See more synonyms for pilot on Thesaurus.com
  1. a person duly qualified to steer ships into or out of a harbor or through certain difficult waters.
  2. a person who steers a ship.
  3. Aeronautics. a person duly qualified to operate an airplane, balloon, or other aircraft.
  4. a guide or leader: the pilot of the expedition.
  5. coast pilot(def 1).
  6. pilot light(def 1).
  7. Machinery. a guide for centering or otherwise positioning two adjacent parts, often consisting of a projection on one part fitting into a recess in the other.
  8. Railroads. cowcatcher.
  9. Also called pilot film, pilot tape. Television. a prototypical filmed or taped feature, produced with hopes of network adoption as a television series and aired to test potential viewer interest and attract sponsors.
  10. a preliminary or experimental trial or test: The school will offer a pilot of its new computer course.
verb (used with object)
  1. to steer.
  2. to lead, guide, or conduct, as through unknown places, intricate affairs, etc.
  3. to act as pilot on, in, or over.
  4. to be in charge of or responsible for: We're looking for someone to pilot the new project.
  1. 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

See more synonyms for on Thesaurus.com
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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
  1. a person who steers a ship
  2. a person who acts as a leader or guide
  3. machinery a guide, often consisting of a tongue or dowel, used to assist in joining two mating parts together
  4. machinery a plug gauge for measuring an internal diameter
  5. films a colour test strip accompanying black-and-white rushes from colour originals
  6. an experimental programme on radio or television
  7. See pilot film
  8. (modifier) used in or serving as a test or triala pilot project
  9. (modifier) serving as a guidea pilot beacon
verb (tr)
  1. to act as pilot of
  2. to control the course of
  3. 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