How Do I Become a Fighter Pilot?

In most modern military services, there is no guaranteed path to becoming a fighter pilot, but there are a few basic requirements that must be met in order for anyone to have a chance at the job. Being a commissioned officer, which requires a four-year bachelor’s degree from a university system and/or completion of a military officer training school program, is a requirement for most fighter pilots. Pilots must be in good physical condition, with vision correctable to 20/20, have no criminal history, and be relatively young. To join the Air Force as a fighter pilot, you must be 29 years old at the time of application, 28 years old for the Marines, and 27 years old for the Navy.

The United States Air Force Academy has the most fighter pilot positions available in the US military. A proficiency in math and science, as well as a high-school grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.7, are required for admission to the Academy. The US Navy and Marine Corps both have four-year academies, similar to the Air Force’s, and all require applicants to be under the age of 23 at the time of application. Reserve officer training corps (ROTC) programs, either in the Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) or the Navy ROTC, are another way to get an officer commission and become a fighter pilot in the United States (NROTC). The Army is the only branch of the US military that allows non-commissioned officers to fly, despite the fact that the US Army has no fighter wing squadrons as of 2011.

After completing Academy training and achieving officer status, the next step in becoming a fighter pilot is to complete military training to become a Naval Aviator (NA). In the United States, these programs begin with Aviation Preflight Indoctrination, also known as Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), which lasts six weeks and includes physical training, emergency procedures, and aerodynamics and navigation basics. Candidates are then taught the skills necessary to obtain a private pilot’s license, which includes up to 66 hours of flight training as well as significant classroom time in technical and engineering disciplines.

Many men and women aspire to be fighter pilots and enroll in US military academies, but completing academy training isn’t enough. A candidate must first become Pilot Qualified (PQ), which they learn about in their junior year, and disqualifications can occur for a variety of reasons, such as vision limitations affecting depth perception or astigmatism that cannot be corrected with LASIK surgery. A nomination from a US Senator, Congressional representative, or other appropriate very important person (VIP) who the academy recognizes for their stature and achievements is also required for admission to the Air Force Academy. Because becoming a fighter pilot in the United States is a difficult path with many requirements, it is recommended that students in high school start planning for it early and speak with local military recruiters to ensure that they are doing everything possible to improve their chances of landing one of the few positions available.