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How Do I Become a Fighter Pilot?

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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Images By: n/a, Peter Orsaeo Sr, Max Tactic, Mad
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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There is no guaranteed path to become a fighter pilot in most modern military services, but there a few core requirements that are expected for anyone to have a chance at the career. Most fighter pilot requirements include being a commissioned officer, which requires holding a four-year bachelor's degree from a university system and/or the completion of a military officer training school program. Pilots must be in good physical health with vision correctable to 20/20, with no record of criminal violations in their past and relatively young. In the US military, the cutoff age to become a fighter pilot in the Air Force is 29 at time of application, 28 for the Marines, and 27 for the Navy.

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The US Air Force Academy offers the largest number of fighter pilot positions to candidates in the US military overall. Getting into the Academy requires a proficiency in math and science, and an above-par high-school grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.7. The US Navy and Marines also have academies that are four-year programs like the Air Force's, and all require that you be under 23 years old when you apply. Reserve officer training corps (ROTC) programs are another path to obtaining an officer commission to become a fighter pilot in the US, either in the Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) or Navy ROTC (NROTC). The one exception to pilot positions in the US military is the Army, where warrant officers can fly who are not commissioned officers, though the US Army has no fighter wing squadrons as of 2011.

Once Academy training and officer status is obtained, the next step to become a fighter pilot involves military training to become a Naval Aviator (NA). These programs are begun in the US with Aviation Preflight Indoctrination also known as Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) for six weeks of physical training, emergency procedures, and learning the basics of aerodynamics and navigation. Candidates are then taught the same skills required to get a private pilot's license, which involves up to 66 hours of flight training plus substantial classroom time in technical and engineering disciplines.

Many men and women enter the US military academies with a goal to become a fighter pilot, but completing academy training is not alone sufficient. A candidate has to become Pilot Qualified (PQ), which they find out about in their junior year, and disqualifications can occur for many reasons including vision limitations involving depth perception or astigmatism that can't be corrected by LASIK surgery. Getting into the Air Force academy also requires a nomination by a US Senator, Congressional representative, or appropriate very important person (VIP) who the academy recognizes for their stature and achievements. Because of the difficult path and requirements to become a fighter pilot in the US, it is recommended that students in high school begin planning for it early, and talk to local military recruiters to ensure that they are doing everything necessary to improve their odds of gaining one of the limited positions available.

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