The Air Force — the nation’s youngest branch of service — originated with the Army Air Corps; during WWII, the military realized the value and importance of a strong aviation component on the modern battlefield and gave it its own branch.

The Air Force mission and aircraft

The mission of the U.S. Air Force is to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace. The Air Force supports the joint mission first and foremost and provides compelling air, space, and cyber capabilities for the combat commander. The Air Force has six distinctive capabilities: air and space superiority, global attack, rapid global mobility, precision engagement, information superiority, and agile combat support.

The Air Force uses many different types of aircraft to provide it with these capabilities. These aircraft — from smaller, agile fighter aircraft to large transport vehicles — allow the Air Force and its sister services to project military might worldwide. As an Air Force aviator, you can expect to fly one of a wide range of aircraft on a specific mission format.

Air Force selection criteria/requirements and demographics

The U.S. Air Force has developed selection criteria based on success established since before the branch’s founding shortly after World War II. The Air Force utilizes only commissioned officers in its aviation programs, and although waivers do exist, the branch tends to have tight standards because of its operating environment.

Typically, an Air Force applicant comes from one of three sources, all of which require a bachelor’s degree prior to flight training:

  • The Air Force Academy

  • Air Force ROTC

  • Officer Training School

If you want to fly in the Air Force and you have at least two years of college remaining, choose either a service academy or ROTC. The simple fact is that your odds of getting into an Air Force flight training program are greater if you choose these paths. It's not that entry into flight training after OTS is impossible, but it’s a very competitive field for few potential slots.

If you’ve already graduated from college with at least a bachelor’s degree, you can still achieve your goal. You’ve already shown your commitment to excellence by purchasing this book. Study hard and affect any other selection criteria you have control over.

The Air Force utilizes a pilot candidate selection method (PCSM) to determine who enters into flight training. If you’re coming into flight training as a member of the National Guard or Reserves, you fly the aircraft that is assigned to that unit. All other candidates get aircraft choice based on their standing during flight school.

The PCSM uses different determining factors but primarily focuses on three main categories:

  • Air Force Officer Qualifying Test: This test is scored and broken down into the following six categories (with minimum scores required to qualify as a pilot):

    • Academic aptitude (no minimum score required).

    • Verbal (15).

    • Quantitative (10).

    • Pilot (25).

    • Navigator (10).

    • Combined pilot and navigator (50). You may notice that this threshold is actually higher than the combined minimum scores for the pilot and navigator sections; to excel in this category, you have to score better than the bare minimum on these sections.

  • Your test of basic aviation skills (TBAS): The Air Force uses this format to assess your skill level and assigns a numerical value for evaluation purposes.

  • Any pre-test flight time: The Air Force actually gives you bonus points for up to 200 hours of flight time you already have.

Other qualifying factors for entry into the Air Force flight training program are

  • U.S. citizenship.

  • Age: Under 29.1 years old at date of application. If you’re close to this age, you face special requirements to ensure you’re able to begin flight training before you reach the age cutoff. See an Air Force aviation recruiter for the latest regulation changes.

  • Education: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university (can be waived under certain circumstances in the Reserve). No minimum GPA is necessary.

  • Medical: Ability to pass a pre-commissioning physical and to pass a class 1 physical upon selection into flight training (an exception is age-critical candidates, who must pass the class 1 physical before their applications are processed to make the age cutoff).

  • Vision: 20/70 uncorrected and correctable to 20/20 with normal depth and color perception. You can get a waiver for PRK but not for the Lasik eye procedure.

  • Height: 64 to 77 inches standing and 34 to 40 inches sitting.

  • Eligibility for security clearance.

Typically, if you attend the Air Force Academy and are medically qualified, you’re offered a flying quota upon graduation. ROTC fills a majority of the total 1,000 to 1,500 available quotas for initial flight training; OTS candidates fill 10 to 13 percent of the positions each year.

Air Force flight training programs

After you’re selected into the Air Force flight training program, you enroll in a commissioning program to earn the rank of Second Lieutenant (unless you’ve already been commissioned through another source). After you receive your commission, you first report to Pueblo, Colorado, for a six-week initial flight screening program.

This training — given by civilian instructors under contract from the Air Force — provides you with an initial 25 hours of flight training and 58 hours of ground training before you advance to the next phase of training (undergraduate flying training program).

Undergraduate pilot training is a three-phase, 58-week program taught in Mississippi, Texas, or Oklahoma. In the first phase, you take academic classes and preflight training. Phase two includes 90 hours of primary flight training, where you’re ranked every day. When you complete the second phase, you get to pick an aircraft track for phase three based on your order of merit and the Air Force’s specific needs.

You choose from four potential tracks, each of which consists of follow-on training at various locations:

  • Helicopter: The helicopter track is conducted by the U.S. Army and consists of 115 flight hours over a 28-week period.

  • Multi-engine turboprop: The multi-engine turboprop track consists of 115 hours of flight training over a 26-week period.

  • Airlift/tanker: The airlift/tanker track consists of 90 hours of instruction and is 28 weeks long.

  • Fighter/bomber: The fighter/bomber track is 100 hours of flight training lasting 27 weeks.

After you complete phase three, you select an aircraft based on your order of merit and begin graduate pilot training in that aircraft before getting an operational assignment.