How do they decide what jet someone flies in the Air Force/Navy?

Something I’ve always wondered is how the different jets, planes, etc… get pilots assigned to them. Is it a random assignment? Based off of the merit of the pilot? If he scores really well on the tests, he gets the F-22A, if he does poorly, he gets a cargo plane? I’m not saying the F-22 is better, cause everyone needs cargo, but it does seem it would take faster reflexes and one would have to be in better shape to resist the g-forces it would exert.

Does the potential pilot have any say in what he gets to fly?

Active Duty Air Force Recruiter here: As far as the Air Force is concerned, yes, the potential pilot has some say. The main evidence of his choice is how had he studies, and thus how well he does on his tests/schools. BTW, most pilot trainees who graduate at the top of their classes choose fighters.

I had a friend of a friend who is a military aviator. They gave him a bunch of tests, including a test where they put him in a pressurized tank and pumped out the air until he passed out. He failed that test, so he got put on a cargo plane instead of a combat plane.

I guess it goes by pilot school graduation rankings, although I could be wrong.

The potential pilots go through the basic aeronautical school(s), and get ranked according to their written test scores and instructor evaluations.

Upon graduation, a class is told how many slots in the various next-tier schools are available, and the pilots pick (from that list) what they are interested in, in/by class rank order.

So, an example might be: 20 graduate fixed wing pilots are told that there are 5 slots open for F-18 school, 5 for E-2/C-2 school, 5 for EA-6B school, and 5 for P-3 school. The pilot who was top of that class gets first dibs, then the second, and so on.

This is how some enlisted get to pick the technical schools after boot camp. I assumed that much of the rest of the military is run similarly. If I am found to be (unintentially, I assure you) full of poo, my apologies.

Here’s one personality test they use. It is rather simple, but effective:

If candidate/pilot is discovered writing checks that his/her body can’t cash, then assign candidate/pilot to fly cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.

the Air Force, going all the way back, has always used psychological and motor skills testing to classify pilots.

I worked around navy carrier pilots for many years and can testify that one of the main criteria must be self assurance. As in, “You can always tell a carrier pilot, but you can’t tell him much.”

According to my friend who flies backseat in an F/A-18 for the Navy and a few former co-workers of mine who flew for the Air Force, that is a very good description of how those two services assign butts to seats.

I forget which of them told me this story but at one training base, there was a board with aircraft silhouettes on it, and each aircraft silhouette had a peg. When the instructors knew how many training slots would be available for each aircraft, the board was populated with keys (e.g. six keys hung from the F-16 peg). The selection ceremony was apparently a big deal, with the instructor calling each student up to the board to pull a set of keys off. Apparently there are nearly always one or two near the top of the class who go straight for whichever peg has the fewest keys on it (probably a fighter) and then veer at the last second, taking dibs on a C-130 or similarly “dull” airframe. This nets them whoops and cheers from the fighter-jock hopefuls in the middle of the list.

In the Navy, you are allowed an input into your choice, but it really depends (on a week-to-week basis) on the needs of the Navy at that particular time as to what people wind up getting. More often than not, the individual’s choice does not really matter. If a graduating class graduates during a time period where the Navy is in dire need of, say, P-3 and helo pilots, then a lot of those pilots will be getting P-3 and helo slots. Maybe the top tier of guys in the class will get jets if they requested them, but a bunch of guys who, on another week, may have also gotten jets, may wind up getting props on this particular week. That’s just the way it works.

Sure, they do some simple psych testing for all aviators, but they do this to determine acceptance/denial into the aviation pipeline only and has nothing to do with jets/prop/helo selection. And I’m not sure what motor skills testing you’re talking about. Those skills are demonstrated every time you fly, so your overall grade for each flight will reflect how good your motor (among other) skills are. Those grades will determine where you fall out in your overall class ranking.

This happens during initial aviation training, way before the jet/prop pipeline enters into the picture, and no, they don’t pump air out until you pass out. How would you fail that test, anyway? Not pass out? They simply put you at an altitude of about 25000 ft and have you go off of oxygen until you start feeling hypoxic. Once you start feeling the effects, you take a hit of O2 and then go back to what you were doing (the Officer and a Gentelman portayal of this is pretty accurate). The goal is to make you aware of how you feel while getting/being hypoxic so that you recognize it in the aircraft right when it happens and can get on your O2 before becoming incapacitated, like the way Payne Stewart, et. al., died. And I believe there would have to be other physiological or performance factors involved in a guy getting props versus jets–not just how you did in the baro chamber.

As I understand it, the point of the test is to see what kind of low pressures you can stand. If you can make it to a certain pressure without passing out, you pass the test.

It must be awfully windy in that back seat. Cite


The F-18 has more than one version. The F-18A is a single seater, the F-18B is a two seater. The later versions, the “C” was single. the “D” was dual.

Maybe the training has changed, then. When I went through (1995 and again in 2001), it was as I described it. I’m honestly not sure what the point would be to do it the way you’re describing it… we don’t expect our aviators to be able to function above 10k or 12k feet without supplemental oxygen. Or, maybe they do it differently in the AF?

Former USAF pilot (1980s vintage) …

I’ve never heard of what brazil84 is describing. My altitude chamber experiences match flyboy88’s USN experience very closely.

I suggest that brazil84’s friend doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. Sounds like a garbled FOAFOAFOAF story to me. That somebody passsed out during altitude chamber training is not unusual. That that was the purpose of a test, not training, doesn’t make sense.

:dubious: Yeah, he’s in the F/A-18F “Super Bug”. Cite. :smiley:

I can speak with some authority on this subject - I graduated from Air Force Pilot Training in 1992 and did my last assignment as an instructor at a UPT base, teaching students how to fly.

First - the altitude chamber training is done very early in the whole process (around week 3 of a 52-week course). This is training only, and has no bearing at all on what sort of airplane you will fly. There are the very rare occasions where someone experiences previously unknown physiological symptoms which might cause them to not be able to proceed to the flight phase, but these are so rare that they are almost not worth mentioning.

So, the altitude chamber is as **LSLGuy ** and flyboy88 have described it.

As to who gets to fly what jet, it’s a complex process. The Air Force has gone to a tracked system (similar to what the Navy has been using for a long time). Note - their is some cross-service training, so a random Air Force guy might do his first stint with the Navy flying T-34s, and some Navy guys come fly T-6s (previously T-37s) with the Air Force.

The first flight phase is now done in T-6s, and the students are graded on academic scores, emergency procedure evaluations, simulator training, daily flights, checkrides and a catch-all “military bearing”. Each segment is weighted differently, (ie a screw-up on a checkride will cost you dearly, but a screw-up on a regular daily flight won’t hurt you as much). At the end of the phase all the scores are added up and the students are ranked.

This is when the first “needs of the Air Force” comes into play - the students can select either the T-38 track (leading to fighters and bombers) or the T-1 track (leading to heavies). Of course the students are limited by how many of each track are available. I have seen it both ways - more students want the fighter track but can’t get it, or more students want the heavy track but can’t get it. in the end, they choose their track and proceed onto the next phase of training, flown in the T-38 or the T-1 (or sometimes with the Navy in the T-44 if they are going to fly C-130s).

The advanced phase works much like the primary phase, but with more specialized training. The students are graded in all the same areas and then ranked. About 6 weeks before graduation a list comes down of what airplanes will be available for the class (since there will be classes graduating on the same day at all three UPT bases, the list covers all three). The students then rank-order their preferred aircraft. The higher you finish, obviously, the better your chance of getting what you want.

Of course the aircraft vary wildly depending on timing. When I graduated we had one F-16 for (at the time) five bases, and half of the people didn’t even get a flying job - they were “banked” and went to fly a desk for three years. We also didn’t do the tracked system, so we were all coming from T-38s. It’s not like that now, but one class can get a ton of “desirable” aircraft (say C-130s to Germany, or F-15Es to England) while the next can be saddled with “undesirable” aircraft (KC-135s to Grand Forks, or B-52s to Minot). I put desirable and undesirable in quotes because beauty is in the eye of the beholder - some guys want nothing more than to fly a B-52 and wouldn’t ever consider getting in an F-15, just as some want to fly C-130s and would never get near a C-5.

The squadron commanders then go down the list and see what each student wants and whether it is available. With, say, two C-17s available and the first two students choosing them the guy (or gal) who finished #3 will not be getting a C-17. If he wanted one, tough.

The assignments are handed out on “drop night” (as in assignment drop). This is done on a Friday at the Officer’s Club, and is always a lot of fun. Well, fun for most, misery for some but always a memorable night (or not, depending on how many beers they drink).

Sorry for the long post, but the assignment of pilots to aircraft is a complex process that involves numerous checks and evaluations of the student but also depends heavily on what the military needs at that time.

Never apologize for fulfilling the stated mission of the board. Yours was a great post.

:smack: Ignorance fought, thanks for the lesson.

You really do learn something new everyday.

My brother in law was just the kind of cocky hot shot with brains and awesome physical responses to have been a natural Top Gun. He opted for for transport training. He wound up flying weather planes through hurricanes – which requires a little more skill than “fly cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”