How to Become an Air Force Pilot via OTS
||Air Force OTS Basics – What is it, why is it, and is it for you?
OTS is Officer Training School – a 12-week boot-camp style program that exists to graduate commissioned officers in a fast, flexible manner. (Fast, you say? Then why does the application/selection process take so long? It’s “fast” from the Air Force perspective, when compared to the four-year pipeline of the Academy and ROTC). The Air Force commissions most of its officers (and pilots) from the Academy and ROTC. OTS is more flexible (boards can be added or cancelled easily) and exists to meet the remaining needs of the Air Force after ROTC and Academy graduates have been accounted for. Thus, if the number of Academy and ROTC pilot-selects is sufficient, or if the need for pilots has decreased, there will be fewer OTS pilot slots, and vice versa (the same concept holds for OTS slots in general). According to the Air Force Recruiting Service, OTS selects 100-120 of the 800-1000 Air Force pilot candidates each year. Bottom line: The Air Force pilot selection process for OTS can be very competitive, and in some years may be impossible (few/no boards). For more information on Air Force OTS in general, visit the OTS website.
What does this mean for you if you want a pilot slot? First, if you have at least two years remaining in your college education – consider ROTC! You may get some $$$ for your college expenses, you can usually stay at your current institution, and (though you have to participate in ROTC activities) you’ll essentially continue on as you have been. Your chances of getting a pilot slot (and a commission in general) out of ROTC are much better than OTS. For more information, compare the scores of ROTC and OTS pilot-selects on our pilot slot stats page. If you’re interested in seeing what the ROTC pilot slot process is like, check out our ROTC pilot slot page. Second, you need to decide which is more important to you – becoming an Air Force pilot or becoming an Air Force officer? There are other flying career fields, such as the Combat Systems Officer (i.e. navigator-by-a-new-name) career field, that may offer you better chances. However, if you have your sights set on becoming an Air Force pilot and ROTC isn’t an option don’t give up! If you're qualified and can put together an awesome application package, you could be one of those 100 or so pilot candidates selected each year- on your way to Maxwell and UPT! GOOD LUCK!
I. The Air Force Pilot Selection Process Via OTS
II. Making Your Air Force OTS Application Competitive
III. Just How Competitive? OTS Requirements - Selection Statistics
IV. The Results Are Out - Now What?
The Air Force Pilot Selection Process for OTS
First, review the information on this page, on AirForceOTS.com (a great site for posting questions and communicating with others going through the same process) and on the links to the left. (The AF Recruiting Service used to put a lot of good information on the web, but has unfortunately put its officer recruiting information on the AF Portal, where you can't access it unless you're already affiliated with the Air Force. We've tried to pull together the latest information from what we can find on the web, but if you know something has changed, please click the link below this article ("Be a Team Player") to update our info!). Once you’ve armed yourself with information, it’s time to talk to a recruiter (OR, if you’re currently active duty enlisted, your base education office). You will have to submit your application package via a recruiter (civilian) or your base education office (active duty enlisted). NOTE: If you’re a member of the guard or reserve, you must submit your application package via a recruiter.
OTS Application Requirements
The OTS application package for pilot candidates is fairly involved and lengthy. There will likely be additional forms, but listed below are the key pieces of any rated application. The listing below contains only short descriptions of each element, for more information on maximizing your application see “Making Your Application Competitive” below.
||This is similar to a resume, limited to two pages. You can download a template here (based on the format provided in the BOT Application Guide). Your recruiter/base education office may have a preferred template for your use.
|AF IMT 56
||Application and Evaluation for Training Leading to a Commission in the USAF. You will fill out your portions of the form online using a login/PIN given to you by your recruiter. This is the form on which you can rank your two rated program choices (pilot, navigator or air battle manager). To see what the form contains, download a .pdf version here.
||The AFOQT is a standardized test with verbal and math sections similar to the GRE or SAT plus additional unique sections used to calculate pilot and navigator scores. You receive five different scores from the AFOQT: Pilot, Navigator, Academic Aptitude, Verbal and Quantitative. Your recruiter or the base education office will help you schedule the AFOQT; typically it can be taken at an AFROTC Detachment at a local university or at the base education office. For more on the AFOQT, visit our AFOQT strategy page!
||You must provide copies of your official transcripts for the application. There is no longer a minimum GPA for OTS applicants (except for those applying for the Technical Degree Sponsorship Program). GPA info is not even filled out on your Form 56. Therefore, expect a great deal of focus on PCSM and AFOQT scores!
||All pilot candidates must take the Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS), which is a computer-based test designed to aid in pilot selection. (This is the test that replaced the BAT - Basic Attributes Test - in summer 2006). Your TBAS score is incorporated into your PCSM score. You can take the test twice. For more, visit our TBAS information page!
||The Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) score combines your AFOQT Pilot score, your TBAS score, and your flying hours in an attempt to predict your ability to succeed at pilot training.
||For civilian applicants: You will be interviewed by a military officer. It is possible you may have some choice in the selection of your interviewer; it is generally better to have an interviewer be a major or above (captains or below require an indorsing signature from a field-grade officer).
For active duty enlisted applicants: Your interview must be with your unit commander.
For a copy of the form filled out by interviewers, see page 6 of the AF IMT 56.
|Letters of Recommendation
||For civilian applicants: You must have a minimum of 3, maximum of 5 letters of recommendation. As with most applications, letters serve you best when they are from individuals who know you well and can provide specific examples of how outstanding you are. For an example format, see the OTS Application Guide - Civilian (latest version linked on the left-hand side of this page).
For active duty enlisted applicants: One Letter of Recommendation is allowed. It must be from someone in your chain of command, no higher than the senior rater (normally the wing commander). It is recommended that you have someone other than your unit commander write it, because his/her comments will already be recorded as part of the interview process. For a sample format, see the OTS Application Guide - Enlisted (latest version linked on the left-hand side of the page).
|Private Pilot’s License
||If you have a private/commercial pilot’s license, you should submit a copy with the application. This is good to have!
|Current/Prior Service Military Records
||If you’re currently enlisted or prior service you must submit copies of all your military records (EPRs, etc) as well as copies of discharge paperwork (prior service).
|Commissioning or Flying Physical
||You must complete a commissioning physical at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) prior to submitting your application. (Active duty applicants will complete this at their local military clinic or have a medical records review done certifying they meet the standards). The recruiter will schedule it for you. Click here to see a list of MEPS locations. If you are close to the age cut-off (i.e. "age critical"), you will have to begin or complete your Flying Class I physical prior to submitting your application. (All others will complete it after being selected for pilot training).
Do You Meet the Minimums? Do You Need Any Waivers?
Check this list to determine whether or not you meet the minimum qualifications to apply for a pilot slot via OTS. These minimums are waiverable where noted, but even if ‘waiverable’ is not noted, make sure you check with a recruiter/your base education office. Waivers change frequently and there’s always a chance you may get an Exception To Policy (e.g. a waiver) for your situation. These minimums are taken from the AF Recruiting Service BOT Program Announcement (Table 1)(latest version linked on the left-hand side of this page as "OTS Application Guide - Civilian") and Air Force Recruiting Service Instruction (AFRSI) 36-2001, Recruiting Procedures for the Air Force (Chapter 3, dated 1 Apr 05).
- Age: You must be able to begin OTS no later than age 29.1 years (so you must start by a little more than a month after you turn 29). If you are between age 28 and age 29 as of the date the selection board convenes, you are considered "age critical." You will have to initiate or complete the proper physical (e.g. FC1 for pilot candidates) before applying. The age requirement is in place to give you enough time to meet the board, get an OTS class date, complete OTS, and enter a UPT class prior to your 30th birthday.
- Degree: Completed degree or within at least 270 days (enlisted) or 365 days (civilian) of degree completion; your academic major does not matter (for rated applications).
- AFOQT: Pilot Score 25; Nav Score 10; Pilot + Nav Score 50; Verbal 15; Quantitative 10 (not waiverable)
- GPA: There is no longer a minimum GPA required in order to apply.
- PCSM: No minimum at this time. (Minimums may be reinstated once more data is gathered on the TBAS-based PCSMs).
- Medical: There are a lot of medical requirements for commissioning and flying, but here are the highlights – and almost everything is waiverable:
- Physicals required: All applicants (including pilot applicants) must complete a commissioning physical at MEPS (or, if active duty, at the clinic, or a records review), a copy of which is submitted with the application. Most applicants will complete their Flying Class I physical after being selected for a pilot slot, but applicants nearing the age cutoff (and those seeking age waivers) should at least start their physicals prior to the board.
- Vision: For pilot applicants, only PRK is waiverable (must be at least one year from the date of the operation). LASIK is disqualifying for pilot applicants. Distant vision must be 20/70, correctable to 20/20. Near vision must be 20/20. Pilot applicants must pass depth perception and color vision tests.
- Height: Standing height 64-77 inches, sitting height 34-40 inches.
- Other: There’s a host of other requirements for hearing, for vision, and other general medical requirements. But the good news is that a lot is waiverable these days. See our page on medical qualifications for pilot training!
The USAF OTS Board Process
Boards can be divided into two programs: rated (including the pilot, navigator and air battle management sub-programs) and non-rated (including the technical and non-technical subprograms). Any given board may consider all programs, or only a subset (e.g. rated only). Each board consists of 10 Air Force colonels or colonel-selects. Rated board members will evaluate rated applicants - each application will be scored by 3 officers, who will score the application on a scale of 6-10.
You can put down two rated program choices on your application. If you are selected for both programs you will be awarded your first choice. If you are not selected, your application will automatically roll over to the next board. (NOTE: The AF Recruiting Service frequently changes the rules regarding whether applications will automatically roll to the next board. We try to keep up with the times, but be sure to double-check and make sure your recruiter has the latest information).
If you are not selected on the second board, you can reapply 180 days after the date of your non-selection.
The number of boards varies from year to year. There were three boards in FY08 (two for rated applications), and four scheduled for FY09 (two rated). You can expect results approximately four weeks after the board convenes. The best source for an up-to-date schedule of Air Force OTS board application dates is airforceots.com because the AF Recruiting Service stopped publicly posting the schedule.
Making Your Air Force OTS Application Competitive
WWII US Army Air Forces Recruiting Poster
Buy this Giclee Print at AllPosters.com
|It’s a Competitive World Out There
But we didn’t have to tell you that. What can you do to put your application into the “select” stack? First, focus on things you can control, like your AFOQT scores. Second, (another obvious one) is this: proofread, proofread, proofread. Sure, the recruiter or education office counselor will be quality-checking your application also – but it’s your future as a pilot on the line. Third, although you’re specifically competing for a pilot slot, you’re also being chosen based on your potential as an Air Force officer – make sure you emphasize leadership across your application (your profile/resume, comments on the application form, work experience, etc). See below for more specific tips on individual parts of the application, listed in a very general and unofficial most-to-least important order. We have pulled some of these tips from the OTS Board Results Release Messages, which used to be posted on the Hill AFB Education Office site but are unfortunately no longer available (click here for an archived version of the page).
Interview and Application Form (AF IMT 56)
We listed this first because the BOT Program Announcement states “There is no doubt that the AF IMT 56 is the most critical document in an application." The following tips for improving your AF IMT 56 are derived from the Frequently Asked Questions section of the BOT Program Announcement.
- Item 22 and continuation section: This is your “personal statement” as well as your opportunity to explain anything that is remotely negative or unclear in your application. For the personal statement portion, make sure you use all the space available and address your objectives with respect to officership and flying duty. It should be concise and well-crafted – try to get one or two people you know who are good writers to edit it. Make sure you take the opportunity to address any potential negatives, too. You can use the space in Item 22 or use the continuation space to explain other items on the form (such as a brush with the law, etc). Whatever you do, don’t let there be any unanswered questions in the board’s mind! If you can, spin the event in a positive way – what you learned from that underage drinking bust, etc. According to the Announcement, unanswered questions “cause board members to be concerned, which often lowers a board score” – don’t let that happen to you! The need to explain/address negative information was an emphasis item from several previous boards.
- Interview: Unfortunately, this is a very important item that’s only partially within your control. What you can’t control is whether your interviewer takes the time and care to write up a good interview profile. What you CAN control is making a good enough impression that your interviewer will take the necessary time with your application. If you’re enlisted and being interviewed by your unit commander, hopefully your commander will care enough about your career and the (presumably good) work you’ve done for your unit to take the time. Your unit commander will also have more data to work with for writing up the interview. Civilian or enlisted, if you do end up interviewing with someone who doesn’t know you at all, watch out for these common pitfalls:
- Interviewers ‘cut and paste’ bullets, either overlooking name/pronoun changes or using the same bullets on a number of applications for the same board
- Bullets written are weak and do not stratify (above average, top applicant, etc). This was an emphasis item on several previous boards.
- Interviewers don’t write enough bullets - they should fill up the available space!
- A special note for enlisted applicants – Another emphasis item from previous boards was that interviewer bullets need to cover “new ground” and should not be cut and paste from EPRs (or other documents already available in your application package).
- What can you do if this happens to you? Not much, unfortunately. But if you make a good enough impression on your interviewer, he/she should take the necessary time to write a good evaluation.
- The official application guides recommend that you get a major or higher to conduct the interview.
Even though the board uses a “whole person” concept, your ‘numbers’ are obviously very important. As a pilot candidate, one of the most important numbers is your PCSM score. The Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) is an index that is supposed to quantify a pilot candidate's aptitude for success at Undergraduate Flying Training (UFT). The PCSM incorporates your AFOQT Pilot score, the results from your TBAS, and your flying hours. Click here for the official PCSM information page.
- When you look up your PCSM (which can only be done once you’ve taken the AFOQT and TBAS), you are given a scale indicating what your PCSM would be with additional flight hours. Flying hours may be a good way to increase your PCSM score if you have the money and time.
- If you’re truly concerned about your PCSM (but don’t have the $$$ or time for a ton of flight hours) you might want to look at re-taking the AFOQT if your AFOQT pilot score is low. If you have a relatively high AFOQT but low PCSM, the problem MAY be your TBAS score. You should be able to take the TBAS twice in your lifetime. There has to be a six-month interval between tests. Click here for more information on the TBAS!
You can look up your AFOQT scores here. If you’ve determined that it’s your AFOQT you need to improve, here are some tips:
By the time you’re applying to OTS, you’re probably beyond the point where you can do much about your undergraduate grades. There is no minimum GPA required to apply for OTS, and your GPA is no longer calculated and entered on your IMT 56, but the board will still have your transcripts. Therefore, it remains to be seen how much grades will count in the "whole person" evaluation, and you may be able to offset lower undergraduate grades with graduate work. This is particularly effective if you’ve been out of college for a few years. You might want to write a short explanation for your low undergrad GPA (unfocused, not ready for college, etc) and couple that with evidence that you’ve changed in the form of excellent graduate grades.
Similarly to the ‘personal statement’ in Item 22 of the AF IMT 56, the applicant profile is an important part of the application that you can easily maximize. You want to provide as much information as possible while highlighting your leadership skills and officer potential. Don’t waste space listing generic work-related bullets – make them action-oriented, specific, and targeted towards leadership and communication skills.
- Take advantage of the full two pages if you have significant experience, but don’t fill up two pages with ‘fluff.’ As with anything you submit, a clean writing style and flawless proofreading are critical. If you have the ‘numbers,’ you don’t want to give them any reason NOT to select you – and if you don’t have the ‘numbers’ you need to highlight your work/life experience and other ‘whole person’ factors even more.
- If you’re stumped for how to structure work experience bullets, check out these resume resources. Each bullet should be limited to one line (if possible) and relate to a specific accomplishment – don’t just list typical responsibilities on a typical day. (These links are for traditional employment resumes; obviously you’ll have a format dictated to you so you should ignore the advice on format).
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of Recommendation are a great way to flesh out the board’s idea of the ‘whole person’ you. They are particularly effective if they provide ‘evidence’ in support of the capabilities you are already highlighting to the board without actually duplicating much of the same information you’ve already provided. The only real control you have over the letter of recommendation is choosing your recommenders, so choose carefully! (Because applicants who are currently enlisted must choose a recommender within their chain of command, this is less applicable to them). (Of course, in some cases you may be able to draft the actual letter or provide inputs, depending on what your recommender would prefer). Here are some considerations:
- Even though you won't technically be penalized for the writing abilities of your recommender, try to choose someone you know writes well – after all, the better the writer, the better they’ll be able to convey the message that the Air Force would be crazy not to give you a pilot slot.
- Do not choose someone famous/high-ranking who does not know you well. A generic letter – which is all you’re likely to get from Senator so-and-so – is, at best, a wasted piece of the application package. Don’t shy away from high-ranking types if they know you well – a general who has had many people under his command would be an excellent recommender if he knows you well and is going to say “the top person in my organization.”
- Provide plenty of information to help the recommender out – provide a copy of your resume/profile, advance notice on all deadlines, and inputs on what you’d like to convey with the letter if the recommender is amenable to such advice.
- Only provide more than the three required letters if the additional letters have something substantial to add. If it’s ‘more of the same’ you risk cluttering up your package with paper that doesn’t help you much.
Private Pilot’s License (PPL)
The Air Force used to consider a PPL so important that there were different minimum standards (GPA, AFOQT, etc) for individuals with PPLs. Though the standards are now the same, having a PPL likely still has some merit in the eyes of those who select pilots. The generally accepted wisdom is that you must have some sort of flying experience to be competitive for a pilot board.
Ask others – and good luck!
Use a community site like AirForceOTS.com to ask successful applicants if they have any advice to improve your chances. Allow yourself enough time to make your application package fantastic – if you are not "age critical," meeting the next board isn’t as important as getting selected by a board. If you have any questions or tips for others, post them here!
Just How Competitive?
What Are Your Chances?
No one can predict what “it will take” to get selected for a pilot slot on any given board. Additionally, because the boards follow the “whole person concept,” you can’t tell the entire story solely by looking at applicants’ numbers. All the same, colleges use the “whole person concept” too, but you still probably had an idea of what SAT score was ‘in the ballpark’ for any given college when you applied, right? You can use these tools to get an idea of what the ballpark looks like for OTS pilot selections.
Pilot Candidate Stats
Enter your stats and compare them with others who are competing for a pilot slot on the same OTS board.
Pilot Slot Stats
A great place to check to see whether or not your numbers are ‘competitive’ is our Pilot Slot Stats page. Our data is based on users who enter their ‘vitals’ – AFOQT, PCSM, GPA, etc. You can view all the individual records or choose from a number of different charts to display the data. Our data only gets better as more users enter their information – if you are selected for a pilot slot from OTS, enter your numbers here!
AF OTS Selection Statistics
Lucky for you, the AF Recruiting Service releases average statistics on those selected for OTS for each board. For reference (because you get two rated program choices) we’ve compiled pilot, navigator and air battle manager selection data here. Because the statistics were reported differently for different boards, there may not be a ‘data point’ for each category for each year. We have taken the data from OTS selection messages that used to be posted on the Hill AFB Education Office website. Unfortunately they are no longer posted (click here for an archived version of the page) and we don't know of any source for more current messages/data, but we thought this data was still recent enough to be useful. CLICK HERE FOR CHARTS showing AFOQT scores and GPAs or click here to download the OTS selection data in excel format.
Here are some additional statistics gleaned from the OTS selection messages
|Pilot Requirements Allocated to OTS
||Average PCSM of Pilot Candidates Selected for OTS*
|*During this time, OTS used the PCSM-IFT, which calculated the score with 50 flight hours.
The Results Are Out – Now What?
Congratulations! You’re a Pilot Select – What's in Store in the Next Twelve Months?
- Complete Your Flying Class I Physical (initial), unless you completed it prior to the board due to your age.
- Complete and submit security clearance paperwork.
- Go to OTS – You will be scheduled for an OTS class as soon as copies of the flight physical are received by the Air Force Recruiting Service. For a listing of OTS class dates, click here.
- Complete more medical screening (at Brooks AFB, Texas). Note: You must remove your contact lenses 30 days (soft) or 90 days (hard) prior to your initial physical and continue not to wear them until after the medical screening at Brooks.
- Complete Initial Flight Screening (IFS) (formerly IFT - Initial Flight Training). This is a standard-curriculum flight training program run by civilian contractors in Pueblo, Colorado.
- Enter Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at one of five bases: Laughlin AFB, TX; Vance AFB, OK; Columbus AFB, MS; NAS Pensacola; Sheppard AFB, TX (ENJJPT Application and Selection Board at OTS - Click here to learn more about how to earn ENJJPT selection at OTS)
You Didn’t Make It – What Are Your Options?
Your application will roll over automatically to the next board. You should consider picking the least competitive rated option for your second choice – your recruiter or base education office should have the latest statistics whether the CSO (navigator) or ABM career fields have the greatest need. If you don’t get picked up on the second board, you can reapply after 180 days. Or, you could apply for a non-rated board, depending on how much you want an active duty commission. Remember that if you obtain an active duty commission in another career field – either your second rated choice or a non-rated field, you can always apply for a pilot slot from active duty. However, active duty pilot slots are highly competitive (even more so than OTS, most years) – check out our guide to getting an active duty pilot slot here. Another option is to pursue a pilot slot via the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve – most units have one UPT slot a year and hold a selection board annually. (The AF Reserve holds one combined board, but units still have some unit-specific process to select a candidate to sponsor for the overall board). More Air National Guard pilot slot information is available here. Either way, if you’re still interested, don’t just give up after OTS – explore your other options, consider the other military services, and good luck!