What it’s Really Like to Be a Pilot in the Air Force?

us air force pilot

Pilots have the ability to soar high into the clouds and avoid traffic congestion and speed bumps to transport people and cargo, most times on a time schedule. You’ll find pilots working for your favorite commercial airlines, the U.S. government, and corporations. You may even find them performing private services as a self-employed pilot.

While the career of a pilot is depicted as a fun jetsetter lifestyle in movies, it often comes with challenges. Today, we’ll discuss what it’s really like to be an Air Force Pilot, a commander of the sky.

What an Air Force Pilot Does

An Air Force pilot’s primary tasks are:

  • Master all aspects of aviation
  • Plan and prepare for missions
  • Specialize in specific air craft and skill set
  • Lead and train a crew

No matter whether a pilot flies a stealth bomber like the B-2 Spirit or the pilot is a member of the famous U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds, you’ll learn that being a pilot in the Air Force requires much more than just flying aircraft.

For instance, Air Force pilots are responsible for overseeing a flight crew who make flights possible. Not all pilots fly fighter jets, nor do all pilots fly sortie missions. Since pilots become experts in the cockpit, a select few may often be called to teach and train new or up and coming pilots.

How Air Force Pilots Spend Their Time

us air force pilot

The pilot’s rank, the type of aircraft, and the mission at hand determines the day to day life of an Air Force pilot. Overall, on any given week, a pilot can work anywhere from 50 to over 65 hours.

An article in Stars and Stripes entitled Air Force is still short more than 2,000 pilots reports pilots fly roughly 19 to 21 hours per month. While some days are deemed straight flying days, allowing pilots to rack up flight hours and keep track of them in their pilot log book.

Others may be spent at a desk doing administrative paperwork, especially as pilots move up the officer ranks and take on other responsibilities. An Air Force major or lieutenant colonel will fly significantly less than a captain.

Air Force Pilots are Officers

I bet you’re thinking, being a pilot sounds fun. So, the question remains, “Who can fly in the Air Force?” No need to ask Google as our military professionals dug through every inch of the internet to find the answer for you.

While pilots make up a small percentage of officers in the U.S. Air Force, every Air Force pilot is a commissioned military officer and has at least a bachelor’s degree.

Even though there are enlisted positions in aviation, the Air Force frequently asked questions page states, “You must be an officer in order to be a pilot in the Air Force.”

The Air Force deploys some of the world’s most advanced air craft in defense of the United States. Pilots are officers first, and for this reason, the Air Force needs skilled professionals with leadership and character abilities at the forefront.

Air Force Pilot Statistics

us air force pilot

A snapshot of the Air Force shows that as of January 2020, there were 63,626 officers with 12,323 of them being pilots.

Those same military demographics indicate that women first entered pilot training in 1976, navigator training in 1977, and fighter pilot training in 1993.

Navigating Pilot Shortages in the Air Force

At the moment, there is a shortage of pilots in the entire pilot industry and it seems as if the military is feeling the brunt of the shortage. The Air Force’s pilot shortage worsened in 2019, even after years of trying to rectify the situation with incentives like bonuses and additional time in the flight deck.

It is quite possible that drones can replace the need for human pilots. However, pilots will be the ones operating those drones. There will always be a need for the human factor and there is supporting evidence of this.

An October 1, 2020, article in Maxwell AFB Base’s News website suggest that research is being performed to determine whether warrant officers can help fill the instructional pilot gap to level the playing field for pilot production in the Air Force.

For more information on the research conducted by Aaron R. Ewing, Major, USAF, review his research paper, Widening The Training Pipeline: Are Warrant Officer Instructor Pilots the Best Solution to Increase Pilot Production in the Air University Press.

Requirements of Being A Pilot in the Air Force

us air force pilot

If an individual is interested in becoming a pilot in today’s Air Force, there are three avenues of approach, which involves completing the following:

Being a pilot requires extensive training and the will to commit to at least 10 years of active duty service after training.

The Air Force had strict height requirements for pilots. Previously, future pilots had to have a standing height of 5’4” to 6’5” and a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches.

But on May 13, 2020, the Air Force removed its height policy in an effort to open the doors to a diverse pool of individuals wishing to pursue a career in aviation. Read more about this announcement from the Air Education and Training Command news article.

Being a pilot in the Air Force is not an easy task, but it can be a truly rewarding opportunity for those who are willing to take the leap and explore the world of an aviator. Will it be you?

When you’re ready to separate after being a pilot in the Air Force, then you’ll need a military to civilian resume that concisely showcases your flight experience and the value that you bring as a pilot. Also, be sure to add our military blog to your favorites so you can catch us here next week for another amazing military article.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for service-members 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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