How to Become an Air Force Pilot From AFROTC
I. Getting Started – Getting Into the POC
II. The AFROTC Pilot Slot Categorization Process
III. AFROTC Pilot Slot Selection Factors
IV. The Results Are Out - Now What?
Getting Started – Getting Into the Professional Officer Course (POC)
What is the POC anyhow?
The POC describes the last two years for the AFROTC program. The process of getting a POC ‘slot’ is called getting an enrollment allocation. Generally speaking, you can sign up for AFROTC classes and participate in AFROTC at your local college/university or a cross-town school in the first two years without owing the government anything – and without the government owing you anything – including a commission. Once you enter the POC, however (typically in your junior year) – you are under contract. You’ll know because you’ll enlist in the Air Force reserve and get an ID card and everything. You’ll also start getting a stipend and may qualify for additional financial assistance. (The bit about contracts does NOT apply to scholarship cadets, who are under contract as soon as the scholarship money starts flowing – as freshmen, sophomores – whenever. However you still compete for an enrollment allocation, even as a scholarship cadet. If you don’t receive one, you are investigated for disenrollment – which means no more scholarship). At this point, the government starts to consider you a ‘sure’ thing (if you fail to complete the program you can even owe enlisted time) and you can start to consider the Air Force a sure thing – they intend to commission you and bring you on to active duty. Of course, the Air Force could still release you if they want, even once you’re under contract – but it’s unlikely. So why in the world are we telling you all this?
Because to get to the categorization process – which is how you get an AFROTC pilot slot – you must first make sure you’ve got an enrollment allocation. In classic cart before the horse fashion, it’s easy to get caught up looking at the categorization process and miss the basics – you have to get into the POC first.
Okay, so we’ll admit even we used to think this was a non-step, a given. In the ‘good ol’ days’ as long as you met the minimums you didn’t really have to worry about getting into the POC. In the past few years, we had heard reports that it had gotten a lot more difficult due to Air Force 'force shaping' efforts. The good news is that everything you do to make sure you get an enrollment allocation will make help when it comes time to compete for that pilot slot – and in any event, it appears the pendulum has begun to swing the other way and it is once again “come one, come all” to the POC. In case you were wondering, or if you’d like more information, most of the info on the selection and categorization process was taken straight from the horse’s mouth – AFROTC Instruction 36-2013 dated 21 May 2007. (The recent trend has been for the Air Force to move publications and other information - completely unclassified, public information - to sites that require some sort of Air Force affiliation to access. Which is great if you're already in the Air Force, but if you're reading this page, there's a good chance you're not affiliated (yet). This AFROTCI is still pretty current, but we may not be able to find updated versions. If you have updated information, please let us know, or - even better - you can update this article yourself by clicking the link at the bottom of the article).
Competing for a POC Enrollment Allocation
You will compete for an enrollment allocation in the Spring of your AS200 year (normally your sophomore year). You compete prior to attending Field Training (FT) (the AFROTC mandatory summer program) but your enrollment allocation can be jeopardized by a sub-standard FT performance. There are also ‘out-of-cycle’ enrollment allocation boards, but the vast majority of cadets will go through the main board. All of the following timeframes apply to the main board. The selection factors are the same regardless of the cycle. Each factor accounts for a certain number of points in your overall Order of Merit score – for more on the selection factors and Order of Merit formula, see below.
The Basic Enrollment Allocation Process (Sophomore Year)
January: Start of nomination period. Your AFROTC detachment must nominate you. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but if somehow the detachment has gotten the idea that you don’t care (e.g. you don’t show up for AFROTC class), you need to run a PR campaign to make sure the detachment leadership understands you’ve had a change of heart, are more focused now, etc. Some detachments may have an internal competition to decide who to nominate also, such as requiring a slightly higher PFT standard. Obviously you also have to meet all the minimum standards or receive waivers – they are discussed in more detail below.
Mid-February: Deadline for Detachment nominations.
First Week of March: POC selection board held. Though the board meets at one time, they may hold separate boards based on the ‘needs of the Air Force’ for individuals with critical skills or abilities (desired foreign languages or academic majors, for example).
Third Week of March: POC selection results released.
Enrollment Allocation Selection Factors
The minimum standards you have to meet in order to be nominated for an enrollment allocation are described below, along with the extent to which that factor matters for your Order of Merit (OM) score. A note on the OM score – although the factors are different between the POC selection board and the categorization board, in both cases the OM is a (maximum) 100 point score that allows ROTC to rank-order cadets from many detachments. A summary of the POC selection Order of Merit formula follows the description of selection factors. (NOTE – There’s an OM calculator at the top of this page but it applies to categorization and not to the POC selection formula).
|Relative Standing Score (RSS)||This score is computed based on your Unit Commander’s Ranking (UCR). The detachment commander will rank all cadets in a given year group. Based on that ranking and the size of the class, AFROTC computes a RSS. The RSS ranges from 5-10 and is multiplied by 5 to arrive at up to 50 maximum possible OM points. You should have had a slight intake of breath as you read that – 50 points out of 100? Yes. Your unit commander ranking is HUGE in competitive ROTC boards – including categorization, but more on that later. To see how many RSS points you’ll receive based on your estimated class rank and class size, scroll down to the UCR/RSS chart and enter your class size to display a chart.|
|Cumulative GPA||Your GPA will be re-computed to include ROTC courses (if your institution does not include them) and to be on a 4.0 scale. It will be multiplied by 5 to give you up to 20 maximum possible OM points. You must also meet a GPA minimum of 2.0.|
|SAT-R||What? The SAT? As in the Scholastic Assessment Test? Yes, the very same. The “R” denotes scores from 1995 and later. If you took the SAT-R and provided that information to the detachment, your actual SAT score will be used. If you didn’t take the SAT, your ACT or AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualifying Test) Academic Aptitude score will be converted to an SAT-R score (the conversion chart is at Table 2.2 in AFROTCI 36-2013). By the way, just because you have an SAT score doesn’t keep you from having to take the AFOQT – you still have to meet AFOQT minimums (see below). Your SAT is multiplied by a wacky number (.009375) to arrive at a maximum of 15 possible OM points. It is unclear how the “New” SAT (with scores up to 2400) will be used. WantsCheck.Com Tip: As long as you meet the AFOQT minimums (even if your scores aren’t great), so long as you have a decent SAT-R score… do NOT waste your AFOQT retake (everyone can take it twice) on the POC enrollment allocation. Wait to retake it prior to the categorization board and use the extra time to prepare and get an excellent Pilot score.|
|Physical Fitness Test (PFT)||You will take the PFT every fall and spring and you must pass – achieve a minimum score of 75 – to compete for a POC slot. The PFT consists of sit-ups, push-ups, and a 1.5 mile run. Your PFT score ranges from 75 to 100 and is multiplied by .15 for a maximum of 15 possible OM points. Click here to see requirements to achieve a maximum score.|
|AFOQT||The Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (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. You must achieve minimum scores of 15 (Verbal) and 10 (Quantitative). Your AFOQT Academic Aptitude score may also be converted to an SAT-R score for the purposes of Order of Merit points if you haven’t taken the SAT. For more on the AFOQT, visit our AFOQT strategy page!|
|Medical||You must complete an enlistment physical and meet basic medical eligibility requirements prior to being nominated for the POC. (If you’re a scholarship cadet you will have completed this physical prior to going on contract). Your detachment will help schedule the physical.|
|Waivers||If you need waivers (for previous ‘civil involvements’ – i.e. arrests – or any other issues), they must be approved prior to your nomination.|
POC Selection Order of Merit Summary
50% (50 points)
20% (20 points)
15% (15 points)
15% (15 points)
A Few Final Notes on Getting Into the POC
While your performance at Field Training (FT) is not taken into account for POC selection purposes (because the board happens before you go to Field Training), you will definitely lose your enrollment allocation if you receive an “Unsatisfactory” rating at FT and will almost certainly lose your enrollment allocation if you receive a "Marginal" rating (waivers may be available for scholarship cadets only). Basically, you must receive a “Satisfactory” or higher rating to continue in the program. Of course, poor performance at FT will also affect your categorization chances. If you are not selected for the POC the first time around – don’t give up! You can extend your graduation/commissioning date into the next fiscal year and compete again – and because manning requirements can change significantly from year to year, your chances may be much greater in the next fiscal year.
The AFROTC Pilot Slot Categorization Process
|Congrats! You Made it Into the POC – Now What?|
Now you can move on to the second stage of becoming an Air Force pilot – the categorization process. Categorization normally occurs during your junior year (AS 300). Similar to the POC selection process, the categorization board uses an Order of Merit (OM) score on a 100-point scale. The different elements of the OM score are described below, along with tips for improving your OM score. There’s an OM calculator at the top of the page, plus you can view a summary chart of the OM formula below.
The Basic Categorization Process (Junior Year)
January 1: Deadline for Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS) completion.
January 15: Deadline for flight hours to be recorded/adjusted.
January: Start of nomination period. You must indicate an interest in a rated slot (as well as rank-order your choices) – detachments do not automatically nominate everyone. You must also indicate your interest in ENJJPT. If you also put down nav as your second choice, you must indicate your interest in the Strike/Strike Fighter track. You can download a categorization request memo template on the left-hand side of this page (based on the example in AFROTCI 36-2013).
Mid-February: Deadline for nominations.
First Week of March: Categorization board held. The pilot board is held first, followed by the navigator board and then the Air Battle Manager (ABM) board. Once you've been selected on a board, you will not compete in any subsequent boards.
Third Week of March: Categorization results released!
Last Week of Sept: Categorization continuation board, ENJJPT selection and Strike/Strike Fighter track selection (for navs). Because some number of cadets have not completed field training at the time of the first categorization board, a small number of slots are held for a continuation board. All cadets who were not selected in the March board will compete on this board. Also, ENJJPT and Strike track selections are done at this time.
First Week of Oct: Categorization continuation, ENJJPT, and Strike track results released!!
AFROTC Pilot Slot Selection Factors
|Relative Standing Score (RSS)|
Just like the POC selection process, this score is computed based on your Unit Commander’s Ranking (UCR). Based on that ranking and the size of the class, AFROTC computes a RSS. The RSS ranges from 5-10 and is multiplied by 5 to arrive at up to 50 maximum possible OM points. Once again, it is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in your Order of Merit score. We can’t emphasize enough how important your commander’s ranking is. To see how many RSS points you’ll receive based on your estimated class rank and class size, scroll down to the UCR/RSS chart and enter your class size to display a chart.
- FYI, your class ranking includes all of the members of your class, not just those competing for rated slots.
Sidebar: What Should You Study?
From one perspective, your academic major has no bearing on your selection for a pilot slot – it is not part of the OM calculation. From another perspective, however, it can matter greatly. One of the most important pieces of information we can provide ROTC cadets that are looking for pilot slots is this... If you take a scholarship to get a degree the Air Force really needs (like computer science, or nursing) you may be hurting your chances of getting a pilot slot. To quote from AFPC:
“First off, you need to understand one thing before we get into a discussion about getting what you want -- you're under contract to the United States Air Force. Part of that contract may be a scholarship for a very specific degree area, or merely for a certain category of specialty. When you signed that contract, it was with the understanding that the Air Force has a vested interest in the skills you will possess when you graduate and are commissioned. Therefore, you can expect to be classified into a specialty which makes use of the skills you acquired in college, particularly if you were given a scholarship to do so.
Does that mean everyone is automatically locked into certain specialties? Not necessarily, although there are some exceptions, most notably, electrical engineers, computer engineers, and computer programmers/analysts. The market for these skills is highly competitive -- and Air Force need for those skills may drive classification into those specialties regardless of an individual's wishes.”
Though this quote is no longer on the redesigned AFPC website, we feel it still accurately summarize's AFPC's outlook on classification. In other words, put yourself in the shoes of the ROTC program... You have one pilot slot to give out and you've got a cadet with a 3.8 GPA in meteorology and a cadet with a 3.1 in Political Science. Who's going to get the pilot slot? If you think it's the meteorology major then you may want to reconsider. Recruiters want to fill critically needed positions (and ROTC instructors are recruiters). They pay you for a reason. Now if the Air Force really needs pilots then this rule doesn't apply as much. But when the slots start tightening up...watch out. Just don't be fooled when they say “your degree doesn't matter for pilot selection.” It can, particularly with a scholarship. Remember, this rule isn't absolute and there are many factors. You may very well get the pilot slot with your computer science degree. But you may be risking your pilot slot.
Okay, So It’s Time to Pick A Major…
Although the section above came from a quote from AFPC, we'll now jump into the realm of opinion. And you know all about opinions... The golden rule of degree selection is - Study What You Enjoy!
If there is a subject that you're passionate about (we're talking academics here) then go for that. You increase your chances of getting a higher GPA, you'll probably be able to spend more time involving yourself in ROTC (since things people enjoy are often easier for them), and it makes college fun. If you enjoy super thermal bio-nuclear physics...then, by all means, go for it! (But if your Det only has one pilot slot per year and the Air Force is super short on super thermal bio-nuclear physicists...).
Now let’s say you read the words above (“passionate about“) and draw a blank trying to fit that in with school. College ideally should be a time to open your mind and develop a curiosity and a passion for learning. Doesn't always happen that way, though, and even if you don't ever shed the “it's just the degree checkbox” mentality, you may need to make up your mind in a hurry to get a scholarship. This is indeed a tough situation and will require you to soul search to make the right choice.
Some of you may just wanna check the box so you can fly and blow stuff up. So you're saying, “what can I major in that will make the Air Force want to give me a pilot slot?“ You may even be tempted to fall for that age old fallacy that “math and pilots go together.” Unless you want to become a test pilot or an astronaut, technical degrees like engineering or physics or higher math will do you little good on the Road to Wings. It doesn't take much math to be a pilot. If you can balance a checkbook then you're over qualified to fly a jet. If you find yourself saying, “yeah, I hated pre-algebra and I never quite understood the one apple and one apple concept, but I really want to be a pilot so I'll work really really hard at Astro-Physical Engineering!“ you may want to take caution. Many have taken that path and the only wings they end up with are the ones at BW3.
To sum it up, for those of you that have no clue what you should study and no burning desire one way or the other, you need to make an honest self reflected assessment and make a choice. Good luck!
Your GPA will be re-computed to include ROTC courses (if your institution does not include them) and to be on a 4.0 scale. It will be multiplied by 3.75 to give you up to 15 maximum possible OM points. You must also meet a GPA minimum of 2.0.
Physical Fitness Test (PFT)
You must pass the PFT every fall and spring while you’re in the POC – which means achieving a minimum score of 75. Your PFT score ranges from 75 to 100 and can earn you a maximum of 10 OM points. Your PFT performance will also factor into your FT performance rating. Click here to see requirements to achieve a maximum score.
Field Training (FT)
Field Training is the four or six week mandatory ROTC training camp. Your FT performance will be scored as follows: 10 (Distinguished Graduate, top 10%), 9 (Superior Performer, next 10%), 8 (Top Third, not DG or SP), 7 (Middle Third), 6 (Bottom Third) and 5 (Not yet attended, for whatever reason, there have been cadets at FT who already had their pilot slots.) --The FT rating (from 5-10) gives you 5-10 possible OM points. For more about Field Training, download the AFROTC Field Training Manual here!
Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) Score
This score is worth up to 15 maximum OM points but applies to pilot candidates only. The PCSM is an index that is supposed to quantify a pilot candidate's aptitude for success at Undergraduate Flying Training (UFT). It incorporates your AFOQT Pilot score, the results from your TBAS test, and your flying hours. (For more on the TBAS, see below). 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. If you need to and can afford it/have the time – get some flight hours to increase your PCSM.
- Make sure you properly document your flight hours and get them turned into PCSM folks at AETC by January 15 of your categorization year. You can find instructions for updating your flight hours here and download a flying hours update letter template on the left-hand side of the page.
|Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) Score|
Your AFOQT score matters in a number of ways, depending on whether you’re a pilot, navigator or ABM candidate.
- All candidates must have a minimum score of 15 (Verbal) and 10 (Quantitative). These are not waiverable for categorization even if you were able to get a waiver to get into the POC.
- Pilot candidates must have a minimum score of 25 (Pilot), 10 (Navigator) and 50 (Pilot + Navigator). Also, your AFOQT Pilot score will factor into your PCSM score for OM purposes.
- Navigator candidates must have a minimum score of 10 (Pilot), 25 (Navigator) and 50 (Pilot + Navigator). Also, you will receive up to 15 maximum OM points from your AFOQT Navigator score.
- For ABM candidates, your AFOQT Academic Aptitude score will count for up to 15 maximum OM points.
- You can take the AFOQT twice with a 180-day minimum interval between tests. You used to be able to get a waiver to take the test a third time if you had “completed (since the previous AFOQT administration) at least two college courses in subjects relevant to the AFOQT, gained significant flying experience, or improved other skills and abilities measured by the AFOQT." That waiver option no longer appears in the most current version of the AFI on testing, but you might consider asking about it anyway. NOTE: Your most recent scores are the ones that matter, so if you retake, make sure you improve!
- Make sure to concentrate on the sections that are used to determine the composite score that matters to you. You can find out which sections those are, as well as great AFOQT preparation tools and strategy on our AFOQT page!
|Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS)|
This is the test that replaced the BAT (Basic Attributes Test) as of August 2006. All pilot candidates must take the TBAS, which is a computer-based test designed to aid in pilot selection. Typically, you are offered an opportunity to take it at field training. It will be incorporated into your PCSM score and thus into your OM score. You can take the TBAS twice as long as there is a 180-day interval between tests.
- You will never receive a TBAS score per se, but if you look up your PCSM and it is low despite a decent AFOQT Pilot score, you might want to consider a TBAS retake. The most recent TBAS score is the one that counts. For more on the TBAS, visit our TBAS information page!
You will not receive an additionally physical prior to the categorization board. Instead, whatever physical you used to enter onto contract status will be screened for PPQ (Potential Pilot Qualification) and/or PNQ (Potential Navigator Qualification) status. The requirements for PPQ/PNQ are:
- PPQ 20/70 (distant vision), 20/20 (near), refractive limits +2.00/-1.50, .75 astigmatism
- PNQ 20/200 (distant vision), 20/40 (near), refractive limits +3.00/-2.75, 2.00 astigmatism
- Source: AFOATSI 36-2011, para. 3.11
Once you have been selected you will have to complete a Flying Class I (pilot) or IA (navigator) physical prior to commissioning. Click here for more on medical qualifications for pilot training.
Because pilot and navigator candidates must enter training prior to their 30th birthdays, you must be scheduled to graduate and receive your commission prior to your 29th birthday. This cannot be waived (see AFROTCI 36-2013 paragraph 3.2.4).
Categorization Order of Merit Summary
50% (50 points)
15% (15 points)
10% (10 points)
10% (10 points)
PCSM (P only)
15% (15 points)
AFOQT-N (N only)
15% (15 points)
AFOQT-AA (ABM only)
15% (15 points)
*This chart is reproduced exactly from AFROTCI 36-2013. However, we think this is a typo and that the multiplier is actually 0.10 (which works out correctly for the 10% weight). We have used 0.10 in our OM calculator (top of the page).
What Are Your Chances?
No one can predict what “it will take” to get selected for a pilot slot in any given year. Because the Order of Merit depends so heavily on the Unit Commander’s Ranking, you can’t tell the entire story solely by looking at pilot candidates’ more objective numbers. All the same, it’s likely that objective factors (GPA, scores, etc) do influence unit commanders, and they’re still an important part of your OM score. Unfortunately HQ AFROTC does not appear to release the OM ‘cut-off’ or any statistical data on those who receive AFROTC pilot slots, but we’re putting together our own database! Check out our Pilot Slot Stats page to see average AFOQT scores, PCSM scores and more for those who garnered pilot slots. 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 an AFROTC pilot slot, enter your numbers here!
The Results Are Out – Now What?
Congratulations! You’ve Got a Pilot Slot – What Next?
- Complete Your Flying Class I Physical prior to commissioning.
- Complete and submit security clearance paperwork.
- Graduate and be commissioned – Congrats!
- Complete more medical screening (at Brooks AFB, Texas). Note: You must remove your contact lenses 30 days (soft) or 90 days (hard) prior the medical screening at Brooks.
- Complete Initial Flight Screening (IFS). This is an initial flight screening program which in recent years involved civilian flight training. However, the program is transitioning to a contracted flight screening in Colorado beginning October 2006. Whether you have your PPL or not you will go to IFS. Everyone has to make it through the 6 week program.
- Enter Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at one of five bases: Laughlin AFB, TX, Vance AFB, OK, Columbus AFB, MS, or NAS Pensacola. Cadets selected for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) will go to Sheppard AFB, TX.
NOTE: If you aren’t able to graduate/commission within the same fiscal year as scheduled, you will have to give up your pilot slot and compete again the following year.
You Didn’t Make It – What Are Your Options?
First, you may get picked up off the alternate list. The alternate list is rank-ordered by Order of Merit. As those with pilot slots are disqualified (change their date of graduation, medical disqualification, etc), slots are awarded to the alternate at the top of the list. One important note about the alternate list: AFROTC pilot slots can only go to AFROTC cadets, not Air Force second lieutenants. So if you think you’re high up on the list and you were scheduled to graduate in May but can stay a summer term or two and push your graduation to September (but still within the fiscal year) then it might be in your best interests to do so (if your detachment will approve it). Unfortunately, as a non-select you cannot push your graduation date to the next fiscal year and compete again. Another option that may open up to you is commissioning straight into the Air National Guard, which may give you an opportunity to get an Air National Guard pilot slot. In any given year, if AF ROTC has "over-produced" graduates above and beyond what they active force needs, they may open up the opportunity for ROTC cadets to commission directly into the Reserve component (AF Reserve or ANG). Typically this is a voluntary program whereby cadets have to find an open Reserve component job in order to participate. This could just as easily be a pilot slot as any other job, as long as the timing of the Air National Guard pilot hiring fits within the timelines of the ROTC program. (Typically you have to find a Reserve component job by a specified time or continue with your active duty commissioning). It depends on the year, but the program will typically be closed to graduates with majors in critical skills. This program only exists in certain years and cannot be counted on. Though it was available in recent years, the program closed at the end of FY06. Most guard units have one UPT slot a year and hold a selection board annually. More Guard UPT board information is available here. Remember also that if go on active duty 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 – check out our guide to getting an active duty pilot slot here. Either way, if you’re still interested, don’t just give up – explore your other options, consider the other military services, and good luck!