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What does an Air Force Pilot do?

An Air Force pilot commands military aircraft, executing strategic operations and ensuring national security. They navigate complex flight systems, engage in combat missions, and often lead teams. But what does it take to become an Air Force pilot and what challenges do they face daily?
Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

An air force pilot is responsible for flying and commanding various military missions. This armed services job can pertain to a wide variety of aircraft, including from bombers, fighters, transport planes, and test aircraft. Besides flying the plane and carrying out the mission, a pilot must, in many cases, oversee a flight crew. Other pilots have the responsibility of training new pilots and crew for the daily rigors of the air force.

In order to be a successful air force pilot, a person must fully understand the different aircraft available. Most pilots will not focus on multiple types of planes and helicopters. Instead, he or she will log many hours flying a specific type of craft to know how to handle it in adverse weather conditions and in combat situations. Properly handling missions is also a key component for any air force pilot's routine. In order to successfully carry out missions from headquarters, a pilot must navigate a route, properly executing mission objectives, and also make quick decisions if problems arise along the way.

Only the USAF's top fighter pilots get to fly the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
Only the USAF's top fighter pilots get to fly the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

The different aircraft available to an air force pilot varies between combat craft and general craft. Combat aircraft includes bombers, fighter jets and some helicopters. General craft include transportation and cargo planes, test planes, fueling planes, transportation helicopters, and reconnaissance aircraft. Each of these advanced aircraft require a different skill set and understanding from the pilot in order to successfully fly them.

Air force pilots that fly lightweight fighter aircraft like the F-16 Fighting Falcon are expected to master dogfighting tactics.
Air force pilots that fly lightweight fighter aircraft like the F-16 Fighting Falcon are expected to master dogfighting tactics.

For larger planes, like bombers and cargo aircraft, a large crew is needed to staff each mission. An air force pilot must command this crew, much the same way a ship captain commands the onboard personnel. This means understanding the role each individual must play and evaluating how well the job is being done. A pilot must also be able to interpret complex mission requirements and ensure each member of the team understands. A fighter pilot, because the craft is much smaller, usually does not have many supervisory duties.

Air Force pilots may be tasked with flying close air support and attack aircraft like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is nicknamed the "Warthog".
Air Force pilots may be tasked with flying close air support and attack aircraft like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is nicknamed the "Warthog".

Training is another major avenue for an air force pilot career. When new recruits are brought into flight school, the air force needs experienced pilots to teach the mechanics, physics, and skills necessary for a successful pilot. This usually includes classroom guidance as well as training within a cockpit in order to fully develop skilled recruits. This job requires patience and strong communications skills in order to help young pilots achieve their goals.

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    • Only the USAF's top fighter pilots get to fly the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
      By: dreamnikon
      Only the USAF's top fighter pilots get to fly the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
    • Air force pilots that fly lightweight fighter aircraft like the F-16 Fighting Falcon are expected to master dogfighting tactics.
      By: McCarthys_PhotoWorks
      Air force pilots that fly lightweight fighter aircraft like the F-16 Fighting Falcon are expected to master dogfighting tactics.
    • Air Force pilots may be tasked with flying close air support and attack aircraft like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is nicknamed the "Warthog".
      By: Fotoluminate LLC
      Air Force pilots may be tasked with flying close air support and attack aircraft like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is nicknamed the "Warthog".
    • Lockheed P-38 Lightning pilots had to carry out dive bombing, ground attacks, photoreconnaissance missions and serve as escorts during World War II.
      By: Airwolfhound
      Lockheed P-38 Lightning pilots had to carry out dive bombing, ground attacks, photoreconnaissance missions and serve as escorts during World War II.