BECOMING A MILITARY PILOT
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions from the Make Them Tell You No Facebook Group to hopefully reduce redundant questions that have already been answered. This includes questions about the application process, medical standards, and general questions about becoming a military pilot.
THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL DOCUMENT. This was compiled by current/former military pilots based on current and past information. We have done our best to make sure the information is as accurate as possible, but at the end of the day, the responsibility lies with YOU to ensure you have the most up-to-date and correct information. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Part of being an officer in the military is the ability to take the initiative. Do not rely on others to spoon-feed you the information. Go out and find it/verify it yourself.
Regardless of what you find here, do not let a negative answer deter you. Waivers are often available. Don’t self-eliminate.
MAKE THEM TELL YOU NO.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
― William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Make them tell you no is a mindset that basically says you won’t self-eliminate or give up. We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to applying ourselves and going out to get what we want. So many people have quit before they even started because they heard or someone (who has no idea) told them it’s not possible.
When we say “Make Them Tell You No,” we mean keep pushing. Don’t stop until someone IN A POSITION OF ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY tells you no. Let the person who can make the decision be the one that tells you it’s not possible. Not someone who has no authority (like a recruiter in a strip mall who says you can’t be a fighter pilot, but hey, why not enlist as a crew chief instead!) or knowledge.
This is especially important when it comes to waivers. Don’t quit just because you might have a medical condition that requires a waiver. Keep pushing until the final authority (NAMI or Wright Patt) gives you an answer.
If you follow this mindset, you’ll often find that the answer is actually YES and you’ll accomplish your goals.
In all branches except the Army (which allows for Warrant Officer pilots), you must be an officer first. In order to become an officer, you must:
- Be between 18 and 39 years of age.
- Be a U.S. citizen.
- Have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- Be of sound moral character
You can obtain your degree while commissioning by either applying to a service academy or joining ROTC at your college.
If you already have a degree, you will go to Officer Training School (OTS) or Officer Candidate School (OCS) for the Navy.
It depends. If you are selected via a rated OTS board (AF) or Navy OCS Board, yes. You will have your pilot slot prior to commissioning. The same is true for Air National Guard or Reserve.
If you choose to go through a service academy or ROTC, your slot will be based on the needs of the military and you may not know prior to commitment.
In the Air Force, you must be correctable to 20/20 and refractive error any meridian cannot exceed +2.00 to -3.00 with no more than 3.00 astigmatism. See the FC1 table below.
In the Navy, you must be 20/40 correctable to 20/20.
- Service Group 1, 20/100 or better each eye uncorrected, corrected to 20/20 or better each eye. 2. Service Group 2, 20/200 or better each eye uncorrected, corrected to 20/20 or better each eye. 3. Service Group 3, 20/400 or better each eye uncorrected, corrected to 20/20 or better each eye. The first time distant visual acuity of less than 20/20 is noted a manifest refraction (not cycloplegic) shall be performed recording the correction required for the aviator to see 20/20 in each eye (all letters correct on the 20/20 line). Refractive limits: Refractions will be recorded using minus cylinder notation. There are no limits. However, anisometropia may not exceed 3.50 diopters in any meridian.
- Near Visual Acuity: Must correct to 20/20 in each eye using either the AFVT or standard 16 Snellen or Sloan notation nearpoint card. Bifocals are approved.
- Oculomotor Balance: 1. No uncorrected esophoria more than 6.0 prism diopters. 2. No uncorrected exophoria more than 6.0 prism diopters. 3. No uncorrected hyperphoria more than 1.50 prism diopters. 4. Tropia or Diplopia in any direction of gaze is disqualifying Field of Vision: Must be full.
- Depth Perception: Only stereopsis is tested. Must pass any one of the following three tests: 1. AFVT: at least A – D with no misses. 2. Stereo booklet (Titmus Fly or Randot): 40 arc second circles. 3. Verhoeff: 8/8 correct on the first trial or, if any are missed, 16/16 correct on the combined second and third trials.
All applicants for pilot training must meet Class I standards except as follows: Visual Acuity, Distant and Near: Uncorrected visual acuity must not be less than 20/40 each eye, correctable to 20/20 each eye using a Sloan letter, crowded, eye chart (Goodlite). Vision testing procedures shall comply with those outlined on the Aerospace Reference and Waiver Guide Physical Exams section. Refractive Limits: If uncorrected distant visual acuity is less than 20/20 either eye, a manifest refraction must be recorded for the correction required to attain 20/20. If the candidate’s distant visual acuity is 20/20, a manifest refraction is not required. Total myopia may not be greater than -1.50 diopters in any meridian, total hyperopia no greater than +3.00 diopters in any meridian, or astigmatism no greater than -1.00 diopters. The astigmatic correction shall be reported in minus cylinder format.
WAIVER: A waiver unaided for visual acuity less than standards may be considered in designated individuals, provided the central and peripheral retina is normal and all other visual standards are met (including best corrected visual acuity). Visual acuity and refractive error standards are generally not waived for applicants of any class. A waiver for best corrected visual acuity less than standards is typically not waived in designated individuals, and generally not waived for applicants of any class.
The age limits (without a waiver) are 32 (at time of commissioning) for the Navy and 33 for the Air Force. The Air Force allows for waivers on a case by case basis beyond that.
Any type of asthma or history of asthma is disqualifying for all flying duties as well as for ATC/GBC and MOD personnel, as well as retention. Although some data suggests that the age of waiverable childhood asthma could potentially be lowered, current policy makers have left the regulation as it has been for the past several years.1 A history of childhood asthma prior to the 13th birthday is waiverable; after age 12 (after the 13th birthday) waiver is not generally granted on initial flying physicals.
Allergic Rhinoconjunctivitis (Jul 17) I. Waiver Consideration. Historically, the waiver approval rate for allergic rhinitis has exceeded 99%. The AFMOA Policy Letter, “Nasal Steroids and Nasal Cromolyn Sodium Use in Aviators”, dated May 2001, approved the use of topical nasal steroids or cromolyn for the treatment of mild allergic, nonallergic or vasomotor rhinitis without a waiver.
1 The length of DNIF is dictated by the time required for control of underlying symptoms. In July 2004, the HQ USAF/SGOP Policy Letter, “Medication Changes for Aviators and Special Duty Personnel”, approved the use of loratadine (Claritin®) or fexofenadine (Allegra®) for the treatment of mild allergic rhinitis without a waiver.
2 A minimum of 72 hours as a ground trial at initiation of therapy to ensure adequate symptom control and to exclude idiosyncratic reactions is required. Loratadine is limited to a maximum dosage of 10 mg per day. As an aside, the combination therapy of azelastine with fluticasone has proven more beneficial than fluticasone alone in moderate to severe cases.3 Refer to the Official Air Force Aerospace Medicine Approved Medications list for any specific medication questions. According to AF policy, a waiver is required for FCI/IA, II, RPA Pilot, III and GBC duties for AR unless it is mild in degree, controlled on approved medications and unlikely to limit duty. For seasonal cases only requiring approved antihistamines, montelukast, or nasal steroids, a waiver is not required. A waiver for medical therapy is necessary for the use of immunotherapy (desensitization) and azelastine, and these will not be indefinite.
A verified history of allergic, non-allergic and vasomotor rhinitis after age 12, unless symptoms are mild and controlled by a single approved medication, is disqualifying for FC I/IA. Therefore, a waiver is required for FC I and IA duties for AR successfully treated with more than one of the following: an approved second-generation antihistamines, topical medications, montelukast or immunotherapy. The use of Claritin-D® or Allegra-D® is not approved for flying duties.
Not necessarily. “A waiver is NOT required for candidates with a prior diagnosis of ADHD if they have not used medication and have not received special accommodations for occupational or academic performance in the last 4 years (MSD, Q8).”
No. Be honest and report them when asked. A felony or dishonorable discharge from the military can be disqualifying, however.
Your GPA must at least be a 2.5 or higher. To be competitive, however, it depends on what field of study you’re in (engineering or STEM can have a lower GPA than liberal arts, for example).
55, 7/7/7 3.4 in Aeronautics, I got picked up in November, however many others with scores lower than mine and different unrelated degrees picked up as well. I say the chances are good, and if you don’t make it, you still have next board to make any adjustment
Posts from the group:
-My scores were 95pilot, 77Nav, and high 60s for the rest. I was a bit disappointed, my PCSM score was 86. Just got picked up in the guard for a B2 UPT slot. Just to give an example on scores.
-The Barron’s book was the closest book to the actual test out of the 3 I ordered.
-Fort Worth f16 guard unit is hiring and they didn’t mention AFOQT scores, but they want a minimum of an 83 PCSM score. Definitely shoot for 90s and you’ll be set! Flying hours help, I have over 200 hours and without that who knows how much lower my score would have been. That saved me
-Since it’s a fairly common question regarding scores, we (115th FW WI) just did a UPT board and got over 200 applications, gave out 25 or so interviews. Of those that got interviews, averages across the board were 90+ PCSM, 90+ pilot, 80+ Nav, 70+ AA, Quan, Verbal. Scores do matter a bit more for the ANG as they’re an objective way to weed down a large amount of applications.
-Don’t forget about applying to OTS if you already have your degree OR AFROTC (in high school or if you’re already in college) or Academy (if you’re in high school or wish to transfer there) for the active duty route. I did over 13 years of active duty (AFROTC in college was my path) before being full time in the ANG and don’t regret any of it. I honestly loved all of my assignments with my last one being an instructor in the Weapons School. Depending on what you want to do, active duty generally has more opportunities anyways.
-I was able to dig up my scores from when I tested freshman year of college, 2001: pilot 58, nav 54, AA 51, verbal 48, quantitative 52. Nothing to write home about, and I was a WIC IP in the F-16, meaning that scores don’t really forecast how well you will do flying. Rather, hard work and determination are what actually matter
Any 4-yr degree from an accredited institution will meet the requirements. A STEM degree is only required if you wish to go the test pilot route or NASA later in your career.
As long as it’s from an accredited college, any degree will do. Business, Poli Sci, or Psychology are all very common degrees that are absolutely acceptable in order to be a pilot.
What’s more important than what degree you have, is how well you can do. If you’d fail Aerospace Engineering but ace English Lit, go get a good GPA in English Lit.
In the Navy, STEM degrees can help with obtaining a scholarship or with getting a pilot slot through OCS. They are looked at more favorably then other degrees, but are not required.
Navy scholarship criteria is a 3 tier system. Tier 1 was engineering, Tier 2 was other STEM, Tier 3 was everything else. Tiers 1 and 2 are awarded much more frequently than Tier 3.
“Don’t automatically assume you don’t qualify because of your height,” said Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander. “We have an incredibly thorough process for determining whether you can safely operate our assigned aircraft. Don’t let a number on a website stop you from pursuing a career with the best Air Force in the world.”
The current height requirement to become an Air Force pilot is a standing height of 5 feet, 4 inches to 6 feet, 5 inches and a sitting height of 34-40 inches. These standard height requirements have been used for years to ensure candidates will safely fit into an operational aircraft and each of the prerequisite training aircraft. “We’re rewriting these rules to better capture the fact that no two people are the exact same, even if they are the same overall height,” Wills said.
“Height restrictions are an operational limitation, not a medical one, but the majority of our aircraft can accommodate pilots from across the height spectrum,” Wills said. “The bottom line is that the vast majority of the folks who are below 5 feet, 4 inches and have applied for a waiver in the past five years have been approved.”
The waiver process begins at each of the commissioning sources for pilot candidates, whether the U.S. Air Force Academy, Officer Training School or Reserve Officer Training Corps. For those who do not meet the standard height requirements, anthropometric measurements are completed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, or at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“We have a great process in place to evaluate and accommodate those who fall outside our published standards,” Wills said. “If an applicant is over 5 feet, 2 inches tall, historically they have a greater than 95% chance of qualifying for service as a pilot. Applicants as short as 4 feet, 11 inches have received waivers in the past five years.”
Anthropometric measurements include sitting eye height, buttocks to knee length and arm span. The anthropometric device at Wright Patterson AFB is the only device accepted by the Air Force when determining waiver eligibility. A specialty team conducts the measurements at U.S. Air Force Academy.
Waiver packages are then coordinated through a partnership between the Air Education Training Command surgeon general and Nineteenth Air Force officials, who are responsible for all of the Air Force’s initial flying training.
“As part of the waiver process, we have a team of experts who objectively determine if a candidate’s measurements are acceptable,” said Col. Gianna Zeh, AETC surgeon general. “Let us make the determination if your measures are truly an eliminating issue.”
Short answer – it depends.
“FWIW” I don’t regret any of my 13 years in active duty, went to the Guard as it is better for family. Active duty you won’t need to worry about what pay status you’ll be in after your seasoning orders are up, ANG you won’t need to worry about where you’ll be living in 2-3 years.“
“Disclaimer: I’m still a FNG to the AF, but I’m on the Active Duty side so I suppose I can give an opinion here.
On AD, the definite benefit is that you know you’ll have a job in 5 years. This depends on what you do on the civilian side of course, but job security isn’t always there for people.
Another benefit is the opportunity to be stationed in cool places, I suppose. Depending on what you fly, overseas assignments are possible and can be cool. (Assignments are what you make them though, as many vets will say.) So the opportunity to not only travel, but live in different places and cultures with your family, are present.
There are probably some others too, but that’s just a couple off the top of my head. Ultimately it’s what you think you’ll fit best with. If you have a civilian job you love and want to stay at, maybe the ANG is for you. If you are more of a fit for the benefits I mentioned, maybe AD is for you.”
In the Guard/Reserve, you know where you’ll be and what you’ll be flying. You also have flexibility to take other jobs (like the airlines) while still flying fighters. It is a great opportunity to either serve full time or part time. You also go to pilot training knowing what aircraft you will be flying and at what base. Takes a lot of the stress out of the process.
Learn this phrase: “Needs of the Air Force/Navy.”
On the Air Force side, you go to Undergraduate Pilot Training not knowing what you will fly (Active duty). During Phase 2 (T-6s), you track select to fighters, helos, or heavies. And the end of Phase 3, you will select the specific aircraft. The order in which you select is based on your class ranking (flying grades, academic grades, and commander’s ranking). What’s available for selection depends on the needs of the Air Force.
The exception is the Guard/Reserve. If you are hired by a Guard or Reserve unit, you will go to pilot training knowing that you will fly whatever that unit has (e.g. – if you get hired by the 93rd FS Makos, you will fly F-16s) as long as you make the grades.
For the Navy, upon completing Navy Primary Flight Training in the T-6, students submit their preferences for the pipeline they hope to select. The current pipelines available for selection are Strike (Jets), E-2/C-2, Maritime (P-8’s & EP-3’s), E-6’s, Tiltrotor, and Helicopters. Selection is based on grades (NSS) and what’s available (needs of the Navy).
Those that select Strike will be sent to Meridian, MS or Kingsville, TX and complete both Intermediate and Advanced Jet courses where the students will gain their standard instrument rating, learn to fly in two and four ship formations, learn principles of BFM, learn the basic principles of strike, and qualify to land on a carrier.
E-2/C-2 students will first be sent to Corpus Christi to complete an abbreviated multiengine syllabus then move onto Meridian or Kingsville, to complete everything that the jet students do except for strike and BFM sections.
Maritime and E-6 students will go to Corpus Christi to complete the full multiengine syllabus.
Tiltrotor students will go to Milton, FL to complete and abbreviated helicopter syllabus then move on to Corpus Christi to complete the multiengine syllabus.
Finally, Helo students will go to Milton to complete the helicopter syllabus.
After completing each of their respective syllabi, students will be winged as Naval Aviators, select their fleet platform based on their NSS and move onto their respective Fleet Replacement Squadrons. Marine SNA’s are able to select similar pipelines except for E-2/C-2 and E-6’s. However, the platforms they fly upon winging will differ from those of their Navy counterpart, most notable being C-130’s instead of P-8’s/EP-3’s.
What’s available, of course, is based on NEEDS OF THE NAVY.
In High School
- Get good grades and do your best on the ACT/SAT
- While grades and ACT/SAT scores don’t matter to the actual application process, they can help you get in a good school and get ROTC scholarships or an appointment to one of the Service Academies.
- Civil Air Patrol is highly recommended. Great organization and they can help you get your private pilot’s license.
- Not required, but can help you build confidence and teamwork
- Whether it’s team or individual, good health and general fitness is important
- Apply for ROTC scholarships or a service academy
- GPA is important. Do well.
- Study and prepare for the AFOQT/TBAS/ASTB. Scores matter.
- Get flight time (Not required, but can raise your PCSM and make you more competitive)
- Stay out of trouble
- Alcohol related incidents are not career enders, but can definitely negatively affect your chances.
- Start researching Guard/Reserve units you might be interested in
- Join ROTC if available.
Work hard, focus on what’s in front of you, and keep your end goal in sight and you’ll make it.
My recruiter is trying to talk me into applying for something other than pilot. Should I listen to him/her?
No. If you want to be a pilot, apply to pilot. Make them tell you no.
While we can’t recommend a specific test prep book, there are many out there that can help you. It’s just like preparing for the SAT or ACT. You just have to practice and use what’s available to you.
If you’re asking this question, you’re far along enough in the process to understand that the answer to all of these questions are nuanced. First, what are you applying to and what is your goal?
If you are looking at the Active Duty, be it Navy or AF, it may help your case but it will not make or break your application. If you’re trying to make up for a bad GPA, then sure, have at it and get a PPL. But it’s not a game changer.
If you are applying to the guard/reserve, it is a requirement by some units. Not all require them, but many require flight time up to and including initial solo. Make yourself as competitive as possible, within the realm of your financial feasibility. A PPL or flight hours are by no means a hard requirement to get picked up, so don’t give up if you can’t afford it right now. But make them tell you no, and do everything in your power to be as competitive as possible. In my mind, that includes some flight time.
Rule #1: Don’t be a douche.
During the actual interview itself, those that do well are those that can present themselves well-they show that they’re hungry for it, confident, and actually answer the question asked. A part of it is personality – seeing if they’d be a good fit for the squadron.
Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you think they’ll like. People can see through that. Try to relax, enjoy the process, answer questions when asked, and if there’s alcohol involved, DO NOT OVERDO IT. No better way to lose your dream job than to get drunk an act like an idiot at a social function.
A “Gift to the bar” is not required but doesn’t hurt. Gentleman Jack is usually a good choice.
Read the instructions for application and interview. DO WHAT THEY SAY. If it says business casual, dress in business casual. If they say bring a resume in a certain format, DO THAT. Attention to detail is IMPORTANT.
From a pilot who was on a recent hiring board for a guard squadron:
The hiring results from our last UPT board are out. This was for the F-35, as we are transitioning from the F-16 and will be getting the new jets around 2023. We got over 200 applications and weeded down based on PCSM score, as it was an objective and fair measure. The average PCSM score of those interviewed was over 90. About 20 interviews were given to those outside the unit, those in the unit that were qualified got an interview. We hired 8, yes 8, candidates for UPT. Of the 8, 3 were from the fighter wing, including the enlisted in the fire department, enlisted in maintenance, and a current Captain C-26 pilot, which is under the fighter wing.
From the five outside the unit, one was just a touchdown and works for the FBI, was hired with the condition he needs to lose weight. One is an enlisted Green Beret, one female is an active duty USAF Captain Intel Officer, and two have no military or government affiliation (one of which is an engineer for Lockheed). No one in need of an age waiver or anything like that.
Why 8? Well, that was in part due to the number of retirements we have coming up and needing to grow the unit with young blood. Right now, we’re also batting about 50%, maybe a bit more, in terms of getting pilots back from training. We’ve lost people in the medical screening, T-38s, IFF, even our last hire for F-16s self-eliminated after getting hired due to a business offer he couldn’t refuse. Things happen and we’re looking to increase our chances of actually getting people through. The Guard has a tough time actually vetting people off the street or making a determination of who will make it through fighter training even if they’re in the unit. Hard work, effort, and positive attitude ready to learn are what’s in your control.
Since it’s a fairly common question regarding scores, we (115th FW WI) just did a UPT board and got over 200 applications, gave out 25 or so interviews. Of those that got interviews, averages across the board were 90+ PCSM, 90+ pilot, 80+ Nav, 70+ AA, Quan, Verbal. Scores do matter a bit more for the ANG as they’re an objective way to weed down a large amount of applications.
Don’t forget about applying to OTS if you already have your degree OR AFROTC (in high school or if you’re already in college) or Academy (if you’re in high school or wish to transfer there) for the active duty route. I did over 13 years of active duty (AFROTC in college was my path) before being full time in the ANG and don’t regret any of it. I honestly loved all of my assignments with my last one being an instructor in the Weapons School. Depending on what you want to do, active duty generally has more opportunities anyways.
I was able to dig up my scores from when I tested freshman year of college, 2001: pilot 58, nav 54, AA 51, verbal 48, quantitative 52. Nothing to write home about, and I was a WIC IP in the F-16, meaning that scores don’t really forecast how well you will do flying. Rather, hard work and determination are what actually matter.
Yes. You must be a U.S. Citizen to become an Officer in the US Military and you must be an Officer to be a pilot in the Air Force or Navy.
While enlisting certainly is a good way to serve your country and a valid way to pay for your education, it is not required to enlist prior to becoming an officer in the U.S. military. In some Guard/Reserve units, it will help you get to know the unit and increase your chances of selection with those units, but it is not required.
Yes. The standard is 55 or better with each eye for all three cone types (red, green, blue) on the CCT. The only exception is MOD, where the standard is 35.
There are no waivers for color vision, unless the person is already trained and found to be color deficient after the fact. We had many of these cases back when the books were used prior to the CCT.
- Color Vision: Must pass any one of the following two tests: 1. PIP color plates (Any red-green screening test with at least 14 diagnostic plates; see manufacturer instructions for scoring information) randomly administered under Macbeth lamp: scoring plates 2-15, at least 12/14 correct. 2. Computer-Based Color Vision Testing: must achieve a passing grade on an approved and validated Computer-Based Color Vision Test. (Note: All color vision tests will be administered as delineated in the NAMI Aeromedical Reference and Waiver Guide, Chapter 12.2. The Farnsworth Lantern (FALANT) was discontinued 31 Dec 2016. The FALANT or Optec 900 may be considered for selective aviators who were designated before 31 December 2016. Passing scores: 9/9 correct on the first trial or, if any are missed, at least 16/18 correct on the combined score of the second and third trials.) WAIVER: Applicants: the condition is CD and waivers are typically not considered for applicants that cannot pass the required color vision tests. Certain non-aircrew positions require adequate color vision, including ATC, UAV, and sonar display operators (anti-sub aircraft). Waivers have been granted for Aeromedical and other Class II aircrew applicants on a case-by-case basis. Designated: Waivers for designated personnel with a change in color vision may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The column you are concerned about is the FC1 column (AF). If you are within these tolerances you are eligible for a waiver without refractive surgery. Otherwise you will need surgery to bring you to 20/20.
Typically, that will be done for you by medical personnel or the unit that sponsors you. They may ask for additional documentation or exams. Make sure you comply in a timely manner and give them everything they ask for to ensure your highest chance of success.
- Look it up. Make sure the source is .mil or .gov.
- Search the group. See if someone else has asked first.
MAKE THEM TELL YOU NO!
Special thanks to Wombat, Ammo, Deuce, and GB for helping to make this FAQ.