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Military helicopter pilots fly a variety of rotary-wing aircraft, with each branch operating its preferred choice of helicopters. Although it is sometimes possible to become a helicopter pilot as a warrant officer, this option is normally open only to actively serving personnel who meet the requirements for rank and time in service. To join the military with a contract to fly helicopters, candidates must qualify as commissioned officers. Commissioned officers must hold at least a bachelor's degree, but no branch requires a specific major for pilots. Instead, it is more important to meet the other requirements and qualifications.
Requirements for Officers in All Branches
Regardless of branch, officers must be U.S. citizens. They cannot have a felony conviction on their records. Typically, no branch will accept officer candidates if they have more than two dependents under the age of 18. They must have at least a four-year degree from an accredited university or college. They must pass a physical and a background check.
Army Helicopter Pilots
Army helicopter pilots go by the title of aviation officer. To join the Army, officer candidates must be at least 18 years old, but no older than 29 for active duty or 32 for the reserves. They must successfully complete officer candidate school, which is a 12-week program held at Ft. Benning, GA. After graduating from OCS, prospective helicopter pilots must then pass aviation school. Training includes the physics of flight, emergency flying procedures, map skills and basic combat training.
Marine Corps Helicopter Pilots
Marine rotary/tilt rotor pilots fly helicopters that may be based aboard ships or on land. After completing basic training, Marine Corps helicopter pilots undergo the most extensive training that the Marine Corps offers. Training begins with six weeks of preflight indoctrination, followed by 22 weeks of primary flight training. Advanced flight training takes between 27 and 44 weeks to complete. To join the Marines, officer candidates must be between the ages of 20 and 27.
Navy Helicopter Pilots
Navy helicopter pilots, or naval aviators, must first graduate from OCS before completing air indoctrination training, which lasts six weeks. Next, they advance to primary flight training, after which they can request training on a specific type of aircraft. Intermediate flight training expands on the navigation and flight training received in the primary phase. The final step, advanced naval flight training, concentrates on successfully completing mission specifics. Graduates receive their "wings" and report to their squadrons for additional training on their specific aircraft. Naval officer candidates must be between 19 and 34. The Navy also has a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs, and it may require candidates to provide proof of ability to meet current debts and obligations.
Air Force Helicopter Pilots
Air Force pilots fly helicopters for combat support, troop movements and supply delivery. To join the Air Force, officer candidates must be at least 18 years old, but no older than 34. They must pass a multiple-choice exam, called the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, which covers not only the examinee's math and verbal skills, but also aptitude for navigating and piloting an aircraft. The Air Force requires not only a physical exam, but a mental screening as well. Once the mandatory tests are complete, a selection board reviews applications and decides which candidates to accept. Successful candidates then report for basic officer training before reporting for flight training.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Member of the Armed Forces
- U.S. Army: Careers and Jobs -- Aviation Officer (15)
- U.S. Army: Careers and Jobs -- Officer Candidate School
- U.S. Marine Corps: Roles in the Corps -- Rotary/Tilt Rotor Pilot
- U.S. Marine Corps: Requirements
- U.S. Navy: Naval Aviators
- U.S. Navy: Qualifications and Commitment
- U.S. Air Force: Careers -- Pilot
- U.S. Air Force: Officer Overview
- U.S. Air Force: Careers -- Special Missions Aviation
Jeffrey Joyner has had numerous articles published on the Internet covering a wide range of topics. He studied electrical engineering after a tour of duty in the military, then became a freelance computer programmer for several years before settling on a career as a writer.
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