What Does a Fighter Pilot Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Images By: Airwolfhound, Emiliau, Commander, U.s. 7Th Fleet
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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A fighter pilot commands specialized aircraft used to support aerial operations and engage in aerial battles. Over the course of a career, a fighter pilot may go on thousands of flights and could experience combat intermittently, if at all, depending on global politics. This work requires a high degree of skill and advanced training. Pilots are military officers, and have numerous career development opportunities. For those who choose to leave the service, civilian aviation jobs are available, as are jobs with military contractors and consultants who work in the aeronautics field.

To become a fighter pilot, it is usually necessary to have an undergraduate degree and to attend flight school to receive training on military aircraft. This includes familiarization not only with the flight systems of the aircraft, but also with the combat systems. These can vary between aircraft, but generally fighter pilots learn to control a variety of weapons equipment along with radar and other detection systems to help them identify targets and evade the enemy.

Much of the work requires continual training. Fighter pilots fly repeatedly and on a regular schedule to maintain and refine their skills. The work can include practicing various aerial maneuvers, both solo and group, so pilots can work effectively as part of a team as well as on their own. A fighter pilot also needs to be familiar with operations like in-flight refueling, handling emergencies, and, in some cases, landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier.


Constant training and practice help pilots prepare for combat operations, where they need to perform at their peak in sometimes very stressful conditions. They coordinate with other members of a flight group as well as commanding officers to determine target priority and their flight schedule. They also need to be able to work with other members of the military who may be involved in an operation, from ground troops who want air cover to the commander in chief, who may use fighter pilots for intimidation, active combat, or support operations.

The job requires people to remain in peak physical condition. Like other officers, fighter pilots also need to adhere to a high standard of personal behavior, as they represent their nations when they are in uniform and must consider public relations at all times. Pilots may be periodically reassigned to new bases, and also need to prepare for deployment to support combat operations as well as police actions, peacekeeping, and other military activities. The military may require continuing education in military aviation topics, adding a classroom element to the work of a fighter pilot.


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