Can you fly in the military without being a talented pilot?


Jan 12, 2015
Between RC and some full scale flying, I've discovered that I'm not a good stick and rudder pilot at all. My hand eye coordination isn't good, and neither is my sense of balance or depth perception. Most kids grew up playing video games and ball sports, but I didn't, so that might be why I fell behind in those areas. And I doubt it's possible to catch up later on if you don't develop those skills as a young kid.

I've wanted to fly in the Air Force for years, but realizing that I don't have the physical skills of a good pilot is making me doubt that I'm actually cut out for it. Of course I could learn to fly with enough practice, but military pilots need much more than just the bare minimum stick and rudder abilities; they're supposed to be naturally talented pilots. So should I not plan on being a pilot? Or could I try to get better in hopes of catching up to everyone else? It's not like I need to figure it out right now but will need to make a decision in the next few years.
I still think you could, yeah. The Commander of the AFROTC det at my school wasnt a pilot before he went to USAFA. He turned out to be one of the greatest we've ever seen, accumulating thousands of flight hours in service to our country.
UPT exists for a reason. They do not expect you to be able to fly an F35 or a C5 the day you show up as a student. UPT is a 54 week course and that does not include going to IFS prior to UPT.

Right now what you should do is take private pilot lessons. The 2 reasons why are:
1. You will decide if you truly like flying
2. The more hours in flying the higher your score will be for selection for UPT.

I don't know who told you they are ALL naturally talented at handling the stick. Yes, there are some that are, but there are also some that learned how to be talented at the stick. Handling the stick is not the only thing that makes a pilot great. Handling the stress is a factor too. You can be great at the stick when it is perfect weather and no stress factors, but maybe not so much when you are bingo fuel at night after a long sortie and you have strong cross winds, meaning no go around for you, it is this one and only chance.
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How much "full-scale" flying?

This may not be the answer you want, but...

Military flight training is designed to get the maximum results in the shortest amount of time that's deemed safe. It's not like being a private pilot where you can throw money at a CFI for years before soloing. If you're not ready to solo at 10 flight hours in a T-6, you will not pass. If your instructors feel you aren't a safe pilot, even in the days before you get your wings, you will not pass. There are very few off roads to getting more stick time and hours than is alloted per the JPATS syllabus. As a result, flight school obviously tends to favor people who "get it" faster.

With that being said, I know many people who struggled in the T-6 and follow on trainers who winged and are very successful now in the fleet. Flight school is a waterhose of information and you're expected to grasp skills quickly, but it is not an end-all be-all to success.

Also, very few people fail out due to problems with stick skills. Within the confines of the program, instructors will work with guys who are struggling as long as they work hard and have a good attitude. In the Navy at least you can do practice sims on your own time as well. Most people who fail don't fail because they can't land the plane, they fail because they have poor situational awareness, demonstrate poor headwork, or have a bad attitude and don't study.

Lastly, stick skills aren't everything. Some flights I do now I never even touch the controls because running the mission is more important than actually flying (so the other guy does it). In a single seat platform obviously you're the only show in town but in multi-crewed airframes responsibility is shared and flying the bird is only one part of that.

Don't count yourself out. Give it a shot and let them tell you no.
In my UPT class there were 3 STUDs who each had around 300 hrs of flying time each. Halfway through T-6s they had all washed out. One guy legit just couldn't handle the stress asked to drop and the other two just couldn't meet the standards and washed out. I would also not even think to correlate RC flying ability to real flying ability. With that all being said, I would be very cautious in trying to assess your own flying potential. I can't really think of anything in the civilian world that would have prepared me for the pace of the UPT flight line.

I would completely agree with PIMA. Right now just figure out if you want to fly and start working on your plan to be a pilot. If you do want it then go for it! Get into USAFA/AFROTC/OTS and get a pilot slot. Your UPT IPs will be phenomenal at instructing you to fly well and "motivating" you to build up stress tolerance. The AF has designed IFS and UPT to take kids off the street and give them wings 55 weeks later.

I also really don't think there is such thing as "natural ability" when it comes to flying. There are two types of UPT students, those who suck and those who suck slightly less. Everyone will fail at some point. To sum it up if you really are interested then go for it. Let someone else shut the door. Don't be afraid to fail. Feel free to respond or PM me if you have any specific questions about getting a slot or UPT. :thumb:
Good. Admit now that you know nothing about flying and then listen and DO what you're told in training. Some of the worst UPT students are those who "know" how to fly. The dummies do best because they listen and learn.
I dont think RC is a good indicator of how well a pilot you will be. Playing video games and flight simulators may be a better indicator. You also didnt indicate how many actual flying hours you have. Flying for 5-10 hours again may not really mean much. My son is both in AF ROTC and has earned a pilot spot for when he graduates. He degree is in professional flight so he has all of his licenses from PPL to commercial and multi engine. He is a natural born pilot. Did well with his initial license and is very good at landings and all other aspects of flying. His University has a light jet executive plane that he has flown as part of his class. He teacher was impressed that he was able to handle the plane from day one with lots of confidence. They use simulators before they are allowed to touch the airplane so its not like he came unprepared . Not trying to brag, my point being is that he is comfortable with a plane and has natural talent assuming that actually exits. I am not saying that this will translate into doing good or great at UPT. As someone who has posted earlier said, he has seen many plenty of UPT studs with flying time who have failed. It may be because they dont listen, flying the military way is not for them or various other reasons. You will never know unless you try, so even if you do suck as a pilot, let someone else tell you that. Dont predict the future. Secondly, you may never be a great pilot but you could be a competent pilot. Finally, it could click and you could be the best pilot. You will never know if you dont try. At this point, unless you have fear of flying, being in confined places or get air sickness, you should try
You never know until you try. My son had zero hours of flying when he entered USAFA. He didn't even know for sure if he wanted to try and be a pilot. He graduated USFA and went on to be a fighter pilot so it works out sometimes.

I would also add that TIMING is everything. Right now the AF is going through a pilot shortage, plus they are converting many 16 drivers to the 35, while at the same time they are keeping the 16. Nobody knows what the AF needs will be in 3, 5 or 7 yrs. Yes, 7 yrs if you are a senior in HS... class 2022. Currently you will wait @ 9 -12 months to start UPT. UPT is a yr. That equals 7 yrs from now.

A great example is how things flipped in the 90's. 92 if you wanted a fighter and did well you got it. In 93 we went through the RIF. The best of the class was being handed heavies. No fighters were being dropped, and no waivers for anything were being given.
FFWD to @2010. ADAF typically will have 2 rated OCS boards annually. They had enough in the pipeline that they cancelled one of the 2 rated boards.
FFWD to 2017. ADAF announced that they will be increasing the amount of OCS selects for rated.

Notice again the last 2 were within 7 years. Yes, we all know that the AF is in dire straights right now for pilots due to airlines hiring, but remember this is very far off in your future. Eventually the airlines will slow down their hiring pace like they did after 9/11. Thus, the mass exodus will decrease and the pipeline will change.

You can be an amazing pilot without any experience. The top grad from DS's class that got a 22 was prior E, no flight hrs. Number 2 was also prior E, but choose to go heavies, again no flight hours. The point is there will be only so many fighters that drop, and depending on the drop you can be a STUD, but become a T38 FAIP at Hell Rio for 3 yrs.

Finally, PLEASE, PLEASE understand the reality of being a pilot in the ADAF. Once operational you will not fly daily. You WILL have a 2nd job, such as Weapons shop, scheduling, SNACKO. You will not be addressed as Pilot Smith, you are an officer 1st.

Fight for it, but be realistic that you can't guarantee squat. 696 flight hrs vs 0 means nothing. You will have exams after exams, sims after sims, check rides after check rides. Everyone enters with a clean slate. Some rise to the top, not only because they can handle the stick, but because they weren't "THAT" guy/gal. They were seen on Sat. mission planning at the squadron. They joined the study groups. ETC, etc. etc. In essence they were viewed as team players.