Vision Requirements to Become a Military Pilot/Navigator

Air force Pilot
Saul Easley/Flickr

One question that I'm often asked is what the vision requirements are to become a pilot or navigator in the United States Military. Each of the services has their own standards:

Air Force

To enter flight training, a candidate must pass a Flight Class I Flying Physical. To become a pilot, that means the candidate's vision can be no worse than 20/70 (correctable with glasses to 20/20) in each eye. To enter Navigator Training, the candidate can have vision no worse than 20/200 in each eye (also must be correctable to 20/20).

After flight school, the standards relax a little. Pilots and Navigators who have already graduated flight training can remain fliers as long as their vision doesn't deteriorate beyond 20/400 in each eye (correctable to 20/20).

Normal depth perception and color vision is required.

Effective May 21, 2007, applicants who have had LASIK eye surgery are no longer automatically disqualified from flight training. See below.

Navy and Marine Corps

The Navy and the Marine Corps use the same standards (The Marines do not have their own medical department. They use the Navy for all medical procedures and standards). Navy Pilots must pass a Class I Flying Physical. To become a pilot in the Navy or Marine Corps, an applicant's uncorrected vision can be no worse than 20/40 (correctable to 20/20) in each eye. Once flight training begins, vision can deteriorate to no worse than 20/100 (correctable to 20/20) in each eye.

After flight training graduation, if the eyesight deteriorates worse than 20/200 (must be correctable to 20/20), the pilot will require a waiver for carrier operations. If the vision deteriorates past 20/400 (correctable to 20/20), the pilot is restricted to aircraft with dual controls (ie, aircraft with co-pilots).

For Navigators (called "NFOs" or "Navy Flight Officers"), there is no vision requirement to enter flight training. However, the Navigator's vision must be correctable to 20/20 and there are limits on refraction. Refraction must be less than or equal to plus or minus 8.00 sphere in any meridian and less than or equal to minus 3.00 cylinder. No more than 3.50 anisometropia. After flight training, to continue on flight status there is no limit on refraction for NFOs. No waivers are authorized for NFO applicants who exceed these refraction limits.

Normal color vision is required for both NFOs and pilots. Normal depth perception is required for pilots and pilot applicants.

The Navy allows laser eye surgery, both for current pilots and NFOs, and for pilot/NFO applicants, if they apply for, and are accepted to participate in the Navy's on-going study about laser eye surgery for aviators.

Army (Rotary Wing)

The Army has very few fixed-wing aircraft. The vast majority of Army pilots are helicopter pilots.

Army Aviators must pass a Flight Class I Flying Physical. To enter Army Helicopter Flight Training, as either a commissioned officer or warrant officer, the applicant can have vision no worse than 20/50 (correctable to 20/20) in each eye. After flight training, pilots can remain on flight status as long as their vision does not deteriorate beyond 20/400 (correctable to 20/20).

Normal depth perception and normal color vision are required.

Like the other branches, it is possible to apply for Army Flight Training and/or remain on flying status with laser eye surgery, if one is accepted into the Army's Aviator Laser Eye Surgery Study Program.

LASIK Eye Surgery for Air Force Aviator Applicants

After years of study, the Air Force has decided to change their long-standing policy which disqualified applicants who have had LASIK surgery from flight training and navigator training. The change became effective May 21, 2007. Prior to the change, officers who had had the surgery, prior to flight school could not become Air Force aviators. Under the old policy, a select few pilots and navigators who had already graduated from flight training could apply to have the surgery and become part of an on-going study group. The change also removes the altitude and high-performance aircraft restrictions for people who have had LASIK.

The results of the study are finally in, and the Air Force has found that there was little to no effect on LASIK-treated eyes when subjected to high G-forces of combat fighter aircraft, the wind blast experienced during aircraft ejection, or exposure to high altitude.

Due to stresses placed on the eyes during flight combined with the active lifestyle of military members, the recommended refractive surgeries are Wave Front Guided Photorefractive Keratectomy or WFG-PRK, and Wave Front Guided Laser In-Situ Keratomileusis, know as WFG-LASIK, using the femtosecond laser. The eyes are more trauma resistant after surgery using one of these methods compared to other forms of refractive surgeries.

With all refractive surgeries, there is no guarantee of "perfect" sight after undergoing the procedures. Individuals must still meet the standards prescribed in AFI 48-123 Medical Examination and Standards, for entrance into the Air Force and aviation and special-duty positions.

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