How hard is it to become an Air Force pilot? posed a user on Quora, the popular question and answer platform. With just
“The Air Force has 12,395 pilots, 3,313 navigators and 1,343 air battle managers in the grade of lieutenant colonel and below,” according to personnel records. “The Air Force has 26,097 nonrated line officers in the grade of lieutenant colonel and below.”
It’s a small number, but for those who dream of taking to the skies with the Air Force, it’s not impossible.
“The problem potential USAF pilots have is there is such a tiny number of pilot training slots compared to the number of interested candidates,” wrote Jim Howard, a commercial pilot and former USAF Electronic Warfare Officer.
However, Howard doesn’t believe that should discourage hopefuls from trying.
“…heck, somebody has to fly those F-22′s! The only way to know if you’re one of those somebodies is to throw your hat in the ring!” he added.
Another pilot, Michael Wales, described the pilot requirements in a lengthy post on the forum.
“First, all pilots in the US Air Force are officers, this means you’ll need a college degree and you’ll need to complete Officer Training School (OTS - essentially the equivalent of enlisted personnel’s basic training) between the ages of 18 and 29,” he wrote, adding, “if you pass that you might get one of roughly 1,400 pilot trainee slots available each year. You’ll continue through Introductory Flight Training (teaching basic flight concepts common amongst all aviation), you’ll then attend Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training for a year to learn military aviation concepts. From this point, based on your performance/skills you’ll be assigned a category of airframe (for example, Fighters, Cargo/Tankers, UAVs, etc) and will then continue on to an Advanced Training course unique to that platform.”
Some on the forum suggest that the barrier to entry has much to do with timing, however.
“It’s a supply and demand equation,” wrote John Tringali, who identified himself as a pilot. “If the AF really really needs pilots desperately (like right now) you can get through and have issues remembering which way is left and which is right. Other times, when the military is drawing down, you fail a single check ride and you get washed out.”
While there was no consensus about the chances of becoming a pilot, training is not easy. And the life of a pilot can be taxing. However, one user suggested that it’s worth the hardships.
“Becoming a USAF Fighter pilot was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life,” wrote user Charlie Alpha. “It requires 110% dedication & motivation, extreme mental fortitude, resiliency, and a can’t quit attitude. Not every person can do it, and once you do, you realize there are very few things you can’t accomplish if you apply yourself fully.”
Jack Erwin began at Military Times in June 2021. He is covering news on defense policy, education, foreign affairs with specific implications for the Air Force. Jack is a cadet at the US Air Force Academy, majoring in Humanities with a minor in Philosophy.