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What Skills & Experience Are Needed to Become an Air Force Pilot?

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To become an Air Force pilot you need to qualify for a slot in the service's Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) program or meet its requirements. After graduation, you will receive your flight wings and are off to start your flying career in an operational aircraft, such as an F-16 Fighting Falcon or C-17 Globemaster III.

Education and Qualifications

You need to become an Air Force officer, which requires a four-year college degree, before you can attend the service's flight school and become an Air Force pilot. You can become an officer while earning your degree through a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship or by attending the United States Air Force Academy. If you've already finished college, you can enlist in the Air Force and attend Officer Candidate School. For most Air Force pilots, getting into flight school happens soon after completing the college degree. You must be a commissioned officer by age 29 to be eligible for flight training.

Air Force Aptitude Test

How well you scored on your Air Force Officer Qualifying Test will affect your chances of getting into flight training. Your AFOQT results are scored on your verbal, quantitative, pilot aptitude and navigator skills. You need a high pilot skills score to be considered for pilot training. The pilot focused questions of the AFOQT test you on math knowledge and reasoning, reading and understanding flight instruments, table reading and general aviation knowledge. These areas could be a focus of your educational studies or just part of a preparation program before you take the AFOQT.

Pre-UPT Flight Screening

As a potential candidate for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), you'll be sent through an Initial Flight Screening (IPS) program, which consists of 50 hours of flying and evaluation in a light aircraft. It is not necessary to know how to fly before participating in the IFS, but if you have some private flight time, that experience would be a definite plus by teaching you take-offs, navigation, landings and handling emergencies.

Competing for a Slot

There are always more candidates that want to go to the Air Force flight school than there are available pilot training slots. You will put together a package of your qualifications, including your college grades, AFOQT scores and letters of reference for a selection board or committee to review. The different paths to UPT -- Air National Guard, Air Force Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps -- each handle the selection process a little differently. You will receive guidance along the way on how you can improve you chances of getting into Air Force flight school.


Tim Plaehn has been writing financial, investment and trading articles and blogs since 2007. His work has appeared online at Seeking Alpha, and various other websites. Plaehn has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

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