How to Become an Air Force Pilot

Aim High. Consider Becoming an Air Force Pilot

air force pilot does checks in cockpit
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Becoming an Air Force pilot is no easy task. If you make it, you will be among the elite of the elite in the United States armed services.

Here’s what you need to do if you’re going to try to reach this lofty goal, from age and education to physical condition and flight school training.

Required Education and Age to Become an Air Force Pilot

To qualify as an air force pilot, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree, earned at either a civilian college or university, or at the Air Force Academy, located outside Colorado Springs, Colo.

When choosing your degree program, keep in mind that the Air Force prefers "scientific" degrees, such as aerospace engineering, physics, computer science, and chemistry. You will also need to have a high college grade point average, generally 3.4 or above, to be competitive.

Candidates with civilian flight training, such as a private pilot's license, also tend to fare better with the selection board than those with no flying experience.

You also need to be between the ages of 18 and 28. Aspiring pilots must appear before the military board that commissions officers before turning 29, and must enter flight training before turning 30. Age waivers might be available in some cases if you are 35 or under.

Rank You Need to Become an Air Force Pilot

You must be an officer, commissioned at the rank of second lieutenant. There are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Enroll in a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at a civilian college or university.
  • Attend Officer Training School, an intensive 12-week leadership program at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite.
  • Apply to the Air Force Academy. Only about 1,400 applicants are accepted every year. Aspiring cadets need to be nominated by a member of Congress and must pass fitness and medical exams. An admissions team evaluates applicants based on academic achievement, character, athletic ability and leadership.

Citizenship Needed as an Air Force Pilot

To become an air force pilot, you must be a citizen of the United States. Fortunately, even if you don't yet qualify as a civilian to become a citizen, your military service gives you a leg up.

If you’re not yet a citizen, you can apply to become one as soon as you enlist, no matter how long you’ve lived in the U.S. Usually, you’d have to be a legal permanent resident for five years before applying, but this was waived under a July 2002 executive order by President George W. Bush to expedite the citizenship application process for members of the military.

Aptitude Testing for Aspiring Air Force Pilots

You’ll need to earn a score of at least 25 on the pilot portion and a combined score of 50 on the pilot-navigator portions of the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, an aptitude test similar to the SAT that takes three-and-a-half hours to complete.

The test is divided into 12 sections, and measures your academic aptitude, verbal and  mathematical ability, and your personality.

Physical Condition to Be an Air Force Pilot

As part of your evaluation, you’ll be subjected to a battery of physical, psychological and background tests, including a Flying Class I physical.

Aspiring pilots must be at least 5 feet 4 inches tall, but no more than 6 feet 5 inches tall, and they cannot be overweight. Their seated height must be between 34 and 40 inches.

Vision can be no worse than 20/40 in either eye for near vision and 20/200 for distant vision, and must be corrected to 20/20. If you’re colorblind, have problems with depth perception or have had laser eye surgery, you’ll be disqualified. Other disqualifications include a history of hay fever, asthma or allergies after the age of 12.

Flight School Requirements for Air Force Pilots

Flight School: There are only about 1,400 pilot trainee slots available through the Air Education and Training Command based at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. If you’re among the select few, you’ll need to undergo training in two stages:

  • Introductory flight training. The program consists of 25 hours of hands-on flying for ROTC or Officer Training School graduates who don’t already have a civilian pilot’s license. Civilian flight instructors teach the introductory course using a small, single-engine, propeller-driven plane. You must fly solo at least once before you’ve reached the 17th hour of required flying time. You’ll also receive 25 hours of classroom instruction in flight techniques.
  • Specialized undergraduate pilot training. This year-long program consists of 10- to 12-hour days that include classroom instruction, simulator training and flying. You’ll learn basic flight skills common to all military pilots at one of three places: Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, or Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Next, you’ll follow one of four advanced training tracks based on your class standing and learn how to fly a specific type of aircraft, such as the T-1 Jayhawk or the T-38 Talon.