Have you dreamt about what it would be like to strap into a fighter jet and race across the skies?
Or flying faster than the speed of sound?
Maybe you’ve seen the movie Top Gun or went to an air show as a kid and were blown away by it all.
However, it’s one thing dreaming about it and another knowing how to get there. Well, stick around because we’re going to answer that question and more in my in-depth look at how you can become an Air Force pilot. There are multiple paths you can take, and we’ll take a look at each.
However, no matter what path you take, there are a few basic requirements that you must meet to be accepted into the pilot training program.
So let’s go ahead and find out How To Become an Air Force Pilot and what it will entail.
The Basic Requirements
To be eligible for pilot training, you must be a US citizen between the ages of 18 to 33.
You must have a college degree. This needs to be a 4-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited University, or at minimum, you must have at least 90 credit hours to be eligible.
Fortunately, you do not need to major in anything specific to be a pilot. This means you can major in anything from Aeronautical Engineering to English and Fine Arts. As long as you have a college degree, you will be eligible. You also don’t need to be good at math or science to be a pilot. The Air Force will teach you everything you need to know.
Every pilot in the Air Force must go through a single scope background check that allows them to receive a top-secret clearance. Now while this definitely sounds a bit intimidating, there’s no real need to panic.
The background check is just an opportunity for the Air Force to examine things like your credit rating, jobs you’ve worked in the past, and places you’ve lived. This is to make sure that you’re responsible enough to be handed the keys to a multimillion-dollar aircraft.
No flight experience needed
Nowhere on the list of basic requirements will you find prior flight experience. You don’t have to have a private pilot’s license or have logged some sort of flight time ahead of your application.
There are tons of Air Force pilots whose first time sitting in the cockpit of an airplane comes after being accepted to Pilot training. So while having prior experience may give you an advantage in the beginning, there’s absolutely no requirement to have any.
Generally speaking, you do need to be in good overall health. However, everything is looked at on a case-by-case basis, and before you are accepted into pilot training, you’ll go through a medical and physical evaluation. If you’ve ever heard that you need perfect vision to become a pilot, that is simply not true. In most cases, if your eyes can be correctable to 20/20 vision, you’ll be okay.
In terms of height, you have to fall between 5’4” and 6’5”. Having said that, height specifications also vary by aircraft. If you fall outside of these parameters, don’t despair. Every individual is looked at independently, and a lot of times, a waiver can be granted for specific requirements you might not meet.
Becoming A Commissioned Officer
Once you’ve met all of those basic requirements, the next thing you need to focus on is earning a commission as an officer in the US Air Force. To do this, there are three routes you can take. The first two are options you can go through if you have not yet been to college and the last is an option for those who have already finished college.
1 Attend the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA)
The USAFA is a four-year University located in Colorado Springs. Upon graduation, not only will you receive a bachelor’s degree, but you will also receive a commission as an officer in the Air Force. The academy is a military school, which means that you won’t necessarily get the typical college experience. However, there are a lot of unique benefits to going to the academy.
2 Reserved Officer Training Corps
Alternatively, you could look at what’s called ROTC, which stands for the Reserved Officer Training Corps. This is a program established in over 1,700 colleges and universities across the country, and the program’s designed to prepare college students to become officers in the Air Force.
The way it works is that you apply directly for an ROTC scholarship, which, if awarded, can be used at any one of these schools. This scholarship will help you pay for your education. In return, you will be required to attend weekly military classes throughout your four years, so that when you graduate, you are ready to go become an officer.
You can still attend a civilian school!
This is a great option for those who want to attend a civilian school. Maybe you want that flexibility to have a more typical college experience than you would get at the Academy.
The way it works with both the Academy and the ROTC is that once your Junior and senior years come around, you will put in preferences for what Air Force career field you’re interested in. For you, this will be a pilot, assuming you meet all the requirements we talked about earlier.
Excellent grades are crucial…
You will then compete for a slot. This decision is merit-based, meaning the Air Force will look at how well you performed throughout your four years in college. So make sure you are keeping your grades as high as possible because they will have a huge bearing here.
3 Officer Training School (OTS)
What about those people out there who already have a college degree or who might be currently enlisted in the Air Force? You will need to apply for what’s called officer training school or OTS. This 9½ week program is located at Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery, Alabama. It is designed to take you from a civilian to an officer in just over two months.
When you submit your application to OTS, you will indicate that you are seeking a pilot slot. This means that when you find out if you are accepted into the program, you will also then find out whether or not you have been selected for pilot training as well.
4 AFOQT and TBAS
As part of your OTS application and also before you graduate from the Academy and ROTC, you will be required to take what’s called the AFOQT and TBAS. The AFOQT stands for Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. You can think of it as the Air Force’s version of the SAT or ACT.
Your score on this test will determine which career Fields you’re eligible for, and for those wanting to be a pilot, there is a pilot and Navigator specific section that you will need to score high enough on.
You won’t have to fly in this test!
TBAS stands for Test of Basic Aviation Skills. Don’t worry. The TBAS is not actually a flight skills test. It’s more aimed at testing your spatial awareness abilities and your ability to multi-task. There are lots of resources available online for you to prepare for both the AFOQT and TBAS.
The Pilot Training
Initial Flight Training (IFT)
Once you’re selected for pilot training, the first stage is what’s called IFT or Initial Flight Training. This is a 40-day program located in Pueblo, Colorado. Here you will fly roughly 20 hours in a Diamond DA20 aircraft.
The purpose of IFT is to learn some basic flight maneuvers so that when it’s time for you to report to UPT or Undergraduate Pilot Training, you are ready to go.
Undergraduate Flight Training
After you graduate from IST, you will then head off to one of four pilot training bases. Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, or Sheppard Air Force Base, which is also located in Texas.
The entire pilot training syllabus is broken up into three separate phases:
Phase 1 – Academics
This is the academic portion, where you will spend about six weeks in the classroom covering everything from aircraft systems to basic instrument flying. Following academics, you will move to the flight line and start Phase 2.
Phase 2 – Primary
This lasts about 22 weeks. During this time, you’ll learn to fly the T-6 Texan 2. Focusing on basic flight maneuvers, aerobatics, basic instrument flying, and basic two-ship formation flying. Now upon the completion of phase 2, you will follow one of three different tracks for phase 3.
Phase 3 – Advanced
Each of these tracks lasts between 24 and 28 weeks. The first track is for those who will go on to fly airlifts and fuel tankers. This training is done on the T1A Jayhawk.
The second track is for those who will go on to fly fighters or bombers, and you’ll spend phase 3 learning to fly the T38 Talon, a twin-engine supersonic jet. The third and final track is for those who wish to fly helicopters, and you will go on to fly a Huey.
Top grades mean first choice…
To decide which students get which track is largely merit-based. Each student in Pilot training will be ranked amongst their peers. The number one student gets their first choice, then the number two student, and so on. If flying fighters is your ultimate goal, you’ll need to make sure you’re at least ranked in the top 30 or your class.
These three phases of pilot training are very rigorous. They consist of mostly 10 to 12-hour days of classroom instruction, simulator training, and flying.
Being awarded your first aircraft…
After you finish phase 3, you are ready to receive those silver Pilot wings. You will be awarded your aircraft, which like most things, is also largely merit-based. You will have the chance to submit a dream sheet of preferences as to which aircraft you’d like to fly.
Then starting with the number one ranked student, each aircraft will be awarded. The needs of the Air Force do come into play here. It’s therefore difficult to say what types of aircraft will be available to each pilot training class.
Specialize in your aircraft…
Of course, the process doesn’t end here. As soon as you get your wings, you’ll then move on to train on your specific aircraft before becoming fully qualified. The type of training you do and the length will vary depending on what you are flying.
Ever Considered Becoming A Commercial Pilot?
Firstly, why not take a look at a few enthralling stories from air force pilots themselves with Flying the Line, An Air Force Pilot’s Journey: Pilot Training, Vietnam, SAC, 1970-1979, and Skybreak: The 58th Fighter Squadron in Desert Storm, or how about the Girls of Flight City: Inspired by True Events, a Novel of WWII, the Royal Air Force, and Texas all available online in 2022.
Next, we have an abundance of airline opportunities, so check out our Emirates Application, Ethiad Airways Application, and our US Airways Application, or how about our Hawaiin Airlines Application, our Qatar Airways Application, as well as our Alaska Airlines Application, and our Japan Airlines Application.
Furthermore, we also have our applications with interview guides such as American Airlines Application and American Airlines Interview Questions, our United Airlines Application and United Airline Interview Questions, and finally, our Delta Air Lines Application and Delta Interview Questions.
That just about wraps things up. Hopefully, this article gave you a solid idea of how to become a pilot in the Air Force.
It’s not a short process, but once you get your plane and get those wings pinned on your chest, you should definitely be proud. This is an accomplishment that very, very few people can say they have achieved.
Good luck when taking to the skies!