If you’re in High School and have dreams of becoming a U.S. Air Force pilot, here’s my advice: the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is where you should go to school.

While obtaining an appointment to USAFA is extremely competitive and completing the four-year course of study is monumentally challenging, it will give you the best opportunity to get into Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT). The Air Force Academy produces about 20% of the Air Force’s new officers each year, but receives 50% of the Air Force’s pilot training slots. Almost one half of USAFA grads go on to SUPT.

Established in 1954, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs follows the American service academy tradition started with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point over 200 years ago. Nestled on 18,000 acres of some of the finest real estate in Colorado, “the mission of the U.S. Air Force Academy is to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.”

United States Air Force Academy
Photo Courtesy of the United States Air Force Academy.

To accomplish the above, the Academy focuses on four main areas geared toward whole person development:

  • Academics
  • Athletics
  • Military Service
  • Character and Leadership
Cadet cadre bark at basic cadets during basic cadet inprocessing here June 26. Hundreds of cadet cadre will be with the basic cadets throughout all of Basic Cadet Training for training and motivation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)
Cadet cadre bark at basic cadets during basic cadet inprocessing here June 26. Hundreds of cadet cadre will be with the basic cadets throughout all of Basic Cadet Training for training and motivation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)

Each member in a new class of 1,150 cadets had to compete with approximately 10,000 other highly-qualified applicants to gain an appointment. In addition to meeting stringent academic qualification, candidates must pass a physical fitness test and medical evaluation. All candidates (with a few specific exceptions) must also receive a nomination from either their U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressional Representative, the Vice President or the President.

What is required to be a competitive candidate for USAFA? Let’s look at the high school resumé of the average Air Force cadet:

  • 3.82 GPA
  • Top 10% of graduating class
  • Varsity Letter Winner
  • National Honor Society member
  • SAT Verbal 642, Math 669
  • ACT Math 30, English, 30, Reading 30, S&R, 30, Writing 30

While in high school, future cadets also demonstrate the ability to work with diverse groups and are active in their communities with leadership roles in student government, church youth groups and various charitable organizations.

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Those individuals attending the Academy are truly the best of the best, and for good reason. Not only is life at USAFA physically and mentally demanding, the cost of an Academy education comes in at more than $415,000 – all paid for courtesy of Uncle Sugar. That includes room, board and cadet pay of $846 per month. (Details on preparing for and gaining admission to USAFA, as well the other commissioning sources, will be covered in future articles here on FighterSweep.com.)

The Class of 2018 joined the ranks of the Cadet Wing Aug. 5, when basic cadets transitioned to Cadets 4th Class or “doolies” during the Acceptance Parade at the Academy’s Stillman Field. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)
The Class of 2018 joined the ranks of the Cadet Wing Aug. 5, when basic cadets transitioned to Cadets 4th Class or “doolies” during the Acceptance Parade at the Academy’s Stillman Field. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Let me introduce and break down the four areas personal development USAFA addresses, starting with the academic program – arguably the most important of the four.

The Air Force Academy is a fully accredited, four-year college ranked among the best in the United States. US News and World Reports “America’s Best Colleges 2013” lists USAFA in the top 25 Best Liberal Arts Colleges and as the #4 Undergraduate Engineering Program in the country. Forbes Magazine rated USAFA as the 31st best Undergraduate Institution in the nation.

Cadets can pursue any of 30 majors offered. These majors fall into four main categories: Science, Engineering, Humanities and Social Sciences. Regardless of major, all cadets must complete 102 credit hours of a core curriculum. This core consists of:

  • 27 hrs Basic Sciences (Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer etc.)
  • 24 hrs Humanities (English, History, Philosophy, Foreign Language)
  • 21 hrs Social Sciences (Political Science, Management, Law, Economics)
  • 18 hrs Engineering (Aeronautical, Astronautical, Civil, Electrical, Mechanical)
  • 6 hrs Military Studies
  • 5 hrs Physical Education
  • 1 hr 1st Year Experience

The core ensures all cadets receive a broad-based academic experience. With the core’s emphasis on science and engineering all graduates, regardless of their major, receive a Bachelors of Science degree. While most colleges require 120 credit hours for a bachelors degree, USAFA grads complete their course of study with over 200 credit hours.

Lt. Col. Jeff Boleng looks over then-Cadets 3rd Class Bradford Smith and James Colvin III during a computer science course at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Feb. 2, 2009. The Academy officially received its 10-year accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Oct. 27. Colonel Boleng is the deputy department head for the Department of Computer Science and an associate professor. (U.S. Air Force photo/David Armer)
Lt. Col. Jeff Boleng looks over then-Cadets 3rd Class Bradford Smith and James Colvin III during a computer science course at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Feb. 2, 2009. The Academy officially received its 10-year accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Oct. 27. Colonel Boleng is the deputy department head for the Department of Computer Science and an associate professor. (U.S. Air Force photo/David Armer)

To provide even more breadth of academic experience, USAFA has over 800 international study opportunities each year. These range from semester-long exchanges with military academies in Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Japan and Spain to study-abroad programs in countries like China, Egypt and Russia.

Focused on learning, the Academy has one of the smallest class sizes of any institution of higher learning in the country, sporting a student to faculty ratio of 9 to 1. Unlike civilian colleges and universities, USAFA doesn’t use graduate students or teaching assistants in its classrooms. Military officers make up 63% of the faculty and all instructors are available to cadets every day outside of the classroom to provide tutoring and mentoring.

Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine hands off to senior running back Anthony LaCoste during the Air Force-Army football game at Falcon Stadium Nov. 2, 2013. LaCoste scored on 73- and 78-yard runs to lead the Falcons over the Black Knights, 42-28. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine hands off to senior running back Anthony LaCoste during the Air Force-Army football game at Falcon Stadium Nov. 2, 2013. LaCoste scored on 73- and 78-yard runs to lead the Falcons over the Black Knights, 42-28. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

“On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” – General Douglas MacArthur

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The second focus of cadet development is athletics. What do sports have to do with leadership? Athletics at the Academy provide a foundation of leadership by building confidence, emotional control, physical courage, and the ability to perform under pressure. USAFA offers 29 NCAA Division I intercollegiate sports programs (17 Men’s, 10 Women’s and 2 Coed Varsity Sports) and is a member of the Mountain West Conference. Twenty-two percent of the cadets at USAFA participate in intercollegiate athletics. Those cadets who aren’t intercollegiate athletes take part in a mandatory intramural sports program two days a week. Cadets compete in a variety of endeavors ranging from boxing to team handball.

Sports are only part of athletics at the Academy. The athletic program also seeks to promote a foundation for a lifetime of physical fitness. Another way USAFA does this is through its fitness-testing program. Each semester cadets take both the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and the Aerobic Fitness Test (AFT). The PFT consists of push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, long jump and 600 yard run while the AFT consists of a 1.5 mile run. Keep in mind that the Air Force Academy is at an altitude of 7,258 feet, requiring an even higher level of fitness when compared to the same activities at sea level.

Nine cadets on the Air Force Academy women’s tennis team salute at a match Sept. 22, 2012. The team is 12-5 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West Conference. The team’s last two home matches will take place April 12 and 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)
Nine cadets on the Air Force Academy women’s tennis team salute at a match Sept. 22, 2012. The team is 12-5 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West Conference. The team’s last two home matches will take place April 12 and 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)

The athletic facilities at the Air Force Academy are top notch. A 161,000-square-foot athletic complex includes fields, courts, pools and and an ice rink for hockey. The 23,000-square-foot Falcon Athletic Center weight room is one of the largest in the country. No Air Force installation would be complete with out a golf course and USAFA is no exception. The 36-hole Eisenhower Golf Course is ranked in the top 100 golf courses in the country by USA Today.

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In our next segment of “The Road To Wings,” we will continue our inside look at USAFA. We’ll learn more about military training and the character/leadership development programs, as well as an overview of the Academy’s aviation opportunities. We’ll also find out why it’s called “The Zoo.” Stay tuned!

(Featured Image Courtesy: USAF Academy)