How to Become an Air Force Pilot

Learn what it takes to become a pilot for the United States Air Force (USAF). Find out the education and training needed, and see what the duties and responsibilities of a pilot are. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

A Closer Look at Being a US Air Force Pilot

Pilots in the United States Air Force fill a wide variety of roles, far beyond just flying in combat situations. Fighter and bomber pilots are most likely to see action, while pilots of support aircraft, such as aerial refueling vehicles, generally do not. In the Air Force, all pilots are officers and, as such, have strict requirements, although enlisted personnel may serve aboard a plane in other capacities.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Training Required Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training and either Officer Training School (OTS), Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC), or the Air Force Academy
Other Requirements U.S. citizen, pass a background check, meet medical requirements
Key Responsibilities Planning missions, flying aircraft
Minimum Salary (2017)* $3,188.40/month (O-1 pay)

Source: *United States Air Force

What Do USAF Pilots Do?

While flying aircraft is certainly part of a pilot's job, Air Force pilots are not just responsible for what takes place in the air. Pilots also must assist in the planning of their missions and lead a crew that takes care of their aircraft. As pilots are promoted, they might step back into a training role, helping the next generation of pilots to take to the skies, or become an adviser, putting their familiarity with their plane to work in the planning stages.

What Physical Requirements Must an Air Force Pilot Meet?

To be a pilot in the US Air Force, a person must begin their pilot training between the ages of 18 and 29. They can not be color blind, and they must be able to correct their vision to at least 20/20, although corrective surgery may disqualify an applicant due to the conditions pilots must endure. Candidates to become pilots also must not have a history of asthma or allergies, and have a height between 5'4'' and 6'5''. Additionally, pilots have to meet the usual physical fitness standards expected of any member of the Air Force.

Are Air Force Pilots In Demand?

The Air Force has moved to increase the number of pilots it produces each year, raising incentives to make up for a shortage in pilots. Changes to training programs designed to make the path to being a pilot simpler and more appealing are taking place. While precise growth in military-related fields is not recorded by groups such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is always a strong demand for personnel to maintain the quality and robustness of the United States military.

What Training Is Needed to Become a Pilot?

Before becoming a pilot, one must attend the Air Force's Officer Training School (unless coming out of an ROTC program or the Air Force Academy). Once there, a score of at least 25 on the Test of Basic Aviation Skills must be achieved in order to move forward on the path towards becoming a pilot. Air Force pilots also need to clear a background check and receive security clearance. More specialized training, often narrowed down to one particular type of aircraft, will also take place before pilots enter the field.

How Much are Pilots Paid?

As with all military jobs, pilots are paid according to their pay grade and the number of years of service they have. Since pilots must be officers, a pilot will make at least $3,188 per month as a second lieutenant, which may be increased by bonuses such as flight pay, combat pay, etc. Pilots are often expected to live on a military base, which has its expenses covered by the Air Force. As members of the USAF, pilots also receive low cost insurance, 30 days of paid vacation a year, retirement plan options, and the potential for continued education.

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