Many potential military recruits want to know what it takes to become a military pilot. Some wonder if they have to have perfect vision to fly a military plane, but likely just as many wonder if they are required to obtain a pilot’s license in order to fly for the military. Do you need a pilot’s license to become a military pilot?
The short answer is no–your flight training is provided by the Department of Defense. Some programs may offer you the option to obtain a civilian license as a perk, but military pilots attend both officer training (see below) and flight training–all skills are taught and honed “in-house” rather than relying on third parties to supply pilot credentials.
Joining The Military As A Pilot
It’s not possible to join the military with a pilot’s license and simply start flying as a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps. Yes, all of those branches of military service require pilots for both fixed-wing and rotor airframes.
But those who want to fly for the military need to know that the first requirement necessary is to be a commissioned officer.
There are no enlisted pilots in the United States military. That does not mean there are no enlisted members with pilot licenses, but only officers are permitted to fly military aircraft on military missions.
If you’re guessing that the implication here is that a 4-year college degree is more important than the pilot’s license for initial consideration, you are correct. Those who enter the military through commissioning programs may be eligible to apply for pilot training.
Each branch of the military has its own requirements for what it takes to be a pilot for them. Let’s take a look at what each branch lists as its requirements to fly.
Requirements For An Air Force Pilot
In terms of providing information on its official site for those who want to know more, the United States Air Force is likely the most transparent about its pilot program and requirements. The bare minimum educational requirement is a Bachelor’s Degree, there is an age requirement (see below), as well as:
- Required completion of Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training
- Completion of a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)
- Completion of Officer Training School (OTS), Air Force Academy (AFA) or Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC)
- Must have begun pilot training between the ages of 18 and 33
- For pilot and aircrew positions, height specifications vary by aircraft and most applicants can successfully pursue a career in aviation with the U.S. Air Force. Applicants who are significantly taller or shorter than average may require special screening to ensure they can safely perform operational duties. Air Force recruiting literature states, “Applicants of all heights are encouraged to apply.”
Those interested in joining as Air Force pilots should talk to a recruiter to learn more about the basic qualifications needed to become both a Commissioned Officer and a pilot.
Requirements For A Navy Pilot
The official site of the United States Navy lists the following as basic requirements to become a Navy pilot:
- A four-year degree is required to work as a Fighter Pilot.
- Candidates seeking an Officer position in this community must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, preferably in a technical field.
- All candidates must also be U.S. citizens, willing to serve worldwide and must be qualified for sea duty.
The Navy requires all who wish to enter a Navy aviation program to first attend Officer Candidate School. Following that, a six-week “air indoctrination course” is required and upon completion, additional flight training (including an advanced training phase) and squadron assignments are given.
As you can see, there is much education and training required to make it to the most entry-level flying mission.
Requirements For A Marine Corps Pilot
The United States Marine Corps is the least transparent in terms of listing its requirements for pilots on its official site for recruiting purposes. However, a persistent search reveals the following from official Marine Corps literature from 2016:
“Being designated a Marine Naval Aviator (takes about two years altogether) encompasses multiple aviation qualifications which can be granted by the FAA through written examinations.” Those include but may not be limited to:
- Helicopter Pilots: Commercial Pilot’s License
- Fixed wing Single engine Commercial Pilot’s License
- Helicopter Standard Instrument Rating
- Designated Jet Pilot: Commercial Pilot’s License
These certifications cost a lot of money when an individual pursues them in the civilian world. All told, the number of certifications needed to fly Marine Corps aircraft can cost between $60,000 and $70,000–but as a Marine pilot in training these certifications are part of professional development and the student does not pay for them.
Requirements For An Army Pilot
The Army can be a bit tricky to get information from–when using the search tool at GoArmy.com in the Browse Careers section and the search term “Pilot” you get the following:
“We couldn’t find a match for pilot. Please try another search”.
Searching for “Aviation” returns two results, one of which is not involved with being an Army pilot. The other result returns “Aviation Officers” and provides a job description that includes the following:
“As an Aviation Officer, you’ll command flight platoons and lead operations using Army helicopters. Your missions may include hauling troops and carrying supplies, or they may involve quick and long-range strategic strikes. You will also instruct recruits in aviation at combat training centers and schools.”
The requirements for this particular Army pilot job includes:
- Be a college graduate with at least a four-year degree
- Be between 18 and 34 years old
- Compete the Officer Basic Leadership Course OR
- Complete additional special courses/qualifications
- Must be eligible for a Secret security clearance
- Must be a U.S. citizen
You will need to contact an Army recruiter to learn more about the specifics of Army pilot requirements.
Whether you are a new recruit, an existing uniformed service member considering training to become both an officer and a pilot, or you are an existing officer wondering how to cross-train as a pilot, the most important thing to worry about is becoming an officer first if you are not one already and NOT whether you have a pilot’s license or not.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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