verb (used with object)


serving as an experimental or trial undertaking prior to full-scale operation or use: a pilot project.

Origin of pilot

1520–30; earlier pylotte < Middle French pillotte < Italian pilota, dissimilated variant of pedota < Medieval Greek *pēdṓtēs steersman, equivalent to pēd(á) rudder (plural of pēdón oar) + -ōtēs agent suffix
Related formsun·pi·lot·ed, adjectivewell-pi·lot·ed, adjective
Can be confusedPilate pilot

Synonyms for pilot

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for pilot

Contemporary Examples of pilot

Historical Examples of pilot

  • Who is going to say whether an applicant is competent to pilot a balloon or airship?

    Flying Machines

    W.J. Jackman and Thos. H. Russell

  • Captain Bob has been a Sandy Hook pilot for some years back.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • That afternoon it cleared off, and we found a pilot lying a little outside of us.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • At the Long Sault, we were all put in boats, with a Canadian pilot in each end.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Not a pilot would come out, and if they had, it would have done us no good.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for pilot



  1. a person who is qualified to operate an aircraft or spacecraft in flight
  2. (as modifier)pilot error
  1. a person who is qualified to steer or guide a ship into or out of a port, river mouth, etc
  2. (as modifier)a pilot ship
a person who steers a ship
a person who acts as a leader or guide
machinery a guide, often consisting of a tongue or dowel, used to assist in joining two mating parts together
machinery a plug gauge for measuring an internal diameter
films a colour test strip accompanying black-and-white rushes from colour originals
an experimental programme on radio or television
(modifier) used in or serving as a test or triala pilot project
(modifier) serving as a guidea pilot beacon

verb (tr)

to act as pilot of
to control the course of
to guide or lead (a project, people, etc)

Word Origin for pilot

C16: from French pilote, from Medieval Latin pilotus, ultimately from Greek pēdon oar; related to Greek pous foot
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for pilot

1510s, "one who steers a ship," from Middle French pillote (16c.), from Italian piloto, supposed to be an alteration of Old Italian pedoto, which usually is said to be from Medieval Greek *pedotes "rudder, helmsman," from Greek pedon "steering oar," related to pous (genitive podos) "foot" (see foot (n.)). Change of -d- to -l- in Latin ("Sabine -l-") parallels that in odor/olfactory; see lachrymose.

Sense extended 1848 to "one who controls a balloon," and 1907 to "one who flies an airplane." As an adjective, 1788 as "pertaining to a pilot;" from 1928 as "serving as a prototype." Thus the noun pilot meaning "pilot episode" (etc.), attested from 1962. Pilot light is from 1890.


1640s, "to guide, lead;" 1690s, "to conduct as a pilot," from pilot (n.) or from French piloter. Related: Piloted; piloting.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper