, "Oak Park officials debate parking pilot program; more discussions set in June," 21 May 2018 Chukoskie met a lot of young adults like Baramki-Azar during the pilot study. Sarah Deweerdt, Science | AAAS, "Can science-based video games help kids with autism?," 22 June 2018 Sacramento is one of seven North American cities selected to participate in a pilot program offering incentives to Uber drivers who use electric vehicles, the ride-sharing company announced Tuesday. Michael Mcgough, sacbee, "Uber teams up with SMUD to offer new cash incentives. There's just one condition," 19 June 2018 But he was assured by the terms of the contract; NuSI would have no control over the pilot study’s design, operation, or reporting. Megan Molteni, WIRED, "The Collapse of a $40 Million Nutrition Science Crusade," 18 June 2018 In one of the trials -- a pilot study -- the patients who received the diabetes drug did not get any worse for two years while the control group, who received a standard treatment for Parkinson's, deteriorated significantly. Christian Holscher, CNN, "New approach to Alzheimer's fight: Diabetes drugs," 15 June 2018 Another pilot prosecution project was implemented in the El Paso area at the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year. Mark Dent, Anchorage Daily News, "Sessions vows to prosecute all illegal border crossers and separate children from their parents," 8 May 2018 Commission members also voted to direct staff to develop, monitor and enforce guest, night passes and second car passes within the pilot study area as a way to ensure local residents have parking priority. Steve Schering, chicagotribune.com, "'There’s got to be measurable goals': Oak Park transportation commission seeks task force to monitor parking pilot," 1 May 2018 Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other Sacramento leaders consider the pilot program central to achieving their goal of housing 2,000 homeless people by 2020. Cynthia Hubert, sacbee, "City homeless program offers bonuses to groups attending meetings and writing policies | The Sacramento Bee," 5 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pilot.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of pilot


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1649, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1915, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pilot


Middle French pilote, from Italian pilota, alteration of pedota, from Middle Greek *pēdōtēs, from Greek pēda steering oars, plural of pēdon oar; probably akin to Greek pod-, pous foot — more at foot

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Statistics for pilot

Last Updated

5 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for pilot

The first known use of pilot was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for pilot



English Language Learners Definition of pilot

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: a person who flies an airplane, helicopter, etc.

: a person who steers or guides a ship into and out of a port or in dangerous waters

: a single television show that is made as a test to see if a television series based on the show would be popular and successful



English Language Learners Definition of pilot (Entry 2 of 3)

: to fly (an airplane, spacecraft, etc.)

: to steer or guide (a ship)



English Language Learners Definition of pilot (Entry 3 of 3)

: done as a test to see if a larger program, study, etc., should be done


pi·​lot | \ˈpī-lət \

Kids Definition of pilot

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a person who flies an aircraft

2 : a person who steers a ship

3 : a person especially qualified to guide ships into and out of a port or in dangerous waters


piloted; piloting

Kids Definition of pilot (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to fly (an airplane)

2 : to steer or guide (a boat)

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Comments on pilot

What made you want to look up pilot? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


playful or foolish behavior

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