Saturday, April 6, 2013

How To Be... a Fighter Pilot

The dad of my best friends when I was a kid was in the Air Force. Every so often, I would get to go to the base with them, the base being Barksdale Air Force Base. It was the coolest place. Except for one thing: no fighter planes. Oh, there were some, but Barksdale was a bomber base, so, mostly, it was full of B-52's. I never did get to go in one, but, man, are they big. I don't know if this is still the case, but, in the 80s, Barksdale had the largest strategic bombing force in the nation and, at need, could "bomb Russia" without the need for refueling. It was great, because it made Barksdale in the top 3 on "Russia's" nuke list. But I digress...

As cool as the bombers were, they were never what we were interested in. My friends (3 brothers (and a sister)) had books and books about fighters, and that's what we wanted to fly. My favorite was, and has always been, the F-16. To put it in Star Wars terms, the F-16 would be the A-wing, as it was designed out of a need to have better air-to-air fighters. Basically, it was a plane designed around dog fighting. The things can pull 9-g maneuvers! Let me just say that when everyone was busy being enamored of the F-14, a Y-wing at best, after Top Gun came out, I was never dissuaded from my love of the F-16, the far superior plane (as attested to by the fact that the F-16 is still in production and the F-14 is not). But I still digress...
The F-16

Although I never wanted to be a fighter pilot, every boy wants to be a fighter pilot. I mean, how cool is that? Unfortunately, it's not the kind of career you can just decide to do and spend your life working toward it. There are physical limitations on the job. Like basketball but in reverse. Yes, there really is a height limit to being a fighter pilot. For the Air Force, that's 77 inches (6'5"). I suppose, above that, there's no way you're cramming yourself into one of those cockpits. There's also a height minimum: 64 inches, along with a sitting height requirement! Between 33 and 40 inches. How many of you have ever thought about how tall you are while sitting? Yeah, that's what I thought. Me, either. So it's not just about height but about body proportion, which is pretty specific.

And we haven't even gotten to the part about the vision yet! Vision requirements are somewhat easier to meet these days. When I was in high school, you had to have at least 20/20 uncorrected vision. Now, as long as it can be corrected to 20/20 vision, you can have vision as low as 20/70. See, my vision, which is in the 20/30-40 range, was the only thing that kept me from accepting an invitation to the Air Force Academy after high school. I'm not a good fit for the military because of that lack of respect for authority thing I have going, that and my tendency to use that word which is the bane of parents everywhere: "Why?" However, I would have gone if it had meant a chance to fly fighters. It's all just as well, I suppose.

But why was the Air Force Academy after me to begin with? Test scores. Even though I never applied there or anything. And I'm not talking flyers in the mail kind of stuff, either, although they did send me stuff in the mail. And call me. A lot. And even sent someone to my house to talk to me. So, yeah, you have to be smart. Although, after looking at their requirements on the their website, the current academic requirements don't seem that stringent. At any rate, you have to have pretty high scores to get into the Academy, and you have to have even higher scores to be considered for flying.

And then there are all the physical shape requirements...

So, then, how do you get to be a fighter pilot?
1. Don't be too tall.
2. Don't be too short.
3. Have the right length torso.
4. Have good vision.
5. Be smart or study hard enough to seem like you're really smart,
6. Be in excellent physical condition.
One you've taken care of those basics, you might get the shot at being a fighter pilot.


  1. I actually did want to be fighter pilot and my Guidance Counsellor told me that I was not good enough at Math. I then went on to do quantitative analysis (1,2 and 3) in uni and passed with 'flying' colours.

  2. Hi, interesting post! My youngest daughter was in the Air Force, and worked on the avionics inside the F-16's when anything was wrong with them. Also, I have a grandson who has always loved airplanes, and although he was never in the military, he has his commercial pilot's license. Also, my youngest brother, John, knew every plane in the Army Air Force and also the enemy planes during WW II. I guess this is more comment than you really wanted. I am, however, quite verbose. Best regards to you. Ruby

  3. Flying has always scared the crap out of me. Even watching Star Wars, one of the coolest movie scenes ever, I always got nervous when they were flying around.

  4. Why do I suddenly have "Highway to the Danger Zone" in my head?

    Yes, Top Gun made me want to be a fighter pilot, but I didn't have excellent vision. Because my ineptitude where math (and science and phys ed and all things not English lit) was concerned had nothing to do with it.

  5. My father was a military pilot (not fighter pilot though) and I've been around pilots from all walks of life for much of my life.
    One other attribute to being a fighter pilot you missed - attitude. It takes just the right cocky, confident attitude to make it through the program and be a successful pilot.
    And no, never wanted to be one. I hate to fly.

  6. I love to fly. Can't afford it much these days. My father took me up in a tiger moth when I was about 5. We lived in NC for a while right next door to a Marine Base where they flew Harriers and F16s all the time.


  7. My life's ambition as a little kid was to be a pilot. Sigh.

  8. The height restrictions are a big part of why the Air Force Academy struggles to match the same success in basketball that they have in football.

  9. I live right up the road from the Air Force Academy and my stepdaughter's high school graduation ceremony is being held there next month. My dad went to the prep school, but had a knee thing that prevented him from continuing. I would never have made it in the Air Force. I get motion sickness like crazy (or at least I used to--haven't tested it lately). Cool post :)

  10. Well I can't tick ANY of those things on the list so that's me. Exit stage left.

    I'm lovin this Blog Challenge! Its fuckin' rockin my face off.

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  12. My cousin is a fighter pilot now. I remember him having problems with the vision requirement at one point. It's a tough profession to get into.

  13. My dad was in the Air Force during the Korean War but he just worked on the planes. I think he flew a crop duster on the farm and that was about it.
    I'm thinkin' Little Miss Sunshine here, but do they have a color blind thing?

  14. I like your recruiter story. I had a very friendly Marine Corps recruiter call me several times during my senior year of high school - no idea how I got on that list! I finally had to explain to him that I was a pacifist, a non-conformist and pretty scrawny at that age, too. I really wasn't the sort of person the USMC wants!

  15. I don't enjoy flying much, and I can't even imagine actually MAKING myself take off into the wild blue yonder voluntarily as a pilot. But I am impressed with those who do. More great info on your site. Is there anything you don't know about?

  16. I don't enjoy flying much, and I can't even imagine actually MAKING myself take off into the wild blue yonder voluntarily as a pilot. But I am impressed with those who do. More great info on your site. Is there anything you don't know about?

  17. I used to live on a military base and watched jets take off all the time. The one thing that really has stuck with me after all these years? How dang loud they were! :)

  18. Yes, they pick the people to fit in the planes rather than having to build planes that fit a wide swath of humanity. My dad wanted to fly but was apparently too tall.

  19. Yes, my dad was in the Air Force, but couldn't be a pilot due to his vision. You couldn't be a pilot with glasses. So he got to go into espionage instead. You would have been out here in blue! I took my son to the museum they have on the Academy, and he was enamored.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  20. HM C: I didn't see any mention of math in particular, but strong grades in general is important. I'm sure math is very important, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing you actually use a lot of while you're actually flying. I mean combat flying. I could be wrong, I suppose. Maybe, they do stop to work out trajectories and things.

    Grammy: Hey, I have no problem at all with long comments.
    That's cool about your daughter. Good for her! (I'm only saying that because it is such a male dominated field; it's good to hear of women being successful in it.)

    Cassie: What about roller coasters?

    M.J.: Hey, if you can blame your eyes, go for it! It's always good to let the thing you can't change have the blame.

    Alex: I didn't mention that because the attitude thing is not measurable and they don't test you for it.
    My wife's grandfather flew a fighter in the Pacific in WWII, and he didn't really have that attitude; he just wanted to fly (he was also too tall, but, somehow, managed to get in).

    Jo: I love to fly, too, even though I haven't done it in... almost 17 years?

    S.L.: Well, you could still be a pilot, just probably not a fighter pilot. Or, maybe, you could still do that, too.

  21. TAS: Well, I don't think there are height restrictions on going to the academy, just to being a pilot.

    Jess: Oh, that's really cool! What a neat place for a graduation.

    ADSL: Does that hurt? The thing with your face? Is it using real rocks?

    M Pax: It is. It's one of those where working harder and doing better may not get you anywhere at all.

    deathwriter: You know, I don't know that. I'll have to check. And I should watch that movie again.

    TAS (again): Yeah, they really wouldn't have wanted me either; they just didn't know that.

    Donna: Oh, well, there are probably some things, but I do my best to find out about them before other people know it. Actually, I'm not very technically savvy when it comes to computers; that's an area I really made a decision not to devote the time to.

    DL: They are SO loud.

    Callie: It does help with the production. Race cars are the same way to a certain extent.

    Shannon: Being in espionage could be a lot of fun, too! We're trying to convince my daughter of that.

  22. What a different life it would have been, too. What if I'd taken him up on it? I doubt I'd have survived boot camp, truth be told.

  23. A bunch of requirements you can't change yourself to fit...need to have good fighter pilot genetics, I guess. I think a pilot of any kind would be a hard job!

  24. it's insane the requirements right?? i guess they really don't want just anyone taking over millions of dollars worth in equipment...

  25. TAS: I wouldn't survive it now, but I probably would have then. Unless I was kicked out for insubordination. I'm kind of ornery.

    Rebecca: Piloting is not so much flying anymore as just telling the computer what to do. At least with passenger planes. I don't think I'd really want to do that.

    Tammy: Yeah, you'd think that, wouldn't you.

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  27. My grandfather was a WWII fighter pilot who helped organize/create the Vermont Air Nation Guard. Going to the base when visiting him was a thrill while growing up!

    My son has (and wears) Gramps' bomber jacket and boots on a regular basis....

  28. My hubby wanted to be a fighter pilot but he had bad eyes. I'm kind of grateful for that. ;)

  29. MOCK!: I've kind of always wanted a bomber jacket. I had a friend in high school that had one; it was really cool.

    Kimberly: I can see that (pun intended) and empathize with him, too.

  30. Lots of limitations, it seems. It's a pity for anyone whose passion is off limits to them because of their physical characteristics!

  31. Trisha: Yeah, it is, especially since some people just give up instead of trying to come up with some other way to achieve their dream.

  32. Cool. I never had more than a passing interest in the military. Maybe because my father was an office in the navy and my most formative years were on a base and I spent lots of time on ships of the fleet (never at sea or anything, only while docked). So, does the Navy use the same types of fighters as the Air Force? How does that work?

  33. Rusty: I never had any interest in the military; in fact, I had negative interest, except that I thought it would be cool to fly fighters.

    The Navy and the Air Force generally do not use the same kinds of planes. The F-14 was a Navy plane, the F-16 an Air Force plane.

  34. Oh, it's also generally considered to be a bit easier to be a Navy pilot, but I didn't look up the stuff for them.

  35. Nope, don't qualify. I definitely don't qualify. And I probably throw up in that mask thingy they wear and that would be very disgusting.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  36. Lee: It would be but probably not quite as bad as puking in your helmet as an astronaut.

  37. My ex-boyfriend was in the Air Force, but his specialty was air conditioning and refrigeration, haha! He did take me to some really cool airplane museums and air shows though. :)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  38. My dad was in the reserves when I was a kid and spent some time in Alaska. I got a rock.