What's the average ratio between military & civilian pilots?

I was just wondering based on who you guys fly with these days how many younger pilots choose to go through the military, and how many pay for their flight training. In other words, how many civilian vs. military pilots do you meet in the airlines these days? Is it still a common route like the past for Airline Pilots, or is it decreasing?

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The US Air Force has 12,687 pilots as of 30 Sep 2016 in the rank of Lt Col and below. I believe American, United, and Delta each individually outnumber the AF for number of pilots.


The AF is in demand for pilots and raising pilot retention bonuses as a result, especially for fighter pilots. Bottom line is that financially the AF cannot compete with airline salary, but being a military pilot is than more about the pay in my opinion.

There are many reasons that people join the AF and be a pilot. I’ve had the chance to fly at 500 feet and 0.9 Mach, supersonic, drop weapons, air refuel, and do many other things you just don’t get to do outside the military. I have loved my AF career but I look forward to continuing to fly after retirement hopefully as an airline pilot.

Sorry, more than you asked and glad to answer more questions on the AF side of things. I will leave the airline side to the experts on this forum.


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Also, it is a 10 year commitment after you graduate pilot training for the Air Force, so yes the training is free but it is a significant time commitment.


I don’t have an exact ratio, but I can tell you that the vast majority of pilots these days go through civilian training. The military upped the commitment for pilots from six to ten years a few years ago. When that happened many of the military pilots started to stay in the full twenty years to get the retirement. This has resulted in far fewer military pilots leaving to join the airlines. Also, the military is simply not as big as it used to be and just doesn’t produce the number of pilots that it did during the Cold War.

If I had to guess, and it is strictly a guess, I would speculate that less than 25% of our new pilots come from the military.


great, and do some military pilots leaving the service after ten years have the option to jump straight to a major airline or do they have to start at the regionals first like everyone else?

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Most military pilots go straight to the majors. The exception to this is the helicopter pilots who most often go to the regionals for a few years to build up their fixed wing time.


I know you mentioned the Air Force has a shortage of Pilots, so I was just wondering how competitive it is for people graduating college with a four year degree and no ROTC background to become fighter pilots? Is it possible, or do the fighter pilot mostly only go out to ROTC cadets entering the military after college?


Pilots are selected from the Air Force Academy, ROTC, and Officer Training School (OTS). It doesn’t really matter which source you come from as far as whether you get fighters, bombers, cargo/tankers, reconnaissance, or special ops. There are 2 phases during pilot training. During phase 1, T-6, all students are ranked according to performance in academics and flying. Students then get to pick the fighter/bomber track (T-38) or heavy/cargo (T-1). A few students may also get helicopters, but normally that is 1 per class and someone in the class usually volunteers for helicopter. At the end of the next phase then students are ranked again and then get to select what aircraft they will fly when they graduate. That is the simple version of how Air Force pilots select what aircraft they fly initially, basically performance based. It is all how well you do compared to your peers.

If you already have a college degree then you can apply for OTS. The good news is that you find out if you will go to pilot training before you start OTS. You have to finish pilot training by age 30, so you would need to finish OTS before you are 29 or earlier.


And how bout Military pilots that flew smaller jets like fighters and bombers? I’m sure these require exceptional skills to fly but they aren’t exactly large commercial aircraft, so do these pilots generally get sent to the regionals to build experience with larger aircraft with multiple engines?

Thanks Ryan,

I was thinking of going to talk to a recruiter at some point to get more details on how this works

Nope. The major airlines realize how complex these airplanes are and are more than happy to hire fighter pilots.

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The B-1 bomber is 146 feet long with a wingspan of 137 feet with the wings full forward.

For comparison a 737 MAX is up to 138 feet long with a wingspan of over 117 feet.

My point is bombers, at least current B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers are larger than you think or at least similiar to 737 sizes.

For your other point, I know plenty of fighter pilots that transitioned to the airlines or larger aircraft. I’m sure it takes some transition, but they fly speeds as fast or faster than airlines which can be harder to adjust than just the size or the aircraft.

I’d recommend searching for Air Force OTS prior to talkIng to a recruiter. Just educate yourself first and know what questions to ask.

I know this is not a military recruitment forum and I’m not trying to make it that. I’m glad to answer questions if I can.


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Just to chime in with a gee whiz fun fact. When I instructed at ATP back in the day they offered a 2 Day ATP course (the rules were very different back then) which was very popular with Air Force pilots transitioning to civilian flying and the airlines. I taught in TTN which was very close to McGuire AFB so I did them practically every week. The big thing for the fighter pilots is although most fighters have 2 engines they’re very close together and as such they have a “center-line thrust” restriction on their licenses which needs to be removed by performing a Vmc Demo (very basic multi-engine maneuver). Every one of these pilots who walk in with the same question and nervous look on their faces. “Hey so I have to do that Vmc Demo right? Is that scary?”. I’d say listen you guys fly at Mach 2 with people shooting at you right? You’ll be fine. Cracked me up everytime :slight_smile:


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thanks for the advice

I actually do have one more military related question:

Do you have to have taken classes in college like aeronautical engineering and other sciences to be qualified for Pilot training in the Air Force?

No, any 4 year bachelors degree is accepted. The AF does tend to favor technical and engineering degrees, but more for certain non-flying jobs. There is no specific degree requirement or classes for AF pilot training.


We appreciate your insights into the military. While this forum is sponsored by ATP we always strive to help our visitors find the path that works best for them, if that is the military then that is great. Thanks for all the info that you add.



Thanks, glad to help if and when I can.

I truly appreciate this forum. Great insight as I prepare to transition to civilian flying from the military.



The Regional Airlines in the U.S these days are facing a shortage on Pilots making the salaries and application process easier.

You’ve already addressed this with the Air Force, but I still really find it hard to believe because I’ve understood the Air Force to be VERY selective and picky when it comes to the process of selecting their fighter/bomber pilots.

Does this problem have something to do with the fact that the Military is turning more towards the use of drones to save money and training? I asked a similar question to Adam and Chris about the possibility of Airline Pilots getting furloughed in the future because of the use of ground control flying like a drone pilot.

Is the shortage fact or fiction? If yes, does this increase my chances of becoming a Pilot assuming I were to meet all the basic requirements?

I don’t have current stats on how many pilots the Air Force is accepting per year, how many apply, or current acceptance rates. The Air Force is undermanned with pilots, but they can only send so many per year through pilot training and specific aircraft training. Fighter aircraft do seem to be the lowest manning for multiple reasons.

All that being said, just like the airlines there are no guarantees and I’m pretty confident that the Air Force can still be selective on who it accepts given the amount of money they spend training someone and the trust level required to give a pilot the “keys” to a fighter aircraft that carries weapons.

Yes, the Air Force is increasing the use of RPA or Remotely Piloted Aicraft pilots (they don’t like the term drones), but manned aircraft pilots still greatly outnumber RPA pilots and will for the foreseeable future in my opinion. RPAs are very good for certain missions but I don’t think they will replace all manned aircraft anytime soon, even in the Air Force.

My best advice, if you meet the requirements and want to be an Air Force pilot, then apply. Without knowing more about you personally, your leadership style, and other factors, I can’t say for certain if you would be a good officer or pilot. Air Force pilots are officers first and normally have non flying jobs and duties, which is another big difference.

I’m happy to talk one on one and offer whatever assistance and insight I can. For personal reasons I’d rather not post my email or phone. Not sure what f there is a way with this forum to send a private message.

So to answer your questions directly: fact the AF is short of pilots. I can’t say for sure that will increase your odds of getting selected, but I know your odds are zero if you don’t apply.