Real Answers from Real Pilots

Researching my choices

Hi, my names Matthew and I’m new to Airline Pilot life, I’m 15 years old and in 10th grade, trying to weight out my options. At the moment I plan to attend Arizona State University majoring in Aeronautical Management Technology. I plan to do this via the Air Force’s ROTC program, that way once I receive my pilots license and degree I’ll be able to earn my hours and have a steady job. Overall my goal is to be a commercial pilot for a major airline like Southwest. I’m just trying to figure out of my plan is theisable or if I should refine it or go about it another way. Any help would be appreciated :smile:

Hello Matthew and Welcome,

Your plan sounds FEASABLE I’m just curious about the ROTC aspect? Are you planning on joining the Air Force after high school? Otherwise I’m not sure where that fits in (unless it’s just something you enjoy and will look good on your college application which is fine)? Other than that I think your head is in the right place and headed in the right direction. Btw have you ever looked into the Civil Air Patrol, good entry to ROTC programs AND you do actually get to fly. Check it out!


The program I was looking at would have me serve 4-8 years in the Air Force after college, so I would enter as an officer with a degree. I haven’t looked into Civil Air Patrol until now, thanks for pointing it out, just from reading it briefly it seems like a good program I’ll look into more. I’ve always been interested in heavies and supers, not so much fighters like Ace pilots fly. So besides Civil Air Patrol, if there is anything else out there that might work better than ROTC let me know, I’m all ears. Once again thanks for the suggestion Adam, I’ll be sure to look into it :smiley:


Well that makes sense. I participated in the CAP years ago and found it to be a great program. It’s been a while but I’m pretty certain it can integrate with the ROTC and when you actually go into the Air Force you’ll actually start at a higher pay grade which is awesome.

Obviously you’ve got a ways to go but the pilots I know who really seem to have the best lives are the guys who were career military. They flew for 20 yrs (C-17s, C-5s, KC-10s), retire with a FAT pension and benefits for life and then get hired at a Major. Their houses are paid off, no instructing to build time and no Regional flying. These guys start off making great money and it’s all gravy on top of their pensions. Again it’s a ways off and your life can go in a thousand directions but in my “perfect world” that seems pretty cool!



While Adam brings up great points about serving twenty years in the military, there is one potential downside to that. As you know, the airlines are completely driven by seniority (when you were hired by the airline). While the military pilot entering after 20 years will have some financial security, he will also be several years, maybe a decade or more, behind civilian pilots that get hired by a major at a younger age. The net effect of this is that while military pilots enjoy some financial security, they will most likely never have the seniority at a major airline to be a wide body captain (Hawaiian might be different, Adam can talk about that) and they will thus not have those years of making widebody captain pay. At the top of the pay scale.

Don’t get me wrong, the military is a great option, but just keep in mind that every year a pilot spends in the military is a year that he is not at an airline accruing seniority.



Chris makes some valid points. All I’m saying is there are many routes you can take in life. Seniority does rule when it comes to the airlines but that might not be what motivates you. Me, I’m all about quality of life and doing what makes you happy. Whatever that may be I wish you success.


Air Force ROTC or Academy both offer the option of getting a pilot slot, assuming you are medically qualified. If you get scholarship then you would have litttle to no college debt (everyone at Academy is on full ride scholarship). Realize the minimum payback for Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) is 10 years after you get your wings, so the earliest you could move from active duty to airlines is around 11 years after college. I agree with flying heavy aircraft (C-130, KC-135, KC-10, KC-46, C-17, C-5) if your goal is maximum hours. Bombers and fighters don’t get as many hours, but I know many bomber and fighter pilots that have also gone to the airlines. Looks into Air Force Guard or Reserve right out of college which may allow you to go to the airlines earlier than the 11 year point, but it depends how many hours you get in the Guard or Reserve.

I don’t know how 11 years in the military compares to time in regional airlines and how that affects seniority. Bottom line, you don’t have to spend 20 years on active duty unless you want the full military retirement, but realize also the military retirement system is also changing from the current system to more of a 401k style system.


Thanks for the information about the military. It should be pointed out that ROTC and the Academy offer the possibilities of pilot slots, not the option.

Eleven years is significant, some people make it through the regionals much faster than that, others take much longer. At the end of the day, the military is a great option.


Thank you Ryan for the insight,

Obviously the longer you spend in the military the less seniority you’ll hold at any airline. A week can make a difference, let alone years.

That would be a shame if the military changes the retirement structure. A 401K is far from a pension.



Correct, a pilot slot is not a given. You have to meet requirements and make the cut. It’s not like you just show up and say I want to be a military pilot. UPT was one of the hardest years of my life and some people don’t make it for a variety of reasons, medical, academic, or personal.

So I’d agree that the military is an option for getting to the airlines and there are pluses and minuses. It may be cheaper financially, but it is a big time commitment. If you want to serve, great but if you are just using the military to get to the airlines then that is a long time if your heart is not in the mission and deployments and military lifestyle.



Link to one of the articles on the new retirement system.

It takes effect 1 January 2018, so unless someone joins before then they will automatically be under the new system.


Wow, those are some major changes to the military retirement system. I see both good and bad in it.

For comparison, United offers a 13% contribution to a 401k style plan, with no match required from the employee.

Interesting. Actually seems like a great deal if you’re not planning on staying in for 20.