When we think of the men and women who join the U.S. Air Force (generally called “airmen”), we imagine people who are disciplined, intelligent, brave, and well-trained. They have excellent camaraderie with their fellow pilots and there is a spirit of adventure that they possess as well.
However, the life of an airman is not as glamorous as the movies make them out to be. Many members are not even pilots! Instead, they might work in the field of communications or engineering.
If joining the Air Force intrigues you, this article will cover their training, salary, and the necessary traits to become one. So let’s begin!
What Exactly do Airmen Do?
The United States Air Force is one of the five branches of the Armed Forces. In 2021, it was the largest air force in the world.
Its main duty is the protection of the country through air and space. It does this through air warfare and defense, as well as space research. It also supplies intelligence to the other Armed Forces branches and provides air support to soldiers in the field as well as naval forces.
One of their main goals also involves aerospace superiority, or the ability to control what moves in our airspace. This allows the Air Force to engage the enemy with minimal risk to pilots or civilians. With air superiority, it can position its forces quickly and precisely anywhere in the world.
Contrary to what many might believe, only a small fraction of Air Force personnel actually fly a plane. Despite this, you will still be asked to participate in air support missions. Therefore, bravery and intelligence will still be required to become an airman even if your responsibilities don’t involve flying planes.
Other branches include:
Air Force Reserve: In the Reserve program, you can pursue your normal full-time career or education while still participating in the military. Most Reservists roles are for support and logistics, but some roles (like Security Forces) can participate in combat missions
Air National Guard: Here, an airman has more freedom to choose how to serve. Similar to the Reserve, Guards contribute on a part-time basis. There are different opportunities, including healthcare, technology, and administration
Air Force Civilian Service: This group is made up of civilians that support the Air Force active duty and reserve personnel. Without Civilian Service, airmen could not do their jobs, as their duties include research and development, healthcare, engineering, and education/training services
Where Do They Work?
The place where you will be stationed as well as your work environment will depend on different criteria such as your unit, job specialty, and branch of service. More than likely, you will be working on or near a military base and there are many throughout the United States. If you are stationed on a base, you will be offered housing that comes with amenities such as recreation centers and stores where you can buy clothes and food.
Assignments work on a rotating basis in the Air Force. You will regularly be moved around either for training, new projects, or different missions. These rotations can last between 2 to 4 years and you may even be deployed internationally.
Because you could be sent on a mission at any time, you must always be physically fit and mentally ready to leave at a moment’s notice. This is especially the case if you’re a pilot or aircrewman. While some airmen can go on missions for long periods, others rarely see combat at all.
Another important aspect of the work environment is the relationships you create with other airmen. In the Air Force, you are expected to collaborate with other people in order to finish specific assignments or missions. Establishing long-lasting relationships with others is an important component of becoming an airman.
Is it the Right Job for You?
It should be stated here that whether you can succeed in the Air Force or not will be determined by your level of intelligence. Many positions are very technical and will require excellent skills in math, science, and decision-making. For example, to become a pilot, you must be able to operate an advanced aircraft while also having superb spatial awareness. You should also be able to make split-second decisions that will determine whether the mission succeeds or fails.
Another example is the intelligence analyst. They are responsible for gathering information from different sources like electronic signals in the air or data gathered during a mission. They have to analyze and decipher patterns in the data, come to a conclusion, and create an intelligence brief that can be used to support future missions and operations.
Of course, certain traits are needed no matter which branch of the Armed Forces you decide to join. This includes discipline and the ability to follow rules and orders given by military brass. Excellent problem-solving skills will also be necessary as well as being able to adapt to new environments and situations.
As mentioned before, you will go on several missions with your fellow airmen, so teamwork will be vital to your success in the Air Force. If you are deemed to be a cut above the rest you might even be asked to take on a leadership position where you will give commands to your subordinates and be expected to fulfill a mission successfully.
Here is a list of missions you might be involved in if you join (from Military.com):
- Transporting cargo from base to base for any of the branches
- Jet fighter patrols to protect airports, strategic locations, etc.
- Airborne mapping & monitoring of targets
- Special rescue missions behind enemy lines
- Medical service in impoverished areas
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What Kind of Education Should I Get?
To join the Air Force, you must be a United States citizen and have a high school diploma. It is also possible to join with a GED, but keep in mind this will be more difficult since you have to wait for GED applicant slots to become available.
Next, you must be at least 18 years old and can only apply for basic training before your 28th birthday. After applying, you will need to get a qualifying score of 65 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test (ASVAB). The ASVAB measures your proficiency in subjects like mathematics, word knowledge, mechanical comprehension, and coding speed.
If you are currently in high school, you are encouraged to make sure you keep your grades up. Taking upper-level classes in math, English, and science will serve you well when applying.
If you want to become an officer, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree from a university or be within 365 days of attaining one. Officer candidates are exempt from taking the ASVAB, but instead have to pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT). It is a multiple-choice test similar to the SAT and does not only test for verbal and math skills but also pilot and navigation aptitude. You can apply to become an officer up until your 35th birthday.
In general, there is a time commitment of 4 to 6 years when you join the Air Force.
Like all branches of the Armed Forces, once you have been accepted, you will have to go through eight weeks of Basic Military Training or Boot Camp. This is meant to physically and mentally prepare you for life in the military and release your full potential. The Air Force recommends that you get into the best shape possible before starting training by doing things like sit-ups, push-ups, and running two miles three times a week.
Becoming a Pilot
If you’re interested in becoming a pilot, you MUST first obtain your bachelor’s degree. According to airforce.com, you will need to be knowledgeable of concepts like air navigation, meteorology, theory of flight, and mission tactics. While you can try to find these courses at any 4-year degree school, the Air Force recommends that you attend classes at the Air Force Academy (AFA), Officer Training School (OTS), or if you are a reservist, the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC). These programs give classes specially tailored for airmen
You will also need to complete the Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training as well as a background investigation and vision test. Pilots should have 20/50 vision while navigators need 20/200.
Schools, Location, and Tuition
One of the most amazing things about the Air Force is that as soon as you are accepted, you are immediately enrolled in the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF). Here you can begin working toward a 2-year Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in a number of careers, including Aircraft and Missile Maintenance, Logistics and Resources, or Electronics and Telecommunications. In reality, you can earn college credits simply by reporting for duty and attending classes.
Once you have your associate’s degree, you can then leverage the credits you earned toward a bachelor’s degree.
Below is a list of schools that you can attend either to prepare you for life in the Air Force or where you can learn new skills after you’ve already joined. This list is not exhaustive, so be sure to do your due diligence and perform your own research before choosing the right school for you.
School Name / Location / Tuition
United States Military Academy / West Point, NY / No tuition
Camden Military Academy / Camden, SC / $29,590
Fishburne Military School / Waynesboro, VA / $38,400
Missouri Military Academy / Mexico, MO / $41,270
St. John’s College High School / Washington, DC / $23,950
Military Colleges and Academies
United States Air Force Academy / Colorado Springs, CO / Free for Air Force personnel
Norwich University / Northfield, VT / $44,020
University of North Georgia / Dahlonega, GA / $5,341 in-state / $15,560 out-of-state
Air Force Institute of Technology / Dayton, OH / $18,048 in-state / $18,624 out-of-state
Air War College / Montgomery, AL / No tuition for active military
- Critical Thinking
- Engineering Mechanics
- Principles of Science
- Clear Communication
- Aeronautical Engineering
- Behavioral Sciences
- Military Strategic Studies
- Computer Science
(Source: the United States Air Force Academy website)
Career Overview for an Airman
According to the American Community Survey from the Census Bureau:
“The number of people employed in the U. S. Air Force Industry Group has been growing at a rate of 7.37%, from 229k people in 2019 to 246k people in 2020.”
The United States must always have an adequate number of military personnel to deter multiple types of conflicts. Global events eventually lead to changes in the size of the different military branches, but you can always expect that there will be a need for airmen and the military.
How Much Will I Get Paid?
According to Data USA, the median annual wage for employees of the Air Force was $53,506. The highest-paid occupations within this group were Surgeons and Physicians, who earned over $120,000 per year.
The three locations that employ the most people are Fountain City, CO, Wichita Falls, TX, and Okaloosa County, FL.
There are several ranks in the Air Force, so please consider this when calculating the average salary. The basic rule is the higher your rank, the more you earn. E-1 recruits (the lowest rank) only have a starting pay of $1,599/month, while an O-10 5-Star General (the highest rank) will earn $17,675/month.
The Airman: Job Summary
If you would like to join the Armed Forces, but want to be more on the technical side of things, then becoming an airman is one of the best options you have.
Right now, becoming a pilot might be easier than ever. As of 2023, the Air Force is experiencing a pilot shortage. According to the Air Force Times:
“The Air Force’s pilot corps is shrinking. The service was 1,907 pilots short of its 21,000-person goal for manned aircraft as of October… That’s nearly 260 more open pilot slots than it had at the end of 2021.”
If you have a sense of adventure and want to become a pilot, or if you want to contribute to the military through technical mastery, look no further than the Air Force!
- Receive specialized education and training that would be hard to find in civilian life
- Tuition assistance for your education goals while you are enlisted
- Opportunities to travel around the world on overseas assignments
- Create a sense of belonging and fellowship with your fellow airmen
- The chance to be of great service to your country
- A long time commitment of 4 to 6 years is required to join
- A possibility of being deployed in a dangerous area
We also have other occupations that you might be interested in on our website. Take a look at our articles on how to become an airline mechanic or a helicopter pilot. If you need help with your studies, here are some high school study tips. Be sure to check back in the coming days for other articles on excellent careers.