How to be an Air Force Pilot

So if you clicked on this video, I imagine you’ve thought about what it would be like to strap into a fighter jet and rip across the skies, pulling G’s and flying faster than the speed of sound. If you’re anything like me, maybe you saw the movie Top Gun or went to an air show as a kid and said, yep, that looks incredible. However, it’s one thing to say that’s what I want to do and another to know how to actually get there. Well, today I’m going to answer that question because this is how you can become an Air Force pilot. What’s up, everyone? My name is Sam Ekholm and I am currently an officer serving active duty in the United States Air Force. Over the past several years, I have received hundreds of questions asking how to become an Air Force pilot, as well as what the best route is to get there. Now to start off, what I will tell you is there are multiple paths you can take and it can get a bit confusing. So I promise to take it slow and try and break it all down. However, no matter what path you take, there are a few basic requirements that you must meet in order to be accepted into the pilot training program.

So let’s go ahead and start with those. First off, you must have a college degree. Now, this does need to be a four year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Or at a minimum, you must have at least 90 credit hours to be eligible. Now, with this being said, a question I get all the time is whether or not you need to major in anything specific to be a pilot. And I’m happy to tell you that the answer is no. There is no requirement for what you study, just that you study, meaning you can major in anything from aeronautical engineering to English and fine arts. As long as you have a college degree, you will be good to go. Oh, and one more thing. No, you don’t need to be good at math or science to be a pilot. I promise you the Air Force will teach you everything you need to know. Next up, in order to be eligible for pilot training, you must be between the ages of 18 to 33. Now, you must also be a us citizen and be in what I like to call good standing. What I mean by this is that every pilot in the air Force must go through a single scope background check that allows them to receive a top secret clearance.

Now, while this definitely sounds a bit intimidating, there’s no real need to panic. This background check is just an opportunity for the Air Force to examine things like your credit jobs you’ve worked in the past and places you’ve lived to ensure that you’re responsible enough to be entrusted with the keys to a multi million dollar aircraft. Now, I do want everyone to notice that nowhere on the list of requirements is prior flight experience. Another big misconception is thinking that you have to have a private pilot’s license or have logged some sort of flight time ahead of applying. Once again, that is absolutely not true. There are tons of air Force pilots whose first time sitting behind the stick of an airplane was after being accepted to pilot training. So while having prior experience may give you a bit of a leg up in the beginning, there’s absolutely no requirement to have it. Okay, let’s talk briefly about physical requirements and medical requirements. Generally speaking, yes, you do need to be in good overall health. However, everything is looked at on a case by case basis. And before you are accepted into pilot training, you’ll actually go through a medical and physical evaluation.

So, with that being said, if you’ve ever heard that you need perfect vision or need to be a certain height to become a pilot, that’s simply not true in most cases. If your eyes can be correctable to 2020, you’ll be okay. Now, in terms of height, there’s no given requirement, meaning that if you are short or tall, please don’t let that discourage you from applying. Height specifications actually vary by aircraft, and most applicants will be able to pursue a career in aviation with the air force, regardless of what your height is. In the end, what I like to say is that if there’s a will, there’s a waiver, meaning every individual is looked at independently. And a lot of times a waiver can be granted for specific requirements you may not meet. Alright, so once you’ve met all of those basic requirements, the next thing you need to focus on is earning a commission as an officer in the US Air Force. Now, to do this, there are three routes you can take. The first two are options you can go through if you have not yet been to college. And the last is an option for those who have already finished college.

So, let’s start out with the first two. You can attend the United States Air Force Academy, which is a four year university located in Colorado Springs. Upon graduation, not only will you receive a bachelor’s degree, but you will also receive a commission as an officer in the Air force. Now, the academy is a military school, meaning that you won’t necessarily get the typical college experience. However, there are tons of unique benefits in going to the academy. And I actually made an entire video covering that, which you can watch here. Now, alternatively, you could look at what’s called ROTC, which stands for the reserved Officer Training Corps. This is a program established in over 1700 colleges and universities across the country, and the program is designed to prepare college students to become officers in the air force. Now, the way it works is that you will apply directly for an ROTC scholarship, which, if awarded, can be used at any one of a number of schools. This scholarship will help you pay for your education, and in return, you will be required to attend weekly military classes throughout your four years so that when you graduate, you are ready to go to become an officer.

This is a great option for those who want to attend a civilian school and maybe want that flexibility to have a more typical college experience than you would get at the academy. Now, the way it works with both the academy and ROTC is that once your junior and senior years roll around, you will put in preferences for what Air Force career field you are interested in. If that answer is pilot, assuming you meet all the requirements we talked about earlier, you will then compete for a slot. This decision is merit based, meaning the Air Force will look at how you performed throughout your four years in college. So make sure you are keeping your grades as high as possible, because you definitely don’t want that to come around to bite you. All right, now, what about those people out there who already have a college degree or who might be currently enlisted in the Air Force but are still interested in becoming a pilot? Well, you will need to apply for what’s called officer training school, or OTS. This nine and a half week program is located at Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery, Alabama, and is designed to take you from a civilian to an officer in just over two months.

Now, the way it works in OTS is that when you submit your application, you will indicate that you are seeking a pilot slot. So when you find out if you are accepted into the program, in most cases, you will also then find out whether or not you have been selected for pilot training as well. Now, I should also note that as part of your OTS application, and also before you graduate from the academy and ROTC, you will be required to take what’s called the AfoqT and TBAs. The AFOqT stands for Air Force officer qualifying test, which you can think of as the Air Force’s version of the SAT or ACt. Your score on this test will determine which career fields you’re eligible for. And for those wanting to be a pilot, there is a pilot and navigator specific section that you will need to score high enough on. Now, the TBAS stands for test of basic aviation skills. Wait a second. I thought you said we didn’t need any prior flight experience. What is this test of basic aviation skills? Don’t worry, the TBAs is not really a knowledge based test and in fact, is much more aimed at testing your spatial ability as well as your ability to multitask.

Now, luckily, there are a lot of resources available online for you to prepare for both the AfOQT and TBAs, so I’ll make sure to include a few links below so that you can get started preparing. Okay, that was a lot of information. Let’s take a breath, shake it out, regroup, because it’s time to get to the exciting stuff. What can you expect throughout pilot training? Well, the first thing that happens once you’re selected for pilot training is what’s called IFT, or initial flight training. This is about a 40 day program located in Pueblo, Colorado, where you will fly roughly 20 hours in the diamond aircraft da 20. The purpose of IFT is to allow you to learn some basic flight maneuvers so that when it’s time for you to report to upt or undergraduate pilot training, you are ready to go. After you graduate from IFT, you will then head off to one of four pilot training bases, Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas or Shepard Air Force Base, which is also located in Texas. Each base operates very similar in terms of training, with the exception of Shepard, which hosts student pilots from allied countries and focuses primarily on developing fighter pilots.

Regardless, the entire pilot training syllabus will be broken up into three separate phases. Phase one is the academics portion, where you will spend about six weeks in the classroom covering everything from aircraft systems to basic instrument flying. Following academics, you will move to the flight line and start phase two, which lasts about 22 weeks. It’s during this time that you’ll learn to fly the t six texan two while also learning basic flight maneuvers, aerobatics, basic instrument flying and basic two ship formation flying. Now, upon the completion of phase two, you will follow one of three different tracks for phase three, each of which lasts between 24 and 28 weeks. The first track is for those who will go on to fly airlift and tankers, and this training is done on the t one, a Jhawk. The second track is for those who will go on to fly fighters or bombers, and you’ll spend phase three learning to fly the t 38 Talon, a twin engine supersonic jet. The third and final track is for those who wish to fly helicopters, and you will go on to fly the Huey. Now to decide which students get which track is largely merit based, and each student in pilot training will be racked and stacked amongst their peers.

The number one student gets their first choice, then the number two student, and so on. So, for example, if flying fighters is your ultimate goal, you’re going to want to make sure you’re at least ranked in the top third of your class so that you can track the t 38. Now, you should know that these three phases of pilot training are very rigorous and consist of mostly ten to twelve hour days of classroom instruction, simulator training, and flying. As I say, with everything, it’s important that you know what you’re getting yourself into. And so please continue to ask questions and do some research on your own to figure out if going to pilot training is for you. Okay, so after you finish phase three, you should finally start seeing that light at the end of the tunnel because you are ready to receive those silver pilot wings. During your drop night, you will be awarded your aircraft, which, like most things, is also largely merit based. Once again, you will have the chance to put together a dream sheet of preferences for which aircraft you’d like to fly. And starting with the number one ranked student in the class, each aircraft will be awarded.

Needs of the air force does come into play here, and it’s difficult to say what types of aircraft will be available to each pilot training class. Regardless, once you get your airframe and get those wings pinned on your chest, you should definitely be proud, because this is an accomplishment that very, very few people can say they have done. So, yeah, that’s essentially the roadmap to how you can become a pilot in the air force. Of course, the process doesn’t end here because as soon as you get your wings, you will then move on to train on your specific airframe before being fully qualified. However, the type of training you do and the length will vary quite a bit depending on what you are flying. So I think for now, it’s safe to leave it at that. However, I do want to mention another great option for becoming an air Force pilot, and this is one that I had never really heard about until I was already in the Air Force myself. You can actually apply directly to the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. The benefits of going this route is that you will be applying to a specific unit, meaning that you will know what aircraft you are flying and what base you will be stationed at before even getting to pilot training.

So let’s say, for example, you want to fly F Force’s newest fighter jet? Well, you can actually apply directly to the Vermont Air National Guard. And after you complete the application and are accepted, you’ll head to OTs and then pilot training, knowing that when you get your wings, you will be flying the f 35. Now, the application process for this route does vary from unit to unit, so I recommend you do some research and take the first step of reaching out to your local air force reserve or Air national guard recruiter to express your interest. Now, as most of you know, I personally chose not to go to pilot training for several different reasons. However, I do think that it’s important that you hear from someone who not only made it through UPD, but also managed to drop one of the coolest fighters in the world. His name is Corey Clark, call sign Punch, and he is currently stationed at Langley Air Force Base, where he flies f 22 Raptors.


Hey, Punch. How’s it going, man?

Hey, Sam. How are you? Good.

So I just finished wrapping up filming a video on how to become a pilot in the air Force, and I thought it would be cool if people could hear from you, someone who’s flying one of the coolest jets out there. So do you have any words of advice or words of wisdom to someone out there who would one day possibly want to follow in your shoes?

Yeah, man, absolutely. First big thing is just work as hard as you possibly can. And second thing is, obviously love what you do. So as people always say, you won’t work a day in your life if you absolutely love what you do.

Yeah, two big things, man. Well, that’s perfect. Well, I appreciate it. I hope to see you soon, man. Hopefully you’re enjoying flying.

All right, man. Have fun.

All right. Talk to you soon. All right. Well, there you have it. I hope this video helped give you somewhat of an idea as to how you can become a pilot in the air force. And, of course, if you have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Other than that, you can follow me on my instagram where post about my experiences in the air force, traveling the world and highlighting the dozens of different career fields that are available. I wish you guys all the best, and I look forward to seeing you in the next video.

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