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Old 03-09-2006, 03:32 PM   #1  
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KiloAlpha's Avatar
Joined APC: Nov 2005
Position: AA A320
Posts: 1,598
Question Looking for a military career

I have always wanted to join the Air Force as a pilot, but I have a few questions that hopefully can be answered by the individuals of this board.

Here's a my current background:
Age: 22
Certificates: ASEL, AMEL, CFI (all with instrument rating)
Education: 4 year BS, Summa Cum Laude

1) What is the vision requirement to join?
a. My vision is something like 20/200. I have heard that you can use special contact lenses to temporarily change the shape of your eye, and thus improve vision to get through the initial vision screening. After the screening is passed, your vision can then diminish to its previous state with no recourse from the USAF. Once you're in, you're in mentality I guess.

2) What is the payscale like?

3) More Q's to follow, but this is a start.

Thanks for the input!
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Old 03-09-2006, 09:30 PM   #2  
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Joined APC: Oct 2005
Posts: 474

I can't give you a definite answer on your vision question, but 20/200 is pretty bad. You can get a waiver for PRK (not Lasik). I'm sure someone can give you a more accurate answer.

For payscales, go here:

To explain how the pay scales work, you are given a basic pay, which varies with rank and time in service. For example, as an O-1 (2nd Lt) out of the commissioning source of your choice, you are making $2,416.20 a month basic pay. Everyone gets a standard 3-4% cost of living raise each year, but the big raises are when you make O-2 (1st Lt), which jumps it up to $3,170.10 because you are an O-2 with 2+ years in service. I'm not sure if you know how the rank structure works as an officer, but you start out as an O-1 (2nd Lt). Exactly two years later you make O-2 (1st Lt). Two years after that you will make O-3 (Capt) and then it usually takes 5-6 years after that to make O-4 (Major). O-1 through O-3 are gimmies. Making O-4+ gets more and more competitive as you increase rank. Your basic pay is taxed.

In addition to basic pay, you will be given "BAH" (Basic Housing Allowance) to cover most of the cost of housing and varies with the zip code of the base and your rank. For example, ( ), an O-1 stationed where I am would get $618 a month without dependents and $870 with dependents. This allowance is not taxed. If you live on base, you will not get this allowance. Most bases will let officers live on base only if they are married.

You will also get "BAS" (Basic Allowance for Sustenance), which is the same for all officer ranks at $187.49 a month. This is also not taxed.

As a pilot, you will get flight pay. It starts from the day you start undergraduate pilot training at $125 a month. It goes up to $156 a month at 2+ years of flying service and continues to go up the longer you fly. It gets pretty substantial at the 6 year point. This is taxed.

So lets say you're a single 2nd Lt who hasn't started pilot training yet and you're given $600 a month for BAH. You'd basically be making $3,203.69 a month or $38,444.28 a year. $9,452.28 of that a year is untaxed, so it's almost like making $43-44,000 a year in the "real world" because of the tax advantage. Of course you'll also have free health care and various other benefits the government spoils us with.

I've been in a bit over 3 years now and I'm bringing in $4,924.69 a month or $59,096.28 a year. This doesn't include the near $1,000 extra per month I get when I'm deployed to a combat zone (which I was 6 out of the last 8 months ). Between tax free pay, hazardous duty pay, family separation allowance, hardship pay and per diem, it's an extra $1,000 a month for me. The IRS thought I made $24,000 in 2005, when I actually made about $60,000.

I will say that the pay will beat any regional airline out there, but the lifestyle is apples to oranges and this is the time when I get on my soapbox. The Air Force is not a flying career and at times (most of the time), the Air Force does not take flying as serious as they should, in my opinion. There are too many other things in our daily lives as Air Force officers to focus on flying. When I'm not deployed, I'm lucky to fly once a week on a 5-6 hour training mission. When I am deployed, I fly 3-4 times a week (about 110 hours a month), but you pretty much spend 8 months out of the year getting to know the Middle East a lot more than you'd ever want. The rest of the time, I'm flying a desk, staring at a computer and answering phones all day like a secretary. It's definitely not what I thought it'd be. It's a bunch of bureaucracy and micromanagement at its finest.

I tell you this not to discourage you, but to give you the reality and not a recruiter's point of view. I don't want you getting into this thinking it'll be a stepping stone to the airlines, because you may be miserable for 10+ years. If you want the opportunity to fly commercially, I suggest the Air National Guard or Reserves. If you really want to do the active duty thing and make a 20 year career out of it, make sure you get all the info you can before signing the line.
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Old 03-10-2006, 11:17 AM   #3  
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TankerDriver--Excellent post.

KA--If you are for real, you have an excellent chance of getting the Guard/Reserves to send you to UPT, if not for your vision. 20/200 may be disqualifying. On another not, I just left active duty at the 10 year point as an O-3 and my takehome pay was $5800/month, not including anything extra like combat zone or hazardous duty pay.
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Old 03-10-2006, 12:07 PM   #4  
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Joined APC: Feb 2006
Position: Various
Posts: 9

A magic contact lense to make your eyes better for a two-day screening at Brooks City Base...sounds like a pipe dream to me. I feel lucky to be in with 20/40 in one eye and 20/30 in the other! I feel confident that the system cannot be duped with the number of tests they make you take.

i will concur with TankerDriver on his post concerning down-time duty. It's definately not the flying career I was expecting, but then again I don't spend most of my life in the desert either.

The pay is very good and the benefits even better. The USAF health care benefits are extremely valuable.

With 20/200 vision, though, I doubt you'd get picked up.
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Old 03-10-2006, 12:55 PM   #5  
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PRK could get you into the zone for the guard, but you will need to do a LOT of research. PRK often results in a permanent loss of some of your BCVA (best vision with glasses). If you're 20/20 BCVA now, you might end up 20/22 and screwed for ANY aviation career...

If you can see 20/10 BCVA (with glasses), then you could probably afford to take the hit to 20/12.

My cousin got into USMC air via PRK.
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Old 03-10-2006, 03:48 PM   #6  
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If you have always wanted to be an Air Force pilot I say do it. The vision issue may be tough but almost everything is waiverable or solvable. Don't use some technique to get by the initial screening. That would be construed as a deliberate deception and that will be the end of your chances. I've known USAF pilots that have had PRK free of charge but this was after they were in. The best thing to do is to get the facts before you do anything. If you live near a college with a Air Force ROTC detachment there is likely a pilot on staff that you could talk to face to face. Also you can go to:

It will outline opportunities and benefits. You can also do a live Chat with an advisor. If you call a recruiter make sure you talk to one that specializes in officers. Despite occasional retention problems there has never been a shortage of people who want to be USAF pilots. Your grades in school are a big plus in your favor. The other posts are correct that you need to understand what you are getting in to. I have been a USAF pilot for close to 20 years now. It is what I wanted to do since I was 7. I am about to retire and hope to go into an airline position but I would not give up the time I had in the USAF. If you had said you want to join to better position yourself for a major airline I would tell you to stay away. If you want to be an airline pilot - be one. If you want to be an Air Force pilot then definitely persue it. If someone tells you "no" talk to someone else until you can at least get a "maybe". They will likely suggest at some point to start in a different Air Force career and then compete for a pilot training slot later. While that is possible I would exhaust all other possibilities first. I've known people who were successful that route but many who tried for 10 years without success. It would not hurt to write to your Congressman or Senators telling them why you want to be an Air Force pilot but need a little assistance.

It can be tough at times but there are people who enjoy their tours in the mid-east due to the challenge and desire to fight "the bad guys" (wide variation depending on your particular mission) but it can be tough on family life if you have one or plan on getting one. I know lots of pilots who got out of the Air Force only to come back in after they were forloughed. They now are determined to stay until retirement despite the hardships. The grass is greener after you've been on the other side I suppose. I feel I make great money ($25K annual pilot bonus helps) so I am not retiring in search of more cash. It is merely time to move on (and I promised my wife that 20 would be it). I will have a lifetime pension and medical care that is nothing to sneeze at as well as plenty of memories. Don't just consider the benefits though. Money won't get you through the tough times and deployments. You have to believe what you are doing is necessary and important. Even when the going gets tough it is nice to know that at least in some small way you are protecting the values enshrined in the Constitution. That is what its all about and not the policies of any particular administration at a particular slice in time. I wish you luck and hope you find what you are searching for!
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