So far in our examination of Air Force commissioning sources we’ve looked at the U.S Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC. Both of these provide an excellent path for an individual to complete their Bachelors Degree while earning their commission. But what do you do if you already have your degree and want to get your commission? Officer Training School (OTS) is the answer.
OTS, also know as Basic Officer Training School (BOTS), is an intense 9-week program made up of 4 phases:
Phase 1 – Indoctrination: Cadets learn basic Air Force customs and courtesies with a focus on physical fitness and close order drill.
Phase 2 – Development: Cadets begin emphasis on leadership and Air Force culture.
Phase 3 – Application: Cadets demonstrate learned skills in areas such as the Leadership Reaction Course and Base Defense Exercise.
Phase 4 – Transition: Cadets prepare for life as an Air Force Officer.
Upon graduation, cadets are commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force.
Nine weeks of training versus four years at the Zoo or AFROTC to get commissioned? Sounds like a good deal, right?
Here are a couple things to keep in mind if you’re considering this path. Aside from having to complete your bachelors degree, OTS is the Air Force’s smallest commissioning source (17% of AF officers are OTS grads) and typically only averages 120-150 Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training slots each year. When applying for OTS, individuals wanting to attend SUPT will apply specifically for a rated officer slot.
Here are the application retirements:
- Application and Evaluation for Training Leading to a Commission in the USAF
- Applicant Profile to include flight time (resumé)
- Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT)
- Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS)
- Flight Physical
The Air Force uses the Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) to predict the likelihood that the individual will successfully complete pilot training. The PCSM score factors in the AFOQT Pilot score, TBAS score and total flying hours.
A board of Air Force Colonels reviews all applications and awards OTS slots for specific follow on training. Those selected for SUPT have the luxury of knowing that they have a pilot slot prior to leaving for OTS. 40-50% of receiving OTS pilot slots have prior enlisted military service.
Other Service Academies
A small number of cadets graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis have the opportunity to accept a commission in the Air Force. Know as “cross commissioning,” it is usually accomplished on a one-for-one basis between cadets at two separate service academies, with each seeking a commission in the other service.
This leads us to one of the best-kept secrets around: the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY. While Kings Point trains officers for the U.S. merchant marine fleet and the Naval Reserve, there are opportunities for Kings Pointers to accept commissions in any of the other services, including the Air Force and the Air National Guard.
Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve
For those of you not familiar with the Guard, it is a reserve component of Air Force. Under normal circumstances, ANG units belong to their individual states and report to that state’s governor. When federally activated, they become part of the active duty Air Force. Guard flying squadrons are responsible for hiring their own pilots. On average, each squadron must fill one to four SUPT slots per year. While each squadron has its own individual hiring practices, the following is what process a squadron’s pilot selection might look like:
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Interested parties apply by sending a résumé to the individual ANG squadron. Squadron staff review the résumés and select individuals for an interview. Once selected for an interview, applicants are required to take the TBAS, AFOQT and complete an Air Force flight physical. Once those items are in order, applicants interview in person with the squadron selection board.
The majority of pilot hires for the ANG come from within the Guard itself. Those applicants that already serve in the military have a tremendous advantage. By working on the same base as the flying squadron their are applying to, ANG member pilot applicants have an additional advantage because they are a known quantity.
The ANG pilot selection boards are extremely picky. Unlike the active duty Air Force, where pilots transfer assignments and move every two to four years, ANG pilots never have to transfer. An ANG pilot could stay in the same squadron for over 20 years. As a result, the squadron selection board isn’t just evaluating an applicant’s ability to complete SUPT, they are making sure the individual’s personality is compatible with the squadron’s culture.
Once selected by an ANG squadron for a SUPT slot, individuals attend the Academy of Military Science (AMS) at Maxwell AFB, AL. The 40-day AMC course mirrors BOTS.
The process for getting a commission in the Air Force Reserve is similar to the ANG. One difference is that those selected for SUPT attend OTS, not AMS.
Serving in the ANG/AFR has certain advantages and some disadvantages over serving on active duty. While at SUPT, ANG/AFR student pilots don’t have to compete for their flying assignment. They simply go on to fly whatever aircraft their squadron flies. At the same time, a pilot gig in the ANG/AFR doesn’t come with a full-time job. While there are some exceptions, a typical ANG/AFR pilot is guaranteed 108 paid days of work per year. Every ANG/AFR squadron does have full-time billets, but those high-demand positions are usually filled by the more experienced instructor pilots in the squadron.
Once you’ve got your “butter bars” and your SUPT slot, it’s time to fly. The next stop, Pueblo, Colorado and Air Force Initial Flight Screening, a program we will examine in an upcoming installment of this series.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Wikimedia)
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