Which branch of the military requires the least amount of year commitment?

I know the Air Force requires 10 years of active duty after training. Does anyone know if there are other branches that will cover flight training for a less amount of required years to be enrolled afterwards?

Every service contract (for the United States military) is 8 years minimum. How you spend those 8 years is where the perceived different length of service comes from. Some people do 2 years active, 6 reserves, some do all 8 active etc. etc.

Hope that helps.



I don’t know the answer to your question. Forgive me if I am wrong, but the
way you asked that question gives me the impression that you’re more
interested in learning how to fly for free than serving your country. If
taking out a $75k loan makes you nervous, it’s worth the investment. A lot
of regional airlines are offering tuition reimbursement to flight
instructors interested in flying for the airline. I did it. It helped pay
off the interest. Now that I’m making more money I can finally pay off the
principal. Should have my loan paid off in 6 years.


Hi Tory,

It does sound like that, doesn’t it…my bad
I’ll be honest the biggest draw to going the military route is the free training (like many join for the GI bill), but that is definitely not the only reason.
The other reasons were: getting to help people, flying amazing aircraft, getting expert training that may translate in being a safer pilot in the future.
The things that make me shy away from it are: it’s a bit intimidating being a woman going into it, the long time commitment, and being away from family
I really would enjoy serving my country, but I am not one to plan 10 years in advance so I was really asking if there was another option where I could serve without the scary feeling of being locked into something.

Thank you for your answer!


You’re welcome. Thank you for clarifying. The best advice I could give
anyone is to consider your heart, mind, and wallet. If all three lead you
to the same path, then it’s probably the right choice…as long as you’re
honest with yourself. Don’t fall prey to any negative self-fulfilling


Hey, hope this can help.

I’m a Navy pilot with about 7.5 years in. I did ROTC which came with a 5 year commitment by itself. Flight school (commissioning to wings) was about a year and 9 months. From the date you wing, you then owe 8 years for pilots. (The original 5 is concurrent). In all, I will be transitioning to the Reserves after my original commitment (MSR - minimum service requirement) in Feb 2020, which will put me just shy of 10 years active duty.

The free flight training was nice, but ROTC is a gamble, since I didn’t even find out I was going to be a pilot until the beginning of Senior year! That said I was fortunate. Flight training in the military is definitely top notch, and not to mention you are well compensated. But there are always ups and downs with any profession. Deployments can be awesome or terrible, and everything is what you make of it. I have about 1450 hours (all turbine) and I’m flying a 737-type.

There isn’t a really “easy” road to aviation. But it’s well worth it. The annoying part now is a few of my buddies from college are already FOs in the majors, and I’m still sitting here watching guys get hired and get seniority ahead of me. And I can’t budge until 2020 at the earliest.

That said I love what I do, but I’m ready for a change. It is definitely what you make of it!



Thank you for your input. It’s always great when people who are actually IN the military chime and say what it is and what it isn’t. If it gives you any comfort I’m jealous of all my military pilot friends. They’ve flown AMAZING equipment, defended our nation and the biggest thing is they all have FAT military pensions and will be better off than any of us in the future.

Mad respect sir.


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I’m currently at the same place in consideration and I’m curious which route you chose whether that be military or civilian?

I’m currently considering the Air Force as my main focus route however it is a long contract coming out to a total of about 12 years.

Any tips?

Evan Taylor


What is your goal? If you want to be an airline pilot than take the civilian route. If you want to serve your country and fly for the military than by all means sign up.



My goal is to be a commercial pilot. My concern is the cost of going from zero flight hours to commercial and the cost associated with that route, whereas going through the military would be paid for in full and I would come out with more flight hours than civilian pilots applying for the big airlines as well.

What is your opinion on this and why?



Serving in the military is an entire lifestyle commitment. It involves months or years away from home and family, great danger and a minimum of a ten year commitment.

On top of that, military pilots do not have more hours than their civilian counterparts when applying to the majors. In fact, the civilian pilots usually have significantly more time. Military pilots do not fly nearly as much as you might think.

Joining the military because you are looking for free flight training is a way to have a very unhappy ten years in the military.



Here’s my take. First off while I’ve never served, half the pilots I know came from the military and from what I understand the military is a HUGE commitment that encompasses far more than free flight instruction. As Chris said it’s a lifestyle and of course there’s always the chance of going to war.

From a purely economic standpoint while I understand the attraction of free flight training the math really doesn’t add up. Airline pilots have a very finite number of years they can fly since mandatory retirement is 65. Every year you’re with the Air Force is one year less you’ll be lying for the airlines. The average AF Capt makes about $85k a year while senior airline pilots earn around $300k (conservatively). That’s a difference of $215k a year. You could be flying for an airline in 2 years vs the 12 you quote for the AF. That means you’ll get to the airlines 10yrs later (and no you would definitely not have more flight time. Airline pilots fly many times more hours than AF pilots which is why most still have to build time at a Regional before going to a Major). 10yrs x $215k is $2.15 million dollars (not to mention airline seniority, QOL, and 401K contributions over those 10 years). Sacrificing over $2mil in potential earnings to save $80k in flight training is simply bad math. Now again if you have a desire to serve your country than I support your decision BUT if it’s simply to save some debt now you lost me.


Hi Adam,

Thank you so much for the thorough input - I hadn’t thought of it the way that you had broken it down which definitely makes a good case to go the civilian route.

If someone like me with only a few off the books flight hours is looking to go Commercial, about how long would it take until I’m in the cockpit with an Airline?

Also, would you have any suggestions for schools if I’m currently located in Seattle (although I am willing to relocate for a good program)?

I appreciate all the great advice!


Just to add, I agree with everyone saying don’t join the military just for free flight training. But a great option thats really the best of both worlds is to join the Air National Guard. Basically you apply (its highly selective, but you will know 100% that you’ll be going to flight school before you sign any contracts and you’ll know what aircraft you fly and your base as you get to choose base in the national guard and you know what unit flies what.) The commitment is about 1 week each month unless deployed obviously. This is actually my plan I’m 17, 18 in 2 weeks and I am working on my bachelors degree in Aviation (the airlines don’t care but I hear the military does and pilot slots in the national guard are even harder to get then active duty) plus I’m doing school online while flying so after only 6 months I have about 68 credits and should finish in about 1.5 years I’ll be 19.5 (training is about 2 years) if I can get a slot and that means i’ll be about 21.5-22 before I can work for a regional airline. Or I can get hired at a regional say Envoy if the flow is still working by the time I’m 21 and then join the national guard reducing my time at Envoy for flow, plus they will pay back 50k of federal student loans.

If anyone has gone this route, please let me know I’d love to talk about it sometime just to make sure I do have my facts correct, thanks.


The time it takes for you to get to an airline depends on you. You can piece your ratings together or you can join an accelerated flight program. You’re looking at 2.5 years or more depending on what route you take.

As for recommendations, that’s something you need to figure out. We’re all fans of ATP since we all went there, but it isn’t for everyone. The FAQ sections has some helpful information.


Perhaps it is, perhaps it’s not? You go on to ask if anyone has taken this route so you clearly don’t know. Again the military (even the Reserves) are a huge commitment and when I say that I’m not simply referring to the weekends and 2 weeks during the summer. In the Reserves you’re on RESERVE to fight and defend your country. I do know pilots who are in the Air Guard and they have been deployed, sent away from their families and sent into war zones. This is not Call of Duty this is real life and some very fine young people don’t return home.

While we welcome all to contribute I suggest you refrain from sounding like you actually have experience and perhaps offer suggestions (ie, I’ve heard the Air Guard could be a option and something you might want to investigate.

Now please explain to me how joining the Guard will reduce your time for a flow since it’s based on seniority and not hours?


Perhaps, I think most people reading clearly understood that I am just stating my opinion based on what I do know but made it clear that I haven’t actually done it yet. And about the flow I said it will reduce my time at Envoy, which is and isn’t true I should have worded it better. I would hypothetically get hired at envoy when I’m 21 and then after completing training go to military training for approximately 2 years full time and then come back to Envoy at 23. It wouldn’t really reduce my years to flow but reduce my years with lower seniority at a regional as I would return with 2 years of seniority.


On paper that sounds like a great plan and it really seems like you’ve been doing a ton of research on how to short circuit the system. But here’s the rub, Envoy hires you because they need pilots to fly airplanes not simply to give you a head start on your career. Obviously not your concern but what should be is this. While everyone else in your seniority group is dealing with reserve, first year pay, deadheads, weather delays, and everything else that goes with “paying ones dues” you’re merrily bypassing it all by going active duty. You return when you can perhaps upgrade and make some decent money, awesome you missed all the yucky bits. Problem is do you not think that EVERY pilot at the airline doesn’t know who you are, what you did and why? Do you think they like pilots who work the system? This industry is ridiculously small and relationships can literally make or break your career. Flow or no flow there’s tons of fine print and do you think you’re getting that flow with a poor review from the Chief Pilot? You haven’t flown the line in 2yrs but you think you can just slip into the left seat and pass an LOE? You think the instructors are going to just give you an easy pass?

Aaron my friend, you’re a VERY young man and I wish you the best of luck but I suggest maybe you should do some flight training and IF you’re successful and gain some maturity then perhaps you’ll realize that there are few short cuts in life (and certainly in this career) and those that seek them (rather than simply putting in the time and effort) find themselves wishing they hadn’t.



The Guard is a great option but to say it’s HIGHLY selective is a major understatement. Often times you have hundreds of applicants applying for 1 slot. The stats I’ve casually gathered on selects is mind blowingly high with an equally impressive “whole person concept” behind the scenes. I was Active Duty and have been rushing units about 2 years with only 2 interview invites and no selections. I know of folks who have been rushing for 4-5 years without getting selected. Do your research and make sure you are literally the top 1% of the applicants to give yourself the best chance of selection.

Also to say the guard is part time is a thing of the past especially for rated or pilots. Plan on being on orders for long periods of time even if a “technician” aka part time. (At least this is true at the units near me and of the units I’ve visited)

Be weary of the notion that once selected you’re guarnateed flight school before signing contracts. You technically enlist before doing your flying physical which is the biggest hurdle before beginning flight training once enlisted they technically can get their monies worth out of you. I’ve personally known regional guys who were picked up, got to pilot training and washed out because of bad habits and/or them not being able to adapt to military flying…

Take it from me…I had my plan like you right around your age. NOTHING is guaranteed in life. Also another tidbit I picked up in the service; no plan survives initial contact.

Hit BaseOps.net for more on applying to ANG units but be prepared for really honest answers.

Good luck boss.