How do I become a fighter
A young F-16 pilot has chronicled his entire story--from OTS to flying fighters--on his
For questions regarding Ed Rush's Fighter Pilot Power
Pack (an aid to becoming a fighter pilot), see this
reasonably good answers to this question on both the
Force and Navy websites.
The official qualifications for Air Force pilots
(including age restrictions) are
here, though it requires you to log in.
Additional information on the Air Force is
here and the Navy's is
here. The short version is:
1. Become an officer in the Air Force or Navy/Marines.
2. Apply and get accepted into pilot training.
3. Compete for a fighter pilot slot.
4. Complete the fighter portion of training.
There are no
fighter pilots in the Army or Coast Guard. Marine
Corps pilots wear Navy wings.
Force and Navy have similar means by which you can
become a fighter pilot. In general, you must first
become an officer, either by attending one of the
Academies, completing ROTC, or graduating from Officer
Training/Candidate School (OTS/OCS). In most
cases, just prior to your commissioning you will be able
to request what your desired job will be. (See the
specifics of OTS
below.) If you select and receive the
opportunity to become a pilot, you will then have to
attend Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT).
You may get a "pilot
slot," but you will not know whether you will fly
helicopters, heavies, or fighters until well into pilot
training in both the Navy and Air Force (except
in rare circumstances, or if you are a Guard/Reserve
(The Navy doesn't
technically fly "heavies," per se, like the KC-135,
though it does fly several large, non-fighter aircraft
including C-130s (Marines), E-6s, and a variety of other
patrol and cargo aircraft.)
Prior to UPT, you may have to attend a flight screening
program. The Air Force is
currently revising it's pre-pilot training screening
program. A year or two ago the
Air Force began sending pilot candidates to private
pilot schools. Under the latest guidance, it
appears the Air Force will continue to fund 40-50 hours of
private pilot school and then re-institute some form of
In the Air Force, you
will have to complete the first 3-4 months of pilot
training before your class is split into those who will
fly fighters, heavies, and
ability to get the fighter track (T-38s) will depend on
your relative class ranking, your instructors'
input, the needs of the Air Force
(how many of each type of pilot they need), and the
desires of your classmates. For example, if the
Air Force needs more C-130 pilots than F-15 pilots, your
class might get 2 fighter slots and 10 heavy slots.
On the other hand, you could
be ranked #10 in your class, but if the 9 guys in front of you
want to fly heavies, then you'll get the chance to fly a
If you do choose and
receive the fighter track, near the completion of
the T-38 course you will be given the opportunity to
rank-order the fighters you would like to fly. The
jet that you get will depend on your class rank, the
input of your instructors, the needs of the Air
Force, and the desires of your classmates
(See a pattern?). For example, the Air Force may need 8 F-16
pilots but no F-15 pilots, meaning you won't be able to
get an F-15 even if its your first choice. It is also worth noting that the Air
Force has alternately put bombers into/out of the T-38 track,
meaning that you could complete T-38s and end up flying
a B-52. The location of bombers (fighter vs. heavy
track) has oscillated over the years. Recent
history has indicated that UAVs may also be assigned out
of the T-38 track.
After you graduate pilot
training you will need to complete your survival
training and pass the centrifuge. Your next course
will be IFF,
which is taught in AT-38Bs. After you graduate
IFF, you will then go through the
B-Course for your fighter
(see locations below). The F-16 B-course is
at Luke AFB, Arizona; A-10s are at
Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; F-15Cs are at
Tyndall AFB, Florida; F-15Es are at
Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. At last
report, the F-22 B-course was also at Tyndall,
and the F-35 B-course is to be based at Eglin
AFB, Florida. There is some variation; for
example, the Air National Guard trains F-16 pilots at
Kelly Field in Texas.
Once you complete the
B-course, you will transfer to an operational unit.
Depending on what jet you go to, you will then go
through another 2 to 6 month upgrade. At the
completion of that upgrade you will be a "Mission Ready"
(MR) wingman, able to fly on the wing of a more
experienced pilot into combat.
On average, in the Air
Force it takes 2 years from the start of pilot training
to being a "true" fighter pilot.
In the Navy, you attend
Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Pensacola, Florida,
followed by a six week "Air Indoctrination" course.
Primary flight training follows (6 months at Whiting or
Corpus Christi), and the split track occurs after
initial flight training. Intermediate flight
training builds on navigation, and advanced training is
mission specific. Wings are awarded after advanced
training. Pilots then go to Fleet Replacement
Squadrons (FRS) to learn their specific aircraft.
What is the age
limit for becoming a fighter pilot?
The Air Force answer is
in the Q&A section of its
site, among its "general
qualifications." Currently you must meet your
selection board before turning 28.
What are the medical qualifications
to become a fighter pilot?
The precise pilot medical
qualifications vary slightly depending on the situation.
As a general rule, if you have no medical defects and
are of average
body height and weight, you'll probably be pilot
qualified (PQ). There are very tall and
very short pilots, as well as very skinny and quite
rotund fighter pilots.
Some historical disqualifications
are frequently waived, like poor vision, some color
blindness, and minor health issues. Major medical
issues like heart problems or unexplained
unconsciousness are rarely, if ever, waived. Much
of the emphasis on perfect health depends on the level
of need of pilots. If the military is short on
pilots, it is likely to waiver anything it can. If
it has more than enough, it probably won't waiver
lists most pilot medical qualifications. (You may need to register with the
site.) A public cite for Air Force ROTC lists the
Should I go to the Air Force /
The choice of schooling
is truly a personal one. Both of the academies
have good academic reputations. The "other" issues
of the life of a cadet / midshipman (military, physical,
etc.) can be daunting. That said, it is likely
that you will increase your chances of getting a pilot
slot if you attend the Academy, but it is by no means
guaranteed. Over the past several years, the
number of Air Force Academy pilot slots has been equal to or
greater than the number of physically qualified cadets
who wanted to become pilots.
Most years there have been more slots to fill than
cadets willing to fill them. Statistically
have a better chance of flying in the Air Force, given
that there are more aircraft in the Air Force and thus
more opportunities to fly. Still, that does not
guarantee that you will become a fighter pilot.
Ultimately, the choice of
higher education should be based on more than just your
ability to get a pilot slot. If you are
indifferent as to your college choice, the Academies may
present more opportunities. In my opinion, if you
dislike the idea of the Academies or you are leaning
towards a particular civilian school, it is probably
better for you to attend the school you would enjoy
rather than "suffer" through years at the Academy for
the remote possibility it will give you a better chance
How do I become a
fighter pilot through OTS?
Apply for OTS when you
have your degree or it is essentially assured (i.e., the
summer before your senior year of college). You
will be required to take the Air Force Officer
Qualification Test (AFOQT) and the Basic Aptitude Test
(BAT). A complete medical will follow. On the
application there is a "yes/no" box next to a question
that asks "if accepted for other than a pilot training
slot, will you accept a commission?" If you really
only want to be a pilot, then you should check "no."
You will also need to get recommendations from at least
5 people not related to you that can attest to your
character and desire to be in the military. You will be
asked to appear in front of an interview board of
officers. Good grades and desire/experience in aviation
may work to your advantage. One applicant got his
answer about a week after the interview. He was
accepted for an OTS class date a month after graduation
with a guaranteed pilot training slot--as long as he
graduated on time..
Does the Air Force Academy get
more pilot slots?
The likelihood of getting
a pilot slot is dependent upon how many pilots the Air
Force needs. Several years ago the Air Force had a
pilot "excess," rather than "shortage." As a
result, they culled their applicants with requirements
for 20/20 vision, and they also favored Academy
graduates, which was one of the benefits of Academy
attendance. Now, though, the Air Force has had
such a need for pilots in recent years that virtually
anyone (Academy, ROTC, OTS) who has wanted to get a slot
could, assuming they were somewhat medically qualified.
That may not always be the case. Like most things
in the military, it will probably be cyclical.
Are there any special classes I
need to take to become a pilot?
What academic major do I need / would help me be a pilot?
Advanced classes in high school are not necessary, but
tend to make you a better academic student in college.
This, in turn, increases your academic standing which
makes it more likely you'll be selected for a pilot
Historically, it has been said that those who are good
at Math and Science will make good pilots; however,
there are probably just as many History and English
majors flying fighters these days. The choice is
more a function of personality than necessity. It
is generally better to major / specialize in what you
enjoy, because you'll not only do better, but you'll
also have fun doing it.
Engineering, math, and
sciences may help you understand (and thus do better in)
certain aspects of aviation. However, purely from
a data point of view, your GPA is more important than
the content of the major itself. Currently, you
must have a GPA above 2.5 to become an aviator.
How do I apply for the Academy/ROTC/OTS?
The links for the (Air
Force) application processes are below:
Remember you can always attend ROTC, even if you don't get a
scholarship. You'll still compete with the other ROTC
cadets near graduation for the same jobs. You do incur
a service commitment if you do the last two years
(junior/senior) of ROTC, even if you don't have a
How can I prepare for my
people say that they've heard recruiters end up getting
people jobs other than "pilot." That's because
their job is to fill quotas for specific billets; ie,
they may need 5 intel troops this month and 3 security
forces. These billets are also enlisted. In
order to be a pilot, you have to be an officer, and
recruiters don't generally deal with officers.
want to be a pilot, you need to get into one of the
officer accession programs: USAFA, ROTC, or OTS. These
all have application processes that will eventually
require an interview. (This interview is not the same
thing as "talking to a recruiter.") Your basic
qualifications (GPA, extracurricular activities, etc.)
will stand on their own merits. The point of the
interview is for an officer to get a sense of
your "potential in terms of motivation, goals,
leadership ability, communication skills, adaptability,
and other qualities." You need to approach that
interview like it’s the most important job interview
you'll ever do. Your interview for Home Depot may
determine whether or not you work this summer. This
interview helps determine what you could be doing for
the rest of your life.
USAFA and ROTC, the application/interview will only get
you in the program. Two to four years later, prior to
your graduation, you'll compete for pilot slots among
you peers. There is no interview process then; it's
just a big computer in the sky determining who is the
most qualified. (Part of that determination, though, is
the input of your unit's commander. They will rank
their cadets at some point; if you're at the top, it's
more likely you'll get your choice. If not…) The down
side of this means you will have a commitment in the Air
Force before you know whether or not you'll be a pilot.
OTS, it's possible that you could be offered an OTS slot
with a guaranteed job, contingent upon your completion
of OTS three months later.
ROTC and USAFA processes can actually be begun online,
and you should never have to talk to a recruiter (just
your interview). For OTS, there does not appear to be
an online option, and the listed point of contact is
"your local recruiter." Walk into their office and ask
for an application to OTS. There's no need to let them
try to talk you into anything else, nor do you need to
convince them of what you want. Just ask them how to
start the application process. [If they're honest,
they'll be more than willing to help you get what you
need, and it shouldn't be a problem.] You can call them
back later if you have questions on the form, and you'll
probably have to go back for your interview. (See
the OTS info above, as well.)
for the interviews:
reasonable clothing (or your JROTC uniform, if
it is appropriate).
ready answers to the questions you know he'll
ask: (Write the answers to these questions out
and practice delivering them. They don't
need to be memorized, but you need to have
coherent, well thought-out answers that you can
do you want to be in the Air Force? Why
not the Army/Navy/Coast Guard?
do you want to be an officer? Why not enlist?
do you want to do in the Air Force?
you know what pilots do in the Air Force?
want to fly the F-22? Why? (Better have
something other than "its cool.")
you plan on having a family? How many kids?
you know how long pilots are gone in the Air
you know what the AF is doing right now? (Hint: Read
you can't be a pilot, would you be happy doing
something else in the Air Force? What would
do you think of dropping bombs and shooting
you want to stay in for 20 and make it a career?
Where do you want to be in 20 years (a general
What's a typical pilot training
In general, new pilots
are placed on "formal release." This means they
have to show up at a specific time everyday and can't
leave until given permission by their instructors; it is
unlikely they get such permission prior to the
expiration of their 12 hour day. Student pilots
show up for a formal brief and accomplish at least one
scheduled training event like a sortie, simulator, or academics. Sorties are approximately
1 to 1.5 hours long.
A reasonably good
description of this and other details surrounding UPT
can be found at the military pilot section of
BaseOps.net. While the website has some educational
information, it also has questionable content. We
neither endorse nor sanction the content of that site.
Do I need to have a
private pilot's license?
In a word, no. If
the needs of the military change such that it becomes
highly competitive to get a pilot slot, having a pilot's
license could be a means to prove both your desire and
ability to succeed in flight training. Currently,
the only good private pilot training does is begin to
develop your "air sense."
It is also worth mentioning
that the FAA recognizes military pilot training.
That means that after you complete your military pilot
training, you can go to the local FAA office, take a
test or two, and get several FAA qualifications
(including commercial and instrument tickets)--free of
What aircraft can I fly
as a fighter pilot?
What if I became a navigator?
A few years ago, any of
the following scenarios were quite realistic:
1. An aspiring
fighter pilot is unable to get a pilot slot, so he
becomes a navigator. A year or two later, because
he has "air experience," he is able to get a "second
chance" to get a pilot slot.
2. An aspiring fighter
pilot is medically unqualified to be a pilot but still
qualifies as a navigator. After a year or two as a
navigator, he is able to get a medical waiver to obtain
a pilot slot.
The opportunities for the
above scenarios are increasingly rare. Primarily
this is because there are fewer and fewer navigators, as
many are being replaced by computers. This means
that in some cases the Air Force may be unwilling to let
a navigator leave--unless the need for pilots is
greater. It is still possible to cross-train to
become a pilot, but you should not view it as a primary
path. If for some reason you can't get a pilot
slot but you can become a navigator, you do still "have
does it take to become a fighter pilot?
In the Air Force, after
you are commissioned it takes approximately one year to
accomplish undergraduate pilot training, three months
for IFF, a few
weeks for SERE
and water survival, and approximately six months for
your fighter's basic course. This translates to
about two years from the day you started pilot training.
Once you arrive at your first base, it will take you an
additional 2 to 3 months to become mission ready (i.e.,
qualified to fly into combat). See the detailed
answer to How do you become a fighter
How many times
a year does a fighter pilot deploy?
question has no firm answer. As a general rule, a
single squadron may deploy for one 3 to 6 month tour
every 18 to 24 months. That is just a potential
combat deployment, though. Squadrons may still
deploy to locations for Flag exercises (Red Flag at
Nellis in Las Vegas, for example) or for a variety of other
training deployments or cross-countries. It is
also possible that a squadron will be assigned to
"cover" a six month deployment, and they will do so by
swapping out their pilots halfway through, which means
that everyone gets a 3 month deployment rather than the
precise number of days a fighter pilot will be gone from
home varies widely and may depend on a pilot's timing
(when he arrives; i.e., if he gets there right after the
squadron returns from a deployment, it may be awhile
before they leave again), the political environment, the
squadron's capabilities, the leadership, and just about
any other variable you can think of.
What is the standard
fighter pilot to every question?
Where do they teach pilot
training (UPT) and IFF?
Air Force undergraduate
pilot training is conducted at:
Air Force Introduction to
Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) is conducted at:
Should I enlist in
the Air Force/Navy to become a fighter pilot?
Some people may have trouble
getting into college (or the military academies), or
they may get pressure from a recruiter to serve their
country by enlisting. This is not the optimum way
to become a fighter pilot.
Don't get the wrong
impression. There are many sharp troops, and the
military would fail if it didn't ride on the strength of
the shoulders of its enlisted soldiers and airmen.
The problem is that enlisted troops' first priority is
doing their job, and doing it well--it is not viewed as
a "stepping stone" to a career as an officer. It's
not easy to get a college degree on the side, which is
what some people think they'll be able to do. If
you have the option, it would probably be better to go
to college on your own (paying your own way) than to
That said, if you do enlist
or already have, there are some good options. The
Montgomery GI Bill
is an excellent way to get your college degree paid
for--which is the first step to becoming an officer (and
thus a pilot). (If you are offered the GI Bill
option in basic training, though it may reduce your pay
for awhile--take it.) The Air Force also
has specific enlisted-to-officer programs, which include
variations of the "Boot Strap" commissioning program and
also reserved slots at the Air Force Academy. (See
AF.mil article on the "Leaders Encouraging Airman
Development (LEAD)" program.) (Remember that you can't have
dependents if you want to go to the Academy, so you
can't be married (or divorced) or have kids, which may
be easy to forget when you're an independent adult as an
Your best option is always
to keep your commander and leadership informed of your
desires. They want to see you succeed. If
they know you want to become an officer, and you
demonstrate your potential to them, they'll help you in
any way they can.
Can a military pilot
be color blind?
Under the most recent
medical guidelines, aircrew (pilots and navigators)
cannot be color blind.
Who are better: Navy or Air Force
It depends. To
clarify, the Navy calls their "pilots" aviators.
This is because in nautical terms the "pilot" is the guy
who drives the boat. It is also worth noting that
the majority of Naval aviators fly helicopters or heavies.
What is a TDY?
As noted at
TDY is a
"Temporary Duty" in the Air Force. It is most
often a short, temporary deployment to another location.
Often, the terms
"deployment" and "TDY" are used interchangeably.
However, a military member can go TDY to any number of
places. For example, if they were to leave their
home base to attend a week-long training class in Las
Vegas or an exercise in Germany, they would be TDY, but
not technically "deployed." If they were sent to a
combat Area of Responsibility (AOR), they would be
"deployed," as well as technically TDY.
Who are the most
The Air Force Personnel
Center tracks average deployments by
filed travel vouchers. The Air Force Times wrote
article in December of 2008 that detailed some of
the most deployed AFSCs. Notably, it did not
distinguish between deployments and TDYs, which
significantly alters the perceptions of the
and is an important distinction.
In short, the answer depends
on the time and place. According to the article,
Block 40 F-16 pilots were the most deployed in fiscal
2007. In 2008, the most deployed pilots were
helicopter pilots, and the most deployed fighter pilots
The article noted average
deployment days, not deployment length.
So some pilots who went on multiple, short trips are
compared equivalently with those who went on a single,
pilots/men/women/etc. are in the Air Force?
Air Force demographics vary
slight every year. As of September 2008, the Air
Force included 323,000 active duty members, of which
13,250 (4.1%) were pilots (fighter, bomber, cargo,
etc.). Of those, 601 were women. 60% are married
and 20% are overseas. For complete demographics,
reference the AFPC
Can women be fighter
Perhaps the more accurate
question is "can women fly combat aircraft?" The
answer is yes. In 1991, the US
Congress repealed the law prohibiting women from flying
combat aircraft. In 1993, the Secretary of Defense
Les Aspin directed the military services to open the
cockpits of combat aircraft to female aviators.
For where its gone since then, you might reference the
Is the "Fighter Pilot Power
Pack" a scam?
For questions regarding Ed Rush's Fighter Pilot Power
Pack (an aid to becoming a fighter pilot), see this
Do military pilots have
Completing military pilot
training does not automatically get pilots an FAA
license. Military pilots are also not required to
have an FAA license when they fly military aircraft.
The only "license" they have is their military
However, being a military
pilot does make it much easier to get an FAA license,
should a pilot desire to get one. Many do obtain
both private and commercial ratings by virtue of their
How much money does a
fighter pilot make/get paid?
Unlike many other
professions, members of the military are not paid
differently based on their specific job or even service.
An enlisted E-3 is paid the same amount of money
regardless if he is an Air Force aircraft mechanic or a
Navy dental assistant. Pilots in the military, if
they are the same rank, earn the same base pay
regardless of whether they are in the Air Force, Navy,
pay tables for military members are public
information, though they may be difficult to read if you
don't know what they say. As of
2010, a lieutenant just starting out in pilot
training (as an O-1) would make $2655.30 a month in
basic pay. Housing allowances or other pays would
vary by location, but would not be specifically related
to his status as a pilot. On average, Air Force
captains (O-3) have four to nine years of service
($4700-$5200 a month); Majors (O-4) may have nine to 20
($5600 a month or more). Navy promotion times are
similar but not identical to those of the Air Force.
As pilots are officers, a
pilot lieutenant makes the same amount of money as a
non-pilot lieutenant--almost. Besides basic
pay, there is "flight pay," just as there are other
special pays like "sea pay" in the Navy. This
flight pay (see page 3 of the pay tables) varies based
on how long a pilot has been flying; it is as low as
$125 a month with less than 2 years, and tops out at
$840 a month with greater than 14 years of aviation
service. At that point, it actually decreases with
For those that aren't
familiar with government payroll practices, government
employees (which all members of the Air Force, Navy,
Army, and Marine are) receive their monthly pay in two
separate allotments--one on the first day of the month,
the second on the fifteenth. If either of those
days falls on a weekend or holiday, then the deposit
into the member's bank account is made on the last
banking day prior to the holiday.
How much flight time
do fighter pilots get?
Short answer: In pure hours,
a fighter pilot will probably get somewhere between 1/3
to 1/4 of the total hours that some ‘heavy’ airframe
pilots get. Depending on many factors, fighter pilots
may average 200-300 hours a year.
Long answer: However, that is for a few reasons: for
example, heavy pilots routinely fly long-duration
flights (often more than 8-10 hours), while fighter
pilots generally fly sorties of only one or two hours.
In addition, heavy pilots often log time when they’re
not even on the flight deck…and sometimes even when
they’re asleep. So the "quality" of the flight time they
log is often lower. That is, a fighter pilot with 1,000
hours has as much "experience" as--or more than--than
some heavy pilots with 4 or even 5,000 hours.
Remember too that most heavy
pilots due three things—takeoff, cruise, and land
(that’s not true for some tactical aircraft like
C-130s). Fighter pilots actively fly, and execute
missions, on each sortie--and they do it by themselves.
When "converting" military hours to civilian hours, some
airlines have even allowed a "multiplier" to account for
the fact that fighter hours are more ‘valuable’ that
heavy hours, though there’s no rule that requires it.
How do female fighter
pilots use piddle packs?
You're going to have to ask
Fighter Pilot Association that one.
Unfortunately, as of April 2010, their website is down.