How to get an Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) slot with the Air National Guard
(written by an actual applicant)
Pilot training slots in the Air Force are getting harder to come by. As a civilian, our options are many, and those who want to fly will get there by any means necessary.
A civilian can apply for a pilot slot with the Active Duty Air Force and go through OTS, apply to the Air Force Reserves, or apply to the Air National Guard. This document will focus on the Air National Guard side of the house, but may also be applied in part to the Reserves as their process is similar.
The regs currently state you must enter UPT before your 30th birthday. Know that the Guard usually hires a year in advance (if hired tomorrow, you probably won’t be attending UPT for another year). Plan accordingly. Get started now – don’t let this time go by. Be in good physical condition. Don’t have any skeletons in your closet.
Typically, Air National Guard units across the country are allotted one to two UPT slots per fiscal year (FY). The process is almost exactly the same across every unit.
Guard units have a window of time where they accept pilot training application packets (often simplified to “packets” or “packages”). This window is usually open from 6 months before until 2 months before the interviews. More people apply than are accepted to interview. The breakdown is typically 10% of applicants will be asked to interview. From this interview, 1 or 2 applicants are selected to attend UPT and 1 or 2 alternates will be chosen should any problems occur with the primary selects.
While every pilot slot is a challenge to achieve, some units have higher competition than others due to 1) airframe, 2) location, and/or 3) mission.
You need to start NOW on this process. It typically takes over a year from start to finish (getting hired).
As a civilian, the first thing that you need to do is take the required tests. All units require you to have scores from the tests at the time of the application. The Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) is a test similar to the SAT. Some sections are geared more towards aeronautics and technical areas. Check out our AFOQT page for more information on how to study for this exam, as it is quite important to getting an interview and succeeding in obtaining a pilot slot. ARCO is a company that makes the best test prep book. Amazon.com should have this book available. Sufficient time should be taken to study for this test. At least a month of studying should be used. This test can only be taken twice and only the last one counts. You must wait 180 days before retake. (Waivers are available to take it more than twice, but you shouldn’t have to).
The next test that needs to be taken is the Basic Attributes Test (BAT). This test can not be studied for, and the best advice is to get a good night’s rest and eat a good breakfast before taking it. The test is done on a computer with two joy sticks. Not much can be said about this test, but it is much like a video game. At the end, a series of questions are asked. Some information can be found about this test online, but because of the rules, not much information is available. This test can only be taken twice and only the last one counts. You must wait 180 days before retake. (Waivers are available to take it more than twice, but you shouldn’t have to). NOTE: The BAT has been replaced by the Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS), but it is still essentially a joystick-based, computer-game-like test. Read more about the TBAS here.
After you have taken these two tests, you will be issued a Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) number. This number is a percentile that is supposed to predict how well one will do in pilot training. The pilot portion of your AFOQT along with your BAT score and flying hours go into an algorithm that gives this number. Nobody knows what this algorithm is as the Air Force keeps that information secret. Your PCSM score can go up as you accrue flight hours.
Contact your local ANG recruiter to set these tests up.
Finding a Unit
Check out our ANG unit pages for information on each guard unit. www.goang.com and www.ang.af.mil have units listed by state and airframe. Get to know the units in your local area and units you would like to apply to. Get in contact with recruiters there, UPT Selection Board Officials, pilots... anybody. You need to get your foot in the door.
When is your next UPT Selection Board?
What is the application window?
May I come out to visit the unit? (more on this later)
Although the application packet will vary from unit to unit, most require the same subset of information (in no order):
Copy of Last Page of Logbook
Letters of Recommendation
Some units require a photo, others don’t. Some think it is a good idea to always include a picture, and the author of this document agrees.
Although it is not necessary to have your application packet professionally bound, it is required to understand that it represents you. Take pride in your packet and strive to have it reflect your attitude.
Make sure your forms are filled out correctly.
Know things about the unit you’re applying to (don’t say you’ve always wanted to fly F-16s if you’re applying to an F-15 unit).
It’s a good idea to send your packet with some sort of delivery confirmation.
Letters of Recommendation
While it is not necessary to have Letters of Recommendation from officers in the Air Force/ANG, remember your target audience. Your main goal is to have letters from those who know you very well and can speak for your character. The Guard interview boards are interested in the “whole person concept” and letters need to speak well about you.
Try to have each letter personally addressed to the President of the UPT Selection Board (ask the unit who this is). It will give the letters more of a personal feel.
How to get Interviews
This is the $1 million dollar question. Keep in mind that you’re going up against a lot of very qualified individuals. Qualified enlisted persons in the unit are often guaranteed an interview. They’ve spent much time with the pilots in the squadron and can be accounted for by other officers in the Wing.
Usually being in the same state or region will help.
If the unit allows interested applicants to visit during drill weekends, you should take advantage of this. It can be advantageous to personally hand off your application packet. It puts a face to the name.
If you’re able to visit a unit, do not be bothersome. Take a seat on the couch and soak up the atmosphere. People will know why you’re there and will come to speak with you. Dress like you want the job. If you’re invited to go out to lunch, take the offer.
Usually about 1 month before the interviews, those selected will be notified. The notifications can be by email, phone call, or letter. You will have to pay your own way to interview (you want this job, right?). If you do not/cannot make the interview, let the unit know so they can invite someone else.
Do NOT be late (show up when the door opens and stay until it’s time to leave). Wear a suit. Look the part (hair, weight, dress). While waiting for the interview, speak with people in the unit and other applicants (chances are, you’ll see the other applicants at another unit interviewing and it’s nice to see a familiar face).
Be confident in the interview, but not cocky. Look the board members in the eye. THINK before you answer. It has been said that if you’ve been selected to interview, you ALREADY have the job. Your goal is to not talk yourself out of the interview. Stay relaxed and be honest. Before your interview, think about answers to questions that might be asked, but in the interview, try not to sound like you’re reading those answers. Pause before answering and make it come from the heart.
Most interviews will last between 20 and 40 minutes. If you visited the unit, your interview will probably be more comfortable since you’ve met the board members already. Often times, board members will give one on one interviews if you visit before the actual interview.
Often times, units will have optional parties before or after the interviews. While these are optional, you should consider them mandatory. These are where the “real” interviews happen. How much can they learn about you in a 20 minute interview? Compare that to a several hour party. Part (a BIG part) of being the Guard is fitting in with the unit. Again, don’t talk yourself out of the job. Be relaxed, cool, easy to get along with.
After the interviews, the selected person/people will usually be notified within a month. Some are notified that day, the next day, or the following week. Phone calls and letters are usually the case.
Dealing with Defeat
It is rare that someone gets selected on his or her first interview with a Guard unit. It requires experience. Realize that just being asked to interview is a big deal.
If able, call the members of the Board and ask them if they can give you pointers on why you were not selected this year. It will help not only if you are asked to interview again with them next year, but you can take this information to other interviews (you did apply to more than one unit, right?). Learn from your mistakes.
If you are not selected and plan on applying to the same unit the next year, it is IMPORTANT you do something to better yourself. Get more flying time, visit the unit some more, do community service… SOMETHING. You can almost be guaranteed that they will ask “So, what have you done since last year?” You want to have a good answer for this.
Historically, Fighter Wings have more applicants than other units. Realize this going into the process and plan accordingly. If you want the job, you’ll apply to multiple units and take the job when it is offered.
Use the Internet to your advantage. There are multiple message boards and web sites dedicated to flying in the Air Force and getting a pilot slot. Search these out. Read what others have said coming before you, as they probably had the same questions as you.
Don’t burn any bridges. Be nice and courteous to those you come in contact with. Good luck and keep at it. Realize it may take many, many interviews until you are selected and those that stick it out will find a unit. Use all your assets.