Path To Becoming A Fighter Pilot
Part of an elite group of soldiers, fighter pilots in the United States military help serve and protect from the air. Fighter pilots serve in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and fly a variety of fighter aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-18 Super Hornet, the F-15 Eagle, the AV-8B Harrier and the A-10 Thunderbolt. Both active duty and reservist soldiers can become fighter pilots. The path to becoming a fighter pilot follows several steps and involves intensive and specialty training.
Join the Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps as a commissioned officer. Commissioned officers in each branch must be at least 18 years old, be a United States citizen and hold a four-year civilian or military bachelor’s degree.
Attend officer school. For the Air Force, officer school covers 12 weeks and takes place at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Naval pilots must take part in Officer Candidate School located in Rhode Island. Marine pilots attend Officer Candidates School in Virginia. Pilots can also fulfill officer school requirements by joining a college-level Reserve Officers Training Corps unit.
Pass qualifying officer tests. The Air Force requires all candidates to pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. Navy and Marine pilots must take and pass the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Selection Test Battery.
How To Become An Air Force Pilot
If you’re interested in becoming an air force pilot, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We’ve determined that 45.1% of air force pilots have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 7.6% of air force pilots have master’s degrees. Even though most air force pilots have a college degree, it’s possible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.
What Are The Vision Requirements If I Hope To Be An Air Force Pilot
Pilots must have normal color vision, near visual acuity of 20/30 without correction, distance visual acuity of no worse than 20/70 in each eye correctable to 20/20 and meet other refraction, accommodation and astigmatism requirements. Corrective eye surgery may also disqualify applicants for pilot or other specific roles.
In addition to vision requirements, becoming an Air Force Pilot requires you to meet strict physical, medical and academic requirements. A final determination on your eligibility will be determined by working with a recruiter through the full application process.
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The Air Force Pilot Retention Crisis Is Not Over
Peter Brand: Youre not doing it for the money.
Billie Beane: No?
Peter Brand: No. Youre doing it for what the money says. And it says what it says to any player that makes big money that theyre worth it.
Last year, the Air Force reported a growing shortage of pilots. While the service estimated that it needed 21,000 pilots to carry out the missions identified in the National Defense Strategy, it could only muster 18,900. When the Air Force had a 1,500 pilot shortage in 2017, the previous Air Force chief of staff In fact, the current Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Brown, already believes the Air Forces combat edge over its competitors is thin and shrinking. The pilot shortage, a result of low retention, creates a negative feedback loop that only exacerbates the problem.
Some in the Air Force may assume that the services pilot manning problems may be over due to the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During recessions, Air Force pilots are less likely to leave the service for jobs with commercial airlines. As expected, airline pilot hiring went to almost zero when the pandemic began, and Air Force pilot separations and airline hiring are strongly correlated. This time is different, though, as demographic and licensing trends for airline pilots will significantly shorten the period before companies start recruiting military pilots again.
The Airlines Are Down But Not Out
Retaining Pilots in the Air Force
Requirements Specific To A Specialty
Air Force pilots must select a specialty that they want to work within, which may include operating a specific type of aircraft or focusing on specific duties. Additional training and requirements may apply to these specialties. The possible Air Force Specialty Codes in the Pilot Utilization field are:
11AX: Airlift pilot
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Company Grade Officer Leadership Opportunities
Your first real leadership opportunity as a Company Grade Officer will be as a Shop Chief for one of these departments. Some of the other military branches give the Air Force a hard time about not giving its officers leadership opportunities early enough in their careers. Those people simply dont understand how the Air Force works. Shop Chief is absolutely a leadership position, and youre vulnerable for the position as a 1Lt.
Youll potentially be in charge of officers, enlisted Airmen, and even civilians. Youll answer to your Squadron Operations Officer and/or Commander . Your ability to effectively lead your people will directly affect your squadrons ability to go to war. Its a lot of responsibility for someone in his or her early 20s.
Shop assignments are functional areas that keep a squadron running. Although a Shop Chief has authority over the people in the shop, this is not a command job, per se. Each Air Force Squadron is also divided up into three or more Flights. Each Flight has a Commander who reports directly to the Squadron Commander. This person is usually a Captain , though Ive seen unique circumstances where Flight Commanders held ranks from 1Lt through Colonel. Each Flight Commander has an Assistant, sometimes abbreviated AFC.
What Is An Air Force Pilot
An air force pilot operates aircraft for the U.S. air force, such as fighter jets, bombers, transport planes, and unmanned aerial vehicles . They have expert aviation skills from years of training and are well-versed in flight operations, including combat missions and transports. Aside from operating aircraft, an air force pilot may also be responsible for conducting basic maintenance on their aircraft, as well as training other air force personnel. Aspiring air force pilots have a long way ahead of them. To become an air force pilot, you would need to enter the air force, meet officer qualifications, attend training school, and pass subsequent flight training programs. You may also earn a bachelor’s degree after joining the air force, but it is not necessary nor required. If you do want to go to college, a degree in aviation or aerospace engineering can be extremely helpful. Once you become an air force pilot, your earning potential is around $94,000 a year, on average. As you gain more experience, your salary will also rise, as well as your rank.
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Single Scope Background Investigation
The SSBI is a security investigation that is performed by the United States government to grant Top Secret clearance and access to Sensitive Compartmented Information . To get your SSBI, you must complete Standard Form 86, have your citizenship verified and go through fingerprinting. Once this is completed, the formal background check begins. This includes:
Verification of education and employment
Investigation into organizational and local affiliations
Verification of all locations where you have lived, worked or attended school
Interviews with employers, coworkers, friends, family members and other individuals
National Agency Checks with Local Agency Checks on your spouse, cohabitants and immediate family members
Acquisition of four references
Public records check
This information is then assessed carefully based upon 13 factors that the Department of Defense uses to determine whether a candidate is approved for this level of clearance. Once approved, you must sign a non-disclosure agreement to proceed on the path toward becoming an Air Force pilot. This clearance remains valid for 10 years upon investigation completion.
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How Much Are Air Force Drone Pilots Paid
All Air Force members, regardless of rank or status, will be paid by a combination of their rank and the total time they have spent serving their country in the military.
Most of the candidates entering into Air Force Drone Pilot training will be officers currently in the Company Grade ranks of Second Lieutenant or First Lieutenant .
Here is the current paytable for officers in the US Air Force:
- Tuition reimbursement
All health care is always 100% covered for all Air Force personnel.
In a very interesting side note drone operators not only get flight pay while their feet are firmly planted on the ground but their flight pay averages $150 more per month than manned aircraft pilots get .
Reenlistment bonuses for those in this Air Force career field are much higher than the overall average for Air Force personnel.
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Pass Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training
Upon successful completion of IFT, youâll attend Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at one of the three following bases in the US:
- Columbus AFB, Mississippi
- Laughling AFB, Texas
- Vance AFB, Oklahoma
These bases, all under the Major Command known as Air Education and Training Command specialize in training pilots to actually master the aircraft theyâve been learning about. At all three bases, students will be required to fly the T-6 Texan II aircraft. This training will teach you contact flying, instrument flying, low-level flying, and formation flying.
Once you complete training in the T6, this is what it all comes down to â what will you be assigned to fly? When itâs time to move forward, students will be selected to continue training on one of four tracks. The tracks are based on the current needs of the Air Force, available slots, and class rank and are:
- T-1 Jayhawk â Airlift and tanker pilots
- T-38 Talon â Bomber/fighter pilots
- TH-1H â Helicopter pilots
- RPA â Remotely piloted aircraft
To become a fighter pilot, youâll have to be selected to continue on the bomber/fighter path and begin training in the T-38 Talon. If youâre selected to one of the other three programs, then that will likely be the end of your fighter pilot journey. Due to the way the timeframe works and the commitment you have to make, itâs almost impossible to become a fighter pilot if youâre not selected for the T-38 training program.
Basic Military Officer Qualification
After enrolment, you start basic officer training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, for 12 weeks. Topics covered include general military knowledge, the principles of leadership, regulations and customs of the CAF, basic weapons handling, and first aid. Opportunities will also be provided to apply such newly acquired military skills in training exercises involving force protection, field training, navigation and leadership. A rigorous physical fitness program is also a vital part of basic training. Basic officer training is provided in English or French and successful completion is a prerequisite for further training.
Following basic officer training, official second language training may be offered to you. Training could take from two to nine months to complete depending on your ability in your second language.
Learn more about Basic Training here.
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Guard And Reserve Differences
Weve just covered the basics of officer progression for an Active Duty Air Force pilot. Most of this applies to the Guard and Reserve, to varying degrees. The main difference is that the timelines can get extended.
One of the best parts of a Guard or Reserve unit is that a pilot can spend an entire career there. However, this means there isnt a constant stream of people moving up in rank and job, leaving shoes for you to fill. You may have to wait until someone high up retires, and leaves some room for people to move up to new jobs or take promotions before you get a chance to do the same. This is a great deal!
On Active Duty, everyone is constantly churning through a rat race of career progression. In the Guard or Reserve, you have more opportunities to enjoy where you are, master your current job, and enjoy flying your aircraft. Revel in and take advantage of this!
Youll still have the opportunity to move around to different jobs both within your squadron, and at the Group, Wing, or even staff level. Frequently, those jobs require a full-time worker so youll only be able to do them if you take a few years of full-time orders. Theres nothing wrong with this, though you have to be careful you dont exceed your limits for taking military leave from your civilian job.
Air Force Pilot Minimum Requirements
Air Force pilot candidates go through extensive tests, which determine if they’re physically and psychologically able to perform pilot tasks correctly. Candidates must also meet the following qualifications:
18-30 years of age
At least 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 5 inches tall
Seated height between 34 and 40 inches tall
At least 20/40 vision in both eyes for near vision and 20/200 for distant vision must be corrected to 20/20
May not be colorblind, have had laser eye surgery or have poor depth perception
Must have perfect hearing
Must withstand several G’s of pressure without passing out or getting sick
No history of hay fever, asthma or allergies after age 12
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Upgrades And Your Future
I feel like many pilots try to maximize their progress because we tend toward Type A personalities who want to excel no matter what we do. However, its important to understand the short- and long-term career impacts of your ability to progress as a pilot.
Theres enough variation in individual units and situations that nobody has ever established a firm timeline for when a pilot should achieve each upgrade. However, you do need to work to be ready for your next upgrade as soon as you become eligible. Most fighter pilots will be eligible for 2FLUG with a few hundred hours, and most crewed aircraft will consider a copilot for AC upgrade around 1,000 hours. If youre a 750 hour wingman or a 1,500 hour copilot, people will notice.
This isnt the end of the world, and as I mentioned some situations make a big difference here. Most pilots get a lot of flying while theyre deployed. If an experienced pilot started a deployment just short of having enough hours to upgrade, he or she could return home with a lot of hours. Your squadron will know this, and it wont be counted against you. However, if you havent been picked for upgrade because your knowledge or skills are lacking, you will earn a reputation that you dont want.
Guard And Reserve The Better Way To Become A Pilot
Instead of burning yourself out trying to get into a service academy or win an ROTC scholarship you can go to college like a regular person and apply for a pilot slot directly with any Guard or Reserve unit you choose. BogiDope maintains a listing of these job openings all over the country. You can browse through those listings, or use BogiDopes Map to identify specific squadrons in places youd like to live with aircraft youd like to fly. The map also lets you see airline bases near those units, allowing you to identify places that work for both military and civilian careers. Once you find the right Guard or Reserve unit, you simply fill out an application just like any other job.
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Pme For Field Grade Officers
As a Field Grade Officer youre expected to complete the next level of PME, called Air Command and Staff College . Like SOS, ACSC can be completed in person or by correspondence. The difference is that not everyone gets to attend in-residence, so it becomes a competition.
Youll work as an ADO or in a Group or Wing job while you wait for your shot at ACSC. Although youre officially not required to complete the correspondence version first, you may feel some pressure to do so. ACSC in correspondence is a nightmare right now. It has several self-paced courses, but there are also four live/proctored courses that are only offered a few times per year. If you dont complete the self-paced courses in time to register for the next section of the proctored course, youll be stuck doing nothing until the next opportunity. Best case, it takes seven months to complete ACSC by correspondence.
Personally, I recommend signing up for ACSC and knocking it out as soon as possible, meaning the day you find out that youve been selected for promotion to Major. It will be a pain in the neck but its better to have it done and not need it, than the other way around.
Common Air Force Pilot Requirements
Air Force pilots operate the various types of aircraft that are used for military purposes, including bombers, fighters, tankers, transport planes, helicopters and more. These military professionals conduct all airborne operations required of the United States military, such as active combat missions, surveillance of both enemy- and U.S.-occupied territory and rescue support. Requirements for Air Force pilots include:
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Active Duty The Hard Way To Become A Pilot
Lets put this into context by first looking at how the military gets pilots for Active Duty:
Most military pilots come from a military service academy or the college ROTC program. Just getting into a service academy is extremely competitive, and getting a pilot slot upon graduation narrows that field.
The ROTC program offers some amazing, competitive scholarships, though almost anyone is eligible to join whether they have a scholarship or not. Unfortunately, getting a pilot slot through ROTC is even more competitive than at a service academy because youre competing with every other college in the country for about half of the spots available each year.
The military does hire some pilots who didnt do either of these programs. They go to Officer Training School after college, and then right on to pilot training. Its also possible to fly helicopters for the Army as a Warrant Officer without even having to finish college.
The militarys UFT programs are very stressful. One of the many stressors is worrying about whether youll do well enough in the program to earn a spot flying the aircraft you want. I always felt bad as a UFT instructor watching new classes come in with every student thinking he or she was going to be an F-22 pilot. Thats a statistical impossibility, and the process of having that realization forced upon you isnt fun.