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Fighter Pilot FAQ

How do I become a fighter pilot?

How much flight time do fighter pilots get?

How do female fighter pilots use piddle packs?

Qualifications and Medical:
Can women be fighter pilots?
What is the age limit for becoming a fighter pilot?
What are the medical qualifications to become a fighter pilot?
Can a military pilot be color blind?
How long does it take to become a fighter pilot?

Do military pilots have FAA licenses?

Applications and Accessions:
Is the "Fighter Pilot Power Pack" a scam?
Should I go to the Air Force / Naval Academy?
Should I enlist in the Air Force/Navy to become a fighter pilot?
How do I become a fighter pilot through OTS?
Does the Air Force Academy get more pilot slots?
Are there any special classes I need to take (high school or college)?
What major do I need / would help me?
How do I apply for the Academy/ROTC/OTS?
How can I prepare for my Academy/ROTC/OTS interview with the recruiter?
Do I need to have a private pilot's license?
What if I became a navigator?

How many pilots/men/women/etc. are there in the Air Force?

The Life:
What's a typical pilot training day like?
How much does a military/fighter pilot make/get paid?
How many times a year does a fighter pilot deploy?
What aircraft can I fly as a fighter pilot?
Who are the most deployed pilots?
What is a TDY?

Who are better: Air Force or Navy pilots?

What is the standard fighter pilot to every question?
Where do they teach pilot training (UPT) and IFF?


How do I become a fighter pilot?

A young F-16 pilot has chronicled his entire story--from OTS to flying fighters--on his website.  For questions regarding Ed Rush's Fighter Pilot Power Pack (an aid to becoming a fighter pilot), see this commentary.

There are reasonably good answers to this question on both the Air Force and Navy websites.  The official qualifications for Air Force pilots (including age restrictions) are listed 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.

The Air 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 pilot).

(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 flight screening.

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 helicopters.  Your 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 fighter.

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 AirForce.com 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 anything.

The AirForce.com site lists most pilot medical qualifications.  (You may need to register with the site.)  A public cite for Air Force ROTC lists the qualifications here.

Should I go to the Air Force / Naval Academy?

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 speaking, you 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 at flying.

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 slot.

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:

ROTC (scholarships)

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 scholarship.

How can I prepare for my Academy/ROTC/OTS interview?

Some 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.

If you 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. 

For 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. 

For 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. 

The 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.) 

"Tips" for the interviews:

  Get a haircut.
  Wear reasonable clothing (or your JROTC uniform, if it is appropriate).
  Sit up straight.
  Have 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 clearly communicate.)
    Why do you want to be in the Air Force?  Why not the Army/Navy/Coast Guard?
    Why do you want to be an officer?  Why not enlist?
    What do you want to do in the Air Force?
    Do you know what pilots do in the Air Force?
    You want to fly the F-22?  Why?  (Better have something other than "its cool.")
    Do you plan on having a family?  How many kids?
    Do you know how long pilots are gone in the Air Force?
    Do you know what the AF is doing right now?  (Hint: Read the paper…)
    If you can't be a pilot, would you be happy doing something else in the Air Force?  What would that be? 
    What do you think of dropping bombs and shooting missiles…at people?
    Do you want to stay in for 20 and make it a career?
    Where do you want to be in 20 years (a general officer, etc.)?


What's a typical pilot training day like?

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 charge.

What aircraft can I fly as a fighter pilot?

See the Aircraft page.

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 a chance."

How long 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 pilot?

How many times a year does a fighter pilot deploy?

Unfortunately, this 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 full six.

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?

"It depends."

Where do they teach pilot training (UPT) and IFF?

Air Force undergraduate pilot training is conducted at:


Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi


Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas


Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma


Whiting Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida (Joint with Navy)

Air Force Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) is conducted at:


Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi


Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas


Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas


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 enlist.

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 the 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 enlisted airman.)

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 pilots?

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 FighterPilotSpeak, a 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 deployed pilots?

The Air Force Personnel Center tracks average deployments by AFSC through filed travel vouchers.  The Air Force Times wrote an 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 ops tempo 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 were F-15Es.

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, long tour.

How many 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 article.

Can women be fighter pilots?

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 Chick Fighter Pilot Association.

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 commentary.

Do military pilots have FAA licenses?

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 certification.

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 experience.

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, or Marines.

The 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 longer service.

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 the Chick Fighter Pilot Association that one.  Unfortunately, as of April 2010, their website is down.



Last Updated: 05/29/2014

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