Becoming a fighter pilot in the US Air Force is generally difficult.

You have to meet a long list of requirements, ranging from health and medical requirements to educational and background checks.

It can also be a very time-consuming process.

Let’s take a closer look at the requirements to see just how hard it is to become a fighter pilot in the Air Force.

Fighter Pilot Requirements

The Air Force has a long-list of requirements that pilots need to meet.

Due to the specific nature of these requirements, only a small percentage of the general population can qualify to become Air Force pilots. 

Basic Requirements

  • Age: At the time of the selection board, an applicant must be no older than 32.
  • Height: Previously, an applicant had to be between 64 and 77 inches in standing height (5’3 to 6’4) and between 34 and 40 inches when sitting. However, Air Force pilot height requirements have changed to an anthropometric screening process to measure certain physical attributes to match candidates with suitable aircraft.
  • Weight: Candidates, both men and women, must weigh between 103 lbs and 245 lbs for all aircraft except the T-38, which has a maximum weight capacity of 240 lbs.
  • Education: Candidates must either already have or be within 365 days of receiving a BA or BS undergraduate degree in any major with a minimum GPA of 2.5.
  • Vision: Candidates must have normal color vision. Both eyes must also be corrected to 20/20 or better, and having had corrective eye surgery may be a disqualifying factor.
  • Citizenship: Candidates must either need to be a native-born or naturalized United States citizen.

Advanced Requirements & Qualifications

You also need the following qualifications to be eligible to become a fighter pilot in the Air Force. 

  • ASVAB: High school graduates must have a standard ASVAB score of 31 to enter the Air Force. Officers take the AFOQT instead of the ASVAB.
  • AFOQT: The AFOQT is a five-hour exam covering 12 different areas. Your AFQAT’s results form part of your Pilot Candidate Selection Method Score. To qualify as a pilot, you need to score 25 in the pilot and 10 in the navigator sections, and have a combined pilot-navigator score of 50.
    • Medical Requirements: You cannot have had any incidents of allergies, hay fever, or asthma after 12 years old.
      You also need to have passed a Flying Class I Physical to enter Medical Flight Screening (MFS). Rated officers need to pass additional medical checks after MFS. 
  • Background checks: You must pass a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI), which verifies your date of birth, American citizenship, and employment history.
  • Education: You must complete one of the following: 
                • Officer Training School (OTS): A 9.5 week-long course taught at Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery that teaches leadership and other skills. 
                • Air Force Academy (AFA): A highly-selective four-year program taught in Colorado Springs.
                • Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC): A program for those who want to enter the Air Force’s reserve component. 

Fighter Pilot Training

After passing the minimum entry requirements, you’ll complete Air Force Pilot Training, starting with the Initial Flight Screening (IFS).

IFS is conducted in Pueblo, Colorado, and it’s an introductory course to screen candidates unfit for advanced programs.

The IFS is 6-weeks long, and it mostly tests pilots’ physical abilities. 

Passing IFS requires 19 sorties and 25 flight hours, including 2 solo flights performed on a DA-20 low wing aircraft.

After passing IFS, pilots either enter the ENJJPT or SUPT training.

Pilots initially train using a T-6 Texan II before moving to a T-28 Talon.

Pilots learn navigational and technical flying skills at this time. 

This specialized training period is divided in three phases, consisting of academic tutoring, ground training and primary flying training.

Upon completion, candidates are assigned to their appropriate tracks.

For instance, prospective fighter pilots and bombers join the bomber/track, and they train using T-38s. 

Fighter Pilot Responsibilities

Air Force pilots are responsible for reviewing mission goals, gathering weather information, and participating in crew briefings before take-offs.

They’re also responsible for the inspection, loading, and fueling of their aircraft. 

Once in the air, fighter pilots are responsible for communicating with ground forces and air traffic control.

During flight missions, they can be assigned to engage in combat, conduct surveillance, perform rescue missions, or complete other missions. 

After missions, fighter pilots report to their commanders and work with them to devise plans and implement policies. 

Fighter Pilot Salary

Air Force fighter pilot salaries vary based on their experience.

For example, states that an E1 Airman Basic had a monthly income of $1,733.10 in 2019, while an E7 Master Sergeant had a monthly income of $3,114.30.

Naturally, pilots with higher ranks are paid better. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Fighter Pilot?

Generally, basic training takes between 6 and 12 months, and OTS, IFS, and SUPT require another 18 months.

Pilots also attend Land and Water Survival at the Fairchild Air Force base in Washington, which require three weeks to complete.

So, the total time to become an Air Force pilot is between 2 and 2.5 years. 

Acceptance Rate for Fighter Pilots

There is no official Air Force fighter pilot acceptance rate, but data from USAF tells us that:

  • 42% of pilots are trained through ROTC, which has a 25% acceptance rate for good colleges at full scholarships. 
  • 22% of pilots are from the Air Force Academy, which has a 14% acceptance rate. 
  • 20% of pilots are from Officer Training School (OTS), with a variable acceptance rate of between 25-33%. 
  • The remaining 16-17% of pilots are either directly recruited or trained through other institutions without public information. 

As such, the acceptance rate for fighter pilots depends on their training institution.

Air Force fighter pilots have 10 years of active-duty service after completing pilot training. 

Fighter Pilots Fly Some Pretty Cool Aircraft

The US Air Force has 4 fighter aircraft with different variants, including the following: 

  • F-15: F-15D Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, and F-15EX Eagle II
  • F-16: F-16C and F-16D Fighting Falcon 
  • F-22A Raptor 
  • F-35A Lightning II

Related: How Much Does a F-16 Cost?

It’s Easier to Become a Pilot in the Air Force than Navy

The Navy and Air Force have different training regimes and operational duties, so they can’t be directly compared.

However, generally speaking, it’s harder to become a Navy pilot since the Navy has stricter initial qualifications, especially academic requirements.

Navy pilots also experience generally more complex training, since they learn to take-off and land from aircraft carriers. 

Air Force Fighter Pilot vs. Navy Fighter Pilot Differences

The biggest difference is that Navy fighter pilots learn to take-off and land from aircraft carriers, which is a difficult and demanding skill that Air Force pilots don’t learn.

Air Force pilots are also generally more specialized in air-to-air combat roles, while Navy pilots learn to perform multi-mission roles. 

In conclusion, becoming an Air Force pilot isn’t easy.

You need to pass a strict set of medical and educational requirements, in addition to completing numerous training courses.

Air Force fighter pilots also have a long list of responsibilities, but their training is comparatively easier than that of Navy pilots, since Air Force pilots don’t learn to take-off or land on aircraft carriers.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.