Test Pilots


10-Year Member
5-Year Member
Oct 5, 2008
So I have heard that degrees in engineering are by far the best for those wishing to become test pilots. I was wondering if you can have a degree in another subject, become a pilot, and still be promoted to a test pilot. Thanks...any information would be much appreciated! :rolleyes:
So I have heard that degrees in engineering are by far the best for those wishing to become test pilots. I was wondering if you can have a degree in another subject, become a pilot, and still be promoted to a test pilot. Thanks...any information would be much appreciated! :rolleyes:

Unless AFI's have changed (think Regulations), it is a requirement that a Test Pilot School applicant have a degree in engineering, math, physics, chemistry, etc.


It was the ONLY reason I went for an engineering degree...still didn't get to TPS, but at least I was "theoretically" eligible!
Can you tell me some more about the requirements and how you become elgible? Is being a test pilot as much being a pilot as being an engineer? Thanks!
First off, you have to get be commissioned as an officer in the Air Force.
Second, you have to get a pilot slot.
Third, you have to complete pilot school.
Fourth, you have to be selected for test pilot school (engineering degree required)
Fifth, you have to complete that.

There are a lot of steps involved. It is incredibly difficult to get become a test pilot.

One goal at a time. Do not go to the Academy/ROTC to become a test pilot, or a pilot for that matter.
Excellent advice Packermatt. Also, realize that for the 1st two years, there is no real major. They will tell you EXACTLY what classes you are taking.You will change your mind about classes, majors, staying at the academy, a 5 year military commitment vs 20 year career, being a pilot and owing 10 years, etc... EXACTLY 1,460 times. (For those with a headache; that's exactly EVERY DAY FOR 4 YEARS AT THE ACADEMY.)

So, as Packermatt has suggested, take one step at a time.
1) Get an appointment to the academy
2) Graduate High School
3) Get through BCT
4) Get through the first 2 years
5) Declare your major
6) Graduate the academy
7) Become a commissioned officer
8) Serve you country in whatever capacity you have finally decided on
9) Live a life that most people can only DREAM OF
10) Be at peace with yourself

But most of all, come to the academy for the right reason. It's not to get the education or to fly. You know what the right reason is. Later... mike.....
Bullet and I know at least 4 guys that went through Test Pilot school (2 of them were WSO's)

Everyone here is correct in what they are stating, but add into the factor that you need to be TOP DOG in UPT, TOP DOG in FTU, TOP DOG in OPERATIONAL and than get Squadron and WIng support to just apply. Than you need to be selected to get into the Test Program.

There are so many variables ahead just to get there you can't even begin to chart and how to get there. Most of the guys that get accepted havs at least one operational tour under their belt.

Test pilot is the route to go to become an astronaut, but who knows where the NASA program will be in 10+ yrs... that is how long you are talking about before you see TPS, than add a yr on for TPS. Most than do at least 1 assignment as a TP before they apply to NASA.

Col. Mike Goode will be going up this spring (maybe...if his mission isn't scrubbed) to repair the Hubble. He was suppose to go up last August.. He went through FTU with Bullet in 1989...that's right folks it took his entire career to get to this point and now he might not ever see outerspace.

If you aren't going through TPS for NASA, IMHO it isn't worth it. Another friend went right after Bueno, with no intention of applying to NASA, he spent 1 assignment at Edwards and then he flew the Strike after that and finally a desk in the Pentagon. It is also not the golden route to become general. Our other friend went before Bueno, but he too didn't want to fly, he spent the rest of his career at Eglin also in the Test squadron for the Strike. If you think this is the route you can get to fly all of the new planes, that is not necessarily the case either.

Not to be Janie Rain Cloud, just concern yourself with getting in and graduating.
I noticed that a couple responses have included, "do not go to the academy to fly."

I was under the impression that that is the main reason most people go to USAFA. I heard that all graduates medically qualified are offered the opportunity of flight school. Is this true? If it is, why wouldn't I go AFA to fly?

Just as a side note: This is probably in the wrong section of the forum, but this question is a huge deciding factor for me. Are the opportunities for flight school similar at USNA?

not everyone gets to fly, I think it is only about half of the class, and usually some don't stay with piloting after they see how hard and stressful it is.

Flying isn't everything, it is the journey and experiences that you gain in the Academy (no matter which one you go to) that is the most important.
Posted by our very own Pima (on the CC forum),


You will always wear the blue before the bag. You do not know what might happen in the future. Have you thought about what if you don't get the chance to fly? Will you be happy? What is your back up plan?

Here are some scenarios that you might encounter
1. Get injured playing intramural sports and become dq
2. Pipeline shuts down
3. Go to UPT and wash out
4. Go to UPT and get heavies, not a fighter
5. Get to pilot a predator...not an actual plane

Anyway you roll those options you will have at least 5 yrs to give back.

So that's just one of the few reasons why... Perhaps Pima could shed some more light on your question since she is very adamant about it :thumb:
You don't go to fly b/c it is never a given that you will get the ability. You go for the education...period...dot.

It has been said many times before why not, but it is worth repeating.

1. 25% of cadets DO NOT GRADUATE...now what will you do if you are 1 of them?
2. You get there and as a 1 dig, you play some sport, injure yourself and now you are medically dq...still owe time back to the AF...again now what will you do?
3. Go to UPT and wash out...still owe time...what will you do
4. Pipeline comes to a crashing halt, as it did in 91-92, no UPT slots or only to the top of the top, which you don't rank at...what will you do
5. You might fly, but it will happen to be from a computer screem for an unmanned

TRUE STORY...an AFA cadet played on the football team, he got injured, but not med dq. At his 1st base the squadron played football, he got tackled and was medically dq'd from ejection seats...he never flew again.

You need to join the AF because you want to serve in the AF, not because you want to fly the F-22...reality is statistics will say you have a better chance flying a heavy or washing out of UPT than ever sitting in a Fighter.

You will always wear the blue before the bag. You will step out of the jet to get promoted, your entire career will not be just about flying...as a matter of fact the new AF reg is if you aren't flying on Monday you wear your blues.

Bullet was lucky he got his dream jet early in his career, but when he 1st got in he got his second choice (111) there were those who never got the chance and flew the 4 or the 111 until it was boneyarded.

As far as the USNA, sure you can get to be a pilot, but what is the primary mission of the Navy...doesn't it have something to do with BOATS, whereas, th primary mission for the AIR FORCE is about theAIR...key words guys...AIR...you shouldn't also go the USNA route thinking I'll be a pilot that way.

ANOTHER TRUE STORY...Bullets cousin went to USNA and graduated close to being the ANCHOR, he spent @3 yrs in the Navy b4 being accept to FS. He got a P-3, hated it and took Palace Chase...he still is a weekend warrior, but he never lived the dream of becoming an astronaut...that was why he went to Annapolis in the 1st place. He didn't go for any other reason, but to become an astronaut. Courses were so hard, he struggled and as he struggled the dream became a memory.

Since my post was so long SEMPER beat me to the reasons...and yes, I am adamant...I just know way too many stories of kids going for the wrong reasons....it is my pet peeve.
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I think what Pima is trying to say (and she's VERY free to correct me as I'm not her) is that if you ONLY shoot for USAFA to attend pilot training, you are probably making a huge mistake.

I would second that belief.

Okay...my "bona fide's" are: USAFA 1983, rejected for USAFA 1982 due to low SAT's. Turned DOWN NROTC/AFROTC scholarships (4-year rides) to go to prep school and THEN was accepted to ALL SA's except USCGA (they're TOUGH!)

Why did I do that?

I wanted to serve as an AF officer. I wanted to fly, but I also knew that I was interested in a LOT of other career fields and that the AF had them ALL. Else I would have attended a different SA.

FYI...I lost my Pilot Qual in my 2nd year due to an injury. I took 2 years of PT to be able to pass a flight physical; I was very fortunate. Then I went to UPT. And since then I've been blessed to fly both fighters and heavies. And I've been out of the cockpit as much as I've been in it doing the staff tour, etc...etc...

BUT...I never EVER was concerned about NOT flying; there were too many other areas I was interested in. However I did see many classmates that were totally "I'm off to UPT or nothing..." and when the unforeseen occurred (lost PQ for whatever reason) I saw:

a. Punched out of USAFA (why be here if I can't fly)
b. Became loser officers because they were so upset when they didn't get through UPT. They quit at the first opportunity.
c. Went to follow-on training and then were "morale breakers" because they "were screwed in UPT..."

Now...that's NOT to say that a person that doesn't get through UPT is a loser. FAAAAAAR from it! It's the most intense, difficult thing I've done; and that includes USAFA! It's just so very fast paced. Sink or swim doesn't begin to do it justice. Some get through because they're just gifted (NOT me), some get through because they bust their butt, have NO life outside UPT, and the dice roll favorably (me), and some...don't make it.

BUT...I've served with a BUNCH of incredible officers that started their career's in UPT and then went elsewhere and became amazing because they were OFFICERS FIRST and not "AFSC's." One of the finest was a prep roommate of mine; didn't get through UPT, is now a Colonel at the Pentagon (via SPACECOM) with a career in weather, and he's about to pin on his first star!

This is my VERY longwinded way of saying I think PIMA is trying to tell you: Go to USAFA/USMA/USNA/USMMA/USCGA to be an OFFICER FIRST and an "operator" second. If you aren't there to serve...

Just my opinion.

ABSOLUTELY that is what I am saying.

You join the service to serve and serve where needed. Otherwise the statement SERVICE BEFORE SELF wouldn't be said as often as it is:biggrin:

I am no way trying to be Janie rain cloud, but you truly need to know what the reality is. If you think: well the only reason I am choosing the AFA over the USNA is I have a higher chance of getting to fly. That's not a good enough reason...vise a verse. Especially if you don't relish being on a boat 6 mos out of 18.

Fleiger and Bullet could give you scores of people that they know who never made it through UPT/UNT. Those who did and got med dq'd along the way. Those who stepped out to take a desk assignment and never got back in...etc...etc...etc.

The medical issue becomes the biggest once you get in, I can't tell you how many times I saw Bullet reset his toe or finger by himself because he wouldn't ever let the docs know he had broken it. Earaches are a pretty big thing too. We also knew a guy who got to our 1st operational squadron and couldn't hold his lunch down...guess what they do...you immediatley go up for medical review and they can yank your wings.

I would say over the course of Bullets career we know at least 20 people that lost their chance to fly. One was a lt on casual status waiting to go to UPT...decided to get drunk and got a DWI...no UPT for him, but he still owes the AF time and they are going to collect it.
Hear, hear on this one. Though my background is Navy, the comments above ring true in terms of the rocky road to test pilot or just plain pilot, no matter the color of the patches on your zoombag.
After 13 years of sponsoring USNA midshipmen, here are some real-life snippets:
- Hotshot double-major aero and electrical engineer, graduated in top ten of class, dead set on Navy jets, great all-round mid, got down to flight school, aced the ground stuff, wasn't so hot in the cockpit. Got helos, because out of his section, there were only 2 jet seats, which went to the top grade-getters. USMC happened to open up their pipeline for Navy student pilots to crossover to Marine jet. Over 80 applied for 12 seats; he got one. Now a happy pilot with much shorter hair. He can still shoot for TPS as a Marine pilot. But --- he's gotta be the ace guy in his squadron and compete with all the other ace guys and gals out in the Fleet.
- Roommate of midshipman above, average grades, wanted Navy jets, got NFO instead. Got down to Pensacola, enough had washed out, DORed (dropped on request) or other stuff, he was offered pilot, jumped at it. Special note, used to drive roommate crazy by playing video games till really late. Guess who was a lot better in the cockpit? Breezed through flight school with top grades, another happy jet guy. Could care less about TPS, he loves his plane, the mission and the gut-wrench of night-time carrier landings in a pitching sea.
- Midshipman with excellent grades, company commander, got Navy pilot during fall service selection. During winter/spring solo training in Cessna, realized flying was just not his thing. Did the honorable thing instead of pressing on through pride and asked to be re-assigned to surface warfare. Now the top-ranked lieutenant and navigator (one of the highest-profile jobs on a ship) of a destroyer out of Pearl Harbor. A happy camper, infinitely more happy in that leadership setting, a better fit.
- Midshipman high enough in the class to get Navy pilot. Went down to Pensacola, did fine in basic, got assigned to helos and just hated it. Asked to DOR and be reassigned, Navy was doing "force shaping," so they released him from his active duty commitment. Found a job through one of the numerous junior officer placement groups out there, now works for United Airlines in his hometown of Chicago as a ground operations manager, getting his MBA at night paid for with his veterans' benefits. A door closed, but windows do open.
- Midshipman got Navy air, was doing well, headed for jet training, had all the right USNA academics, grades, etc., for success. Got a hernia during pipeline which dq'ed him from anything with a g-suit. Now happily flying EP-3 out of Washington State.
- Midshipman with 4.0, astro and mechanical engineering double major, company commander, arrived at USNA with not only pilot's license but instrument, multi-engine and instructor ratings at age 18. Did internships at NASA during summer leave blocks. Built rockets for fun. Has had his eyes set on astronaut since he was a pup. During 2/C year pre-comm physicals, a condition was discovered preventing him from flying as a Navy pilot. It can be controlled with medication which pilots can't take, but he was commissionable. Submarine service snapped him up. He did a Master's at MIT in nuclear space propulsion right after graduation, did his submarine pipeline, now a happy sub camper. Made enough money from his sub bonus to buy his own plane.
I have several more, but you get the idea.

Moral of the story? It's perfectly fine to have a plan for something specific, and to have short, mid and long-range plans. Something called "life" tends to act on your plans. Most importantly, be sure you have the desire to serve as an Air Force officer, period, and are prepared to be flexible enough to serve in a variety of ways.
Can I get a turn playing whack-a-mole (or in this case, whack-a-dream :wink:)?

First off, let me say that I whole-heartedly agree with what everyone before me has been saying (especially Pima. I mean, I want to keep a happy marriage, don't I? :shake:). Getting that really cool career flying the really cool jets and going on to really cool things like Test Pilot and NASA? It's a tough road. Darn tough. Tougher than Tougher! Did I mention how tough it is? :smile:

But, it's ALL in your hands. Like its been said before, take it one step at a time. You've heard the cliche about giving it 150% all the time. Well, if you really want it,you'll have to double that effort. Just remember this: you may be in the top of your class, Type-A go-getter who has breezed through life as the number one kid on your block up to now. Wait to you get to the AFA and meet your new room-mate, your hall buddies, and everyone else in your class. ALL of them just as good, or better, than you in what they have achieved so far. YOU'RE ALL TOP 1%-ers! Get used to the fact that you're no longer the big Kahuna on the block. Heck, you probably won't even get an invite in his cattamaran to go surfing! :biggrin:

Now, who succeeds in this environment? Again, the guy (or gal) who NEVER stops trying, NEVER gives up, LEARNS from their mistakes (and there will be plenty) and KEEPS CHASING THE DREAM, NO MATTER THE CHALLENGE! Are there folks who do this and still fail? Of course, and that is why you keep perspective, know you gave it your all, have a back-up plan, and be happy with the cards you are dealt. Like Flieger said, we know plenty who have gone before or with us, stumbled along the way, and STILL made fantastic OFFICERS. And Pima is right, I always felt a little prouder wearing the blues than the bag; the bag was my job, which was cool, but it still was just my job (I DID love it, though!). The blues were my PROFESSION -- I loved the AF more (again, not as much as I loved / love Pima! Brownie points for me! :yllol:)

Bottom Line: Have those dreams! Dream Big! NEVER Give them up while there is still a shot! It is in YOUR hands, no ones else's to make that dream come true. But keep the perspective: you're going ot be an Officer first, which is something you should take EVEN MORE pride in.
Reach for stars, keep 1 toe touching ground, be prepared to launch in any direction.
Haha, I love all ya'lls posts! Always exciting to read and never disappointed with your answers :biggrin:
Holy crap. I was gone for like 2 hours, and it took me 20 minutes just to read all the responses! You guys/girls rock! :biggrin:

So, all these responses really just gave me a huge push back toward USNA. It was my first choice since I got into this, and only took a backseat when I found all the great flying opportunities at USAFA. Thanks for busting the myth that I had heard about the guaranteed flight school. I would have been distraught had I found that out next year.

I absolutely agree with the education aspect someone pointed out early. That was pretty much the number 1 reason I started looking into the SA's in the first place. I take my education very seriously, and I absolutely love the idea of having a military education thrown in the mix. Along with that, I plan to study Aerospace Engineering so if I do fly I will know my everything I can about my aircraft and how it works. (I tend to learn things better when I know the physics behind the mechanics.) Or, if don't fly, I still would love to work with aircraft. Hopefully design someday. :rolleyes:

As for options, this is why I'm leaning heavily Navy now. I was always interested in surface warfare and I still am. Also, I used to be extremely interested in special warfare (i.e. SEALs), and that will always stick with me. (I know, probably tougher and more selective than flying, but still another option). Really, I would take any job in the Navy (other than submarines; I couldn't do it.)

Now that I opened up all my options in the Navy, I just realized that I really don't know any other jobs in the Air Force other than pilot and engineer.

Since I've seen the knowledge of those commenting on this thread, what are my other options after USAFA?

Huge thanks to all of you!
To sum it all up; the AFA is for people who have a dream to become the best officers they can be, using their education and skills to lead others.

Also, I have a question that goes along with the pilot/flying thing

What is the job of a battle manager. Is that usually inflight (AWACS) or on the ground? Also, what does it take to become a navigator or weapons specialist?
gdesena; I think you may have been overloaded with a lot of the posts and misunderstood 2 very important points here. Let me clarify.

1) If you qualify; and you WANT a slot to flight school; then you are "Almost Guaranteed" a slot to flight school. (Nothing is 100%, but it's real close)

2) Most of the "Bubble Popping" was concerning becoming a TEST PILOT. Totally different ball game compared to being a normal pilot.

3) Many here was just emphasizing the point that NO ONE should be coming into any of the academies with the SOLE PURPOSE or #1 purpose of wanting to FLY. Of for that fact, any particular career field. Your #1 reason for attending the academy SHOULD be to achieve one of the greatest educations available in the world; which will prepare you to become a commissioned officer and leader; and so you can be successful at SERVING YOUR COUNTRY. Now; if you are fortunate to get exactly what you want; e.g. pilot, lawyer, doctor, linguist, engineer, etc.... Then that is fantastic. If this is not your primary focus, then you shouldn't even be trying to attend a military academy. If you don't understand this; I don't know how else to explain it.

4) And you have access to any job in the Air Force you want. It's no different in the Navy. If you are qualified (Physically and academically), and you are an academy grad, you definitely have a great shot at getting to do anything you want to.

Anyway; don't read into this what isn't there. Accept an appointment for the right reason. If you are physically qualified and want to be a pilot, you pretty much can. If you want to be an instructor pilot, it is uber times more difficult. You have to be in the top percent of EVERYTHING just to be considered. Best of luck to you. mike....