Become an Air Force Pilot: Step-by-Step Career Guide

The United States Air Force is the branch of America's military that is primarily responsible for aerial warfare, transport and reconnaissance. Air Force pilots fly a variety of aircraft, including fighters, bombers, transport planes, and tankers. Individuals become pilots in the Air Force by receiving an officer rank and completing extensive flight training.

Should I Become An Air Force Pilot?

Air Force pilots are the men and women who conduct the actual flight operations of America's military aircraft. Not all of these highly skilled and trained people are combat flyers. Most fly less glamorous, but equally important missions.

Being an Air Force pilot requires extensive training and the willingness to commit to ten years of active duty Air Force service. Pilots may be stationed in remote or undesirable places and exposed to some danger. However, the flight training they receive at Air Force expense is highly valued.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is required.
Degree Field Aviation or a related field is a great help.
Training Extensive ground school and in-the-air instruction
Key Skills Excellent motor coordination, aptitude and mastery of flight skills, ability to operate highly complex machinery.
Salary $33,941 to $42,703 per year (Salary for lowest ranking flight officer depending on duty.)

Source: United States Air Force.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Air Force does not require pilots to have specific majors ( However, degrees in aviation or related areas help students to complete flight training and courses in aerodynamics, aviation laws, aviation meteorology and aircraft systems. Students who enroll in Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) in college or attend the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) can become officers after graduating.

In the AFROTC, students complete field training and take extra classes in aerospace, leadership, Air Force organizations, military laws and military customs. Students who attend the USAFA can take airmanship courses and those who desire may take a flight course in which they learn to pilot a propeller driven aircraft.

Step 2: Meet Officer Qualifications

Individuals must be 18-34 years old and U.S. citizens in order to pursue Air Force officer training. Aspiring officers take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT), and must receive at least a ten for the quantitative and 15 for the verbal composite scores.

The AFOQT consists of 12 subtests, including general science, arithmetic reasoning, verbal analogies, instrument comprehension and math. Officer applicants must also pass physicals and background checks at a Military Entrance Processing Station.

Step 3: Attend Officer Training School

Officer applicants who did not participate in AFROTC or graduate from the Air Force Academy must attend the Officer Training School. To guarantee trainees are capable of daily physical conditioning, instructors administer the Air Force Physical Fitness Test the first week of training. The 2-month training program includes classroom lessons in a variety of topics and also in-the-field exercises in land navigation, first aid, self-defense, tactical marches and base defense.

Step 4: Pass Initial Flight Screening

Air Force officers begin flight training by passing Initial Flight Screening (IFT), which is a process that allows instructors to assess a candidate's ability and desire to learn aviation skills. Instructors introduce pilot candidates to aviation basics prior to entering advanced training. Candidates must have a flight physical and Student Pilot Certificate before attending IFT.

Step 5: Complete Undergraduate Pilot Training

Officers become Air Force pilots after finishing Undergraduate Flight Training (UPT). Here, they learn navigation, aerobatics, formation flying and how to rely on aircraft instruments. After initial flight training, officers are placed on the airlift/tanker or bomber/fighter tracks.

Assignments are determined by officers' preferences, aircraft availability and training evaluations. Upon receiving track assignments, officers receive specialized training where they develop the skills needed to operate the specific type of aircraft.

Step 6: Advance Your Career in the United States Air Force

Trained pilots are among the most valuable assets our military services have. By completing the Air Force service obligation and performing up to standard, a pilot demonstrates great competence and a mastery of aviation. Subsequently, these people will advance to higher rank and greater responsibility. By the end of their active duty commitment, they will have logged many flying hours, making them even more valuable to the Air Force or to civilian employers.

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