What are the Best Air Force Careers?

best jobs in air force for civilian life

Deciding which branch of the military to enroll in can be a tough choice.

One factor to consider when making your decision is how much you’ll earn while in the military. You’ll also want to think about how prepared you’ll be to enter the civilian work force once you’re discharged.

If those are the main factors driving your choice, then you may want to consider the U.S. Air Force. 

Why Choose the Air Force? 

The U.S. Air Force is a highly respected and prestigious branch of the U.S. Armed Forces with a fascinating history. It’s also the one military branch among the others where you can potentially earn the highest salary.

It’s not that the Air Force automatically pays Airmen more. Each branch of the military uses the same pay scale when determining salaries for servicemembers and officers.

The Air Force, however, has more opportunities for enlisted members to move up the ranks than other branches, which leads to higher pay on average for those in the Air Force. Airmen also have more opportunities to earn “special pay” above and beyond their base salaries.

Not only can servicemembers earn more in the Air Force, but Air Force veterans can successfully transition to high-paying civilian careers after their military service has ended.

Let’s explore which careers pay the most while you are serving and can help you transition to a high-paying job the civilian world.  

8 Air Force Careers You Should Consider

best jobs in air force for civilian life

If you’ve decided to enter the U.S. Air Force, then consider pursuing one of these careers after you’ve completed boot camp.

1. Air Traffic Controllers 

Air traffic controllers in the Air Force are responsible for ensuring military aircraft arrives and departs military bases efficiently and safely. Air traffic controllers in the Air Force can earn up to $110,000 per year.

Upon leaving the military, Air Force Air Traffic Controllers can segue into a career as a Federal Air Traffic Control Specialist. In this career, you’d join the 14,000 men and women who ensure that 2.7 million daily commercial flight passengers depart and arrive safely. Federal Air Traffic Controllers can earn an average of $128,000 per year, plus benefits.

2. Pilots 

Maybe you went into the Air Force to learn how to fly aircraft. Pilots are typically the highest paid members of the Air Force earning up to $150,000 per year. Airmen learn to fly all types of aircraft including fighter jets, bombers, cargo planes, and reconnaissance aircraft. The Air Force is quite possibly the best flight school imaginable.

Becoming a commercial airline pilot is the most obvious next step for those Air Force pilots transitioning into civilian life. It’s a good time to consider becoming a pilot because they are in demand. Airline companies in American are bracing for a huge shortage or pilots coming over the next decade. This high demand is causing salaries to increase.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, exact salaries for commercial pilots vary by state. For example, pilots in Florida and Washington can upwards of $270,000 per year. On the other end of the scale, salaries for pilots in Utah come in at $193,000 and pilots in Alaska can earn about $154,000 annually.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has an entire section of their website devoted to helping military pilots become civilian pilots. Another fantastic resource is the Military-to-Airline Transition Guide.

It’s also worthwhile to reach out directly to specific airlines. For example, United Airlines and Delta each have programs and hiring practices that provide pathways for Air Force veterans to become commercial airline pilots.

3. Aircraft Maintenance Technicians

best jobs in air force for civilian life

Aircraft Maintenance Technicians are responsible for the repair and maintenance of military aircraft. In short, they’re aircraft mechanics. As you can imagine, this is a highly technical position, requiring a wide range of skills and a great deal of knowledge and experience. The median salary for Aircraft Maintenance Technicians is $65,000 while in the Air Force.

You can easily transfer those skills to become an Aircraft Maintenance Technician for commercial aircraft. You may have to go to AMT training school and have additional on-the-job training. But you will get credit for your military experience.

The additional training to become an Aircraft Maintenance Technician may be worthwhile as you can earn an average of $89,000 annually in the United States.

4. Aerospace Engineers and Technicians 

Aerospace engineers and technicians in the Air Force design and develop rockets, satellites, low-orbiting spacecraft, and missiles. The salary range for these types of jobs fall between $72,000 and $95,000 per year.

The skills possessed by Aerospace Engineers and Technicians are also highly sought by organizations outside of the military. You could earn more than $100,000 working for NASA, the Department of Defense, or commercial space travel companies such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic.

5. Cyber Security Specialists 

Cybersecurity specialists in the Air Force are responsible for preventing enemy forces from hacking into Air Force networks and databases. These specialists monitor, detect, and respond to unauthorized activity in the cyber realm. They also take proactive steps to ensure databases and networks continue to remain strong and impenetrable. Cyber Security Specialists in the Air Force can earn about $80,000.

In the civilian world, there is so much opportunity for those with the right skills to have a long and lucrative career in this cyber security industry. Cybercrime Magazine says there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. by 2025.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for information security analysts (a mid-level cyber security job) is $112,000. But Forbes magazine shows that the potential to earn much more than that exists.

If you want to turn the cyber security skills you learned while in the military into a civilian career, check out The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies for helpful resources.

6. Logistics Specialists

best jobs in air force for civilian life

Logistics specialists in the Air Force manage the procurement, storage, and transportation of military supplies and personnel. They evaluate, monitor, and oversee logistics plans and programs. These specialists are vital in ensuring supplies, vehicles, manpower, food, and more gets to American Forces around the globe as quickly as possible. It can be a stressful but rewarding job. The median salary for logistics specialists in the Air Force is $60,000 per year.

Every industry needs logisticians to ensure goods and materials are safely and efficiently transported from point A to point B. If you can do it in the military then you can certainly do it in the civilian world. Logistics specialists in the civilian world make about $77,000 or more annually.

7. Aerospace Physiologist 

Aerospace physiologists study the effects of high-speed flying and low gravity environments on the human body. As you can imagine, this is a highly specialized position, but it is a vital role to ensure our airmen remain as healthy as possible as they continue to travel farther and faster in more technologically advanced aircraft. The salary for an aerospace physiologist in the Air Force is approximately $60,000 per year.

Aerospace physiologists often have the skills necessary to transition into careers in hyperbaric medicine. This treatment delivers precise amounts of highly pressurized oxygen to help people with hard-to-heal wounds start to recover. Additional education or training maybe required, but an aerospace physiologist would already have a head start. A certified hyperbaric technologist can make an average of $86,000 per year.

8. Health Services Manager 

Health Services Managers are responsible for ensuring medical facilities servicing our airmen and their families are operating efficiently. This includes managing staff, handling patient records, coordinating payments, and more. In short, their job is to help patients get the care they need while also making sure doctors and nurses are seeing patients in a timely and orderly fashion. It’s a lot of work, but health services managers in the Air Force can earn up to $73,000 per year.  

The skills obtained in the Air Force can easily be applied to a career as a civilian Health Services Manager in the civilian work force. According to U.S. News and World Report, Health Services Managers can earn more than $100,000 per year. They job also appears in the top 10 of their 100 Best Jobs list.

Go From the Air Force to the Civilian Work Force

best jobs in air force for civilian life

There are so many reasons to choose the branch of service you want to join. But if you’re looking for good pay and post-service career opportunities, then give the Air Force a chance.

When you are ready to separate from service and enter the civilian work force, then contact Empire Resume.

At Empire Resume, we know that transitioning from the Air Force, or any branch of the military for that matter, to a civilian career comes with many challenges. We specialize in writing military resumes for members of the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard and are experts at helping servicemembers make the civilian transition. Plus, we offer a $25 discount to separating servicemembers!

Additionally, our constantly updated military-to-civilian blog offers the most useful and effective ways to help you with your job search. Contact us today for more information. 

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance. 

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