Becoming a fighter pilot in the United States military is, by default, becoming a jet pilot. All fighter planes used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are jet planes. Helicopters, employed almost exclusively by Army pilots, are powered by jet engines but are attack, rather than fighter, aircraft. The path to becoming a fighter pilot in any branch of the armed forces can vary, but several common denominators exist--you must be a commissioned officer, you must have a four-year undergraduate degree and you must complete rigorous educational, physical and flight training. Competition for fighter-pilot slots is fierce.
Receive your high school diploma, preferably in standard fashion and not through a GED program. Although a GED won't disqualify you from flight school, you limit your options. For example, you're very unlikely to receive acceptance to a military academy without sterling high school credentials--academic, athletic, extra-curricular and social.
Complete your college undergraduate studies, which is where paths can diverge greatly in becoming a fighter pilot. You basically have three options: Attend either the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., or the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; attend a college or university that offers an Air Force or Navy ROTC program; or receive a bachelor's degree and apply to Officer Candidate School (Navy and Marines in Rhode Island) or Officer Training School (Air Force in Alabama).
Choose the appropriate aviation program upon becoming a commissioned officer. Your chances of receiving a slot for fighter pilot training depends a great deal on your record during school and training. Your request may be accepted, denied, delayed or you may be counselled to consider other options within a related aviation field.
Complete Initial Flight Screening (Air Force) or Introductory Flight Screening (Navy/Marines).
Complete (for the Navy) Aviation Preflight Indoctrination and Primary Flight Training at the Naval Air Station in Florida. Fighter pilot hopefuls then must complete tail-hook training (for aircraft-carrier operations). Advanced Strike Training completes your training and qualifies you as a naval aviator. (Marine pilots are naval aviators, too). Air Force personnel follow up their primary training with Euro-NATO joint jet-pilot training or joint specialised undergraduate pilot training (JSUPT, or UPT). Jet-fighter candidates then attend a bomber/fighter component of training to learn fighter basics, before specialising in training with the aircraft of his choice (if so qualified).
All service academies, except the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, require nomination from a U.S. senator from the applicant's state, from the applicant's congressman, from the vice president of the United States, or a combination of nominations. Academic qualifications are rigorous, including high scores on ACT or SAT exams, and physical requirements are equally challenging.
Thorough background checks are conducted by the FBI for all military applications.
Tips and warnings
- All service academies, except the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, require nomination from a U.S. senator from the applicant's state, from the applicant's congressman, from the vice president of the United States, or a combination of nominations. Academic qualifications are rigorous, including high scores on ACT or SAT exams, and physical requirements are equally challenging.
- Thorough background checks are conducted by the FBI for all military applications.