Fighters or Tankers? Ask a Guy Who’s Flown Both!

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with “Flint,” a KC-135 pilot from the 161st Air Refueling Wing in Phoenix, AZ. Flint has flown both the F-16 and the KC-135 in the Air National Guard. What follows here is a unique comparison of those two communities, along with an unprecedented look at what life is like as a Guard tanker pilot in Arizona.

Two disclaimers: First, Flint isn’t trying to hide his identity. If you know him, you’ll recognize his story immediately. Second, unless specifically stated otherwise, any opinions or prognostications expressed here come from me and not Flint.

This article is the first in a series where I’ll be interviewing pilots from flying units all over the country. My goal is to paint a picture of what life is like in different types of squadrons and to help aspiring pilots decide what type of squadron may be the best fit for them. I’ll also highlight the things that an applicant can do to strengthen (or weaken) an application.

Despite the military’s best efforts to standardize everything, I’ve never met two pilots with the exact same career path. I believe that the best way to understand what life is like as a military pilot is to hear the stories of as many different people as possible. Rather than giving you an exact map of where to go, this helps you understand your options. It’s also important to understand where a particular interviewee is coming from, because that colors his or her perception of the way things are now.

Table of Contents

  1. Flint’s Background
  2. 161 ARW Specifics
  3. Community Comparison: Tankers vs Fighters
  4. Notes for Applicants
  5. Wrap-Up

Flint’s Background

Flint started out as a bit of a wayward child, but don’t we all? Lucky for him, it only took graduating from law school and a year clerking for a federal district court judge to realize that he needed to get into a fighter cockpit as quickly as possible.

He applied to as many fighter units as he could find and eventually got hired by the Montana Air National Guard (ANG) to fly the F-15C. Unfortunately, he’d only been there for a short time when they got word that they were losing their fighters. He spoke to his leadership and got permission to shop around for a new fighter unit.

(This is a very delicate position for any Guard or Reserve pilot. You got hired by a specific unit, in a specific location, for specific reasons. They invested in your training. They didn’t expect you to run off to another unit before you’re even mission qualified. However, I’ve seen several instances like this…units setting young pilots free to pursue other opportunities after the unit gets assigned to fly a different type of aircraft. Don’t panic if you find yourself in this situation. Continue to work hard and contribute to your unit however you can, while tactfully addressing the situation with your leadership.)

After some searching, Flint ended up flying the F-16 in the Washington DC Guard. As you’d expect, he absolutely loved the Viper. However, one dark and stormy night off the East coast, Flint was involved in a mid-air collision requiring a relatively high-speed ejection. He found himself swimming in the Atlantic, waiting for the Coast Guard to pick him up, with a fully dislocated knee that later had the doctors assessing whether or not to amputate. (Luckily, the doctors did not!) You can watch a video of the Coast Guard recovering Flint here. His ejection made him DNIF (medically restricted to Duties Not Including Flying) for a full year, so he ended up taking a staff job at the Pentagon in order to continue providing meaningful service to his country while recovering.

One year there stretched into three before he reached a point where he could go back to a flying job. Although he probably could have returned to the Viper, the near-death ejection and years of rehab made Flint reexamine his priorities.  He decided to take a different path to be closer to family. A friend of his had started flying tankers and loved it. Flint looked into his options and realized that he could move back to his home state (Arizona) and fly the KC-135 for a living.

I’ve known many fighter pilots who ended up flying heavies, and some of them seemed disgruntled or unhappy, but that’s not the case with Flint. We chatted for over an hour and he exuded love for his unit and his mission the entire time. Thanks to fictional pilots like Maverick, Iceman, and Todd Masters, many of us have been raised to think that we can only be happy flying F-22s or F-35s for a living, but I’ve long believed that any flying job is what you make of it. Each has good and bad, and it’s possible to love almost any flying job.

We’ll talk more about Flint later, but let’s get into some specifics of his unit.

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161 ARW Specifics

The 161 ARW flies the KC-135 out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. They have 8 aircraft on the ramp, though the city just approved a plan to move all commercial cargo operations to the north side of the airport. The move leaves the 161st in possession of a lot more ramp space. As other tanker units draw down or convert to the KC-46, the Air Force will have the option of basing more tankers at PHX. This would require the 161st to grow, adding pilot jobs for people like me and you.

Another exciting opportunity is the fact that this ramp space has had UPS and FedEx B767s operating on it for years. It’s structurally capable of housing some KC-46s of its own without any costly construction projects. I don’t know of any plans to base the new tanker here, but it’d be a good fit. (If your dream job is flying for FedEx or UPS, being able to parlay a KC-46 qualification into a B767 Type Rating will easily be worth $5-10 Million in future career earnings.)

Having been involved in several different units across the country, Flint noted that ever since 9/11, it’s been pretty easy to get full-time orders as an ANG pilot. In his experience, most fighter units tend to be about ⅔ full-timers and ⅓ part-timers. While there’s nothing technically wrong with this, it can have some undesirable effects. The ANG is supposed to be a part-time job. However, the more full-timers in the unit, the higher the chances are that some of them will lose sight of the part-time nature of the organization and they’ll start to expect everyone in the unit to treat it like a full-time job. In many especially egregious cases, the USAF has placed full-time Active Duty officers in command of Guard and Reserve units to help them check obligatory career progression boxes. These Active Duty officers tend to have an even more difficult time keeping the unique nature of Guard and Reserve service in perspective. These units end up demanding a lot of their pilots, causing unnecessary stress on families and civilian careers.

One of Flint’s favorite parts of the 161st is that it does not fall prey to this pitfall. He believes his unit to be unique in that it retains the balance by having about ⅔ part-timers vs ⅓ full-timers–the traditional ANG model. The classic ANG tagline is “One weekend a month, two months every summer.” Although any military flying job requires more time than this from its pilots, the 161st gives its pilots the option of having a job as close to this ideal as you’re likely to find. This allows pilots to progress at their civilian jobs, it does not stress families out unnecessarily, and it means that people love serving together in this unit.

Part of the reason for this great environment is that the KC-135 has relatively reasonable training and currency requirements. Flint said this may translate to other KC-135 units having a similarly balanced perspective on ANG service. The training/currency requirements are significantly higher for fighters and possibly other types of aircraft. Flint noted that as an ANG fighter pilot, there were so many requirements just to stay current in his aircraft, that having a civilian job (except perhaps being an airline pilot) would have been difficult at best. He has friends at his current unit with all kinds of full-time civilian jobs, to include a full-time lawyer. It’s a great environment. (More on this later.)

As further evidence that he has great leadership with the proper perspective, Flint related a story of someone in his unit. The pilot, we’ll call him Mark, had recently joined the 161st when he got interviewed and hired by a major airline. The airlines are generally great about giving military pilots time off in most cases, but they can’t afford to let us skip formal training events for military service. Since he was coming from a different USAF aircraft, Mark was worried about telling his chain of command that he needed 6-8 weeks off for airline training before he’d even qualified as a tanker pilot. He cautiously approached his squadron commander, but it wasn’t necessary. The commander was overwhelmingly supportive. He told Mark to go take care of his airline training and come back when he could. Having come from very different ANG units in the fighter community and at the Pentagon, Flint noted that the pilots at the 161st often don’t realize how good they have it. I’m glad to hear that the Arizona ANG knows how to take care of its people, and I hope other units around the country look to Arizona as an example!

For many years, Phoenix ANG has done a “deployment rainbow” rotating through having a couple crews deployed at all times. They’re currently switching to a different model where the entire squadron or even most of the wing all deploys at the same time. There are advantages to both models, but after 8 deployments of my own, I’m a big fan of deploying the whole unit together. Life is better downrange when you bring your friends with you. It’s nice to have everyone in the same place doing the same thing, and then getting to decompress and train together back at home without the constant churn of deploying random people.

The expectation in the 161st is that a pilot will deploy for 60 days at least once every 2 years. (Although, pilots hungry for hours can always find extra deployment “opportunities” staffing shortfalls in other units.) These deployments have been to Al Udeid (meh) or Guam (hooray) for several years, though Kandahar AB, Afghanistan has become a larger part of the ANG KC-135 rotation. (Personally, I prefer Kandahar to Bagram, and even to Al Udeid.)

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Community Comparison: Tankers vs Fighters

Every military pilot faces a choice of whether to pursue fighters or other aircraft (sometimes called “heavies” even though many of them aren’t.) This isn’t a choice between good and bad…the two communities are just different. I just mentioned that many of us are indoctrinated to think that it’s fighters or bust. I flew the T-38 and taught in the T-6. I also got a ride in the F-16. There’s no doubt that this flying is fun and exciting. However, it’s not that simple. Flying fighters is a demanding career track and there are a variety of reasons a pilot might want to fly heavies instead. Whether you’re just an aspiring aviator looking at Guard or Reserve units, or an experienced military aviator looking to leave active duty, it’s worth considering what type of flying fits you best. Thankfully, Flint has lived in both worlds and we covered details so that we can compare them here. Let’s take a look:

Initial Qualification

For military pilots transitioning from Active Duty to the ANG, Altus AFB has transition (TX) courses for KC-135 qualification. They’re planned to be about 4-5 months long. You’ll be qualified to fly in both seats when you graduate, but you’ll technically only be a copilot. You’ll do some Mission Qualification Training (MQT) when you get back to your unit, reviewing everything you learned at Altus. A few missions should be enough to cover the requirements.

There are courses for Aircraft Commander Initial Qualification, but the ANG likes to slow-roll Aircraft Commander upgrades. (People tend to stay in the same unit for a very long time, so the organization has the luxury of waiting to upgrade people a lot longer than Active Duty units.) As a result, it could be a while before you can log any airline-style PIC time in the tanker. This is a critical point to understand if you’re pursuing an airline job. Don’t put all your eggs in the ANG basket if PIC time is what you need the most to strengthen your application. In that case, you may be better off heading to a regional airline and upgrading ASAP. (See the Regional Airline Touch & Go articles in this issue of TPNQ for a discussion of that strategy.)

Initial training for fighter pilots is much more involved. You’ll start with Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) after you complete UPT. From there, it’s on to a Formal Training Unit (FTU) to get qualified in your jet. You’ll take a basic check ride fairly early in that course and be qualified to act as PIC from that point on. (This gets you earning PIC hours sooner in your career, though short sortie durations mean those hours don’t accumulate rapidly.)

Your training will continue with tactical training missions for a few more months before you finally go back to your unit. You’ll have a pretty big skillset, but you still won’t be qualified to fly your jet in combat. You’ll go through MQT where you learn anything not covered at FTU, practice everything else you learned there, and prove that you’re at least competent at each task. MQT culminates with an event called Verification: 1-2 weeks spent working on a team to plan a real-world mission in great detail. At the end of the week, you brief your plan to the top leaders in your squadron, group, and wing. They’ll ask difficult questions, grilling you, to test both your knowledge and your poise. In some units, you may also get to fly a mission that simulates implementing the plan you put together. Only after you’ve successfully completed Verification are you considered Combat Mission Ready (CMR).

Making it through IFF, FTU, MQT, and Verification is a difficult and demanding journey; however, you’ll be proud when it’s done. If you’ve always dreamed of being a fighter pilot, this is the education that you’ll have spent your whole life waiting to get. The multi-year string of 12+ hour workdays will simultaneously feel like continuous kicks in the [edited] and the best years of your life.

Tankers don’t have a Verification program like this. They do cover a real-world alert mission that gets scrutiny at the absolute highest levels of government. There is an exercise called Certification that looks somewhat like Verification, but isn’t preceded by everything else.

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Seasoning

You’ll be on full-time orders until you’ve completed MQT in any military aircraft. For a Guard or Reserve pilot, your unit will want you to stay on full-time for a while longer to solidify that experience. They’ll give you full-time orders for “seasoning,” and you should expect to fly a lot. In the tanker, seasoning orders typically only run about 120 days, while a fighter unit will expect nearly two full years from you. In both cases, this will be a great time. You’ll be learning a lot, you’ll be getting Active Duty-style pay and benefits, and you’ll be doing the flying that you’ve always aspired to.

As a young pilot on seasoning orders, your unit probably won’t give you too many “additional duties”…formally assigned office jobs not directly involving flying. In a fighter unit, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook though. If you’re not actively flying or mission planning, the expectation is that you’ll spend every day at work. If someone wants to find you, the first place they’ll look is in the classified vault full of manuals on weapons, aircraft, tactics, threats, etc. There is more than enough in this vault to keep even the most diligent pilot studying for months.

If they can’t find you in the vault, the next place they’ll look is the squadron Heritage Room (formerly known as a bar). You’re responsible for keeping it clean, stocked, and adorned with thematic paraphernalia appropriate to your unit’s mission and heritage. (This sounds like a lot of work, but it’s one of the most fun parts of being a military pilot. Enjoy it while you can!)

If the Heritage Room looks fantastic, your boss might start wandering the halls hoping to find you with a broom or mop in hand. No, I’m not kidding. While this sounds menial and tedious, it’s also something that you should take great pride in. Only a tiny fraction of humanity will ever earn the right to sweep those floors.

If the whole squadron is sparkling clean, your boss will probably find his or her way to the gym–and you should be there. Flying fighters is physically very demanding and ongoing physical conditioning is a must.

If you’ve managed to catch up on all of these duties, you should probably be sitting in on a brief/debrief for a mission you aren’t flying, spending a day with your crew chief to get to know your jet better, or assisting the tactics officer with a project. You’ll be lucky if you get this far because all of the afore-mentioned tasks require a lot of time.

It would be an understatement to say that the tanker world is not like this. You still shouldn’t have an additional duty while you’re on seasoning orders. (Four months isn’t that long anyway.) You won’t face the expectations of a fighter squadron. You’ll be welcome to spend some time studying, but it won’t be as intense. A tanker squadron also needs team players in a squadron to “keep the wheels turning” but nothing like the other side.

I would expect to deploy at least once, or do some multi-week TDYs, while on seasoning orders. If I was a fighter pilot, I’d try to volunteer for extra deployments if at all possible. Although there are opportunities to pick up more full-time orders after this period, many units will expect you to switch to part-time duty and find a civilian job.

After Verification, you’ll settle into a routine of studying, flying, and doing ground jobs. Each flight starts with mission planning, and this looks very different in these two communities.

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Daily Life – Mission Planning

In the tanker, there are pilots assigned to do all mission planning. Reserved for pilots on full-time orders, this might be a week-long assignment where you plan missions that everyone (except you) will get to fly. You’ll trade that off to someone else the next week. If you’re the crew flying the mission, you may not know what you’re doing on a particular flight until you show up in the morning to brief. It’s a somewhat relaxed atmosphere, and a pleasant way to do business. (This also happens to be how things work at the airlines, except that there are computers and dispatchers, rather than pilots, to do all the planning).

In a fighter squadron, mission planning is a full-day event. You’ll convene in the morning where your flight lead will hand out assignments to develop a flight plan, weaponeer targets, coordinate range times, plan setups for practice air-to-air engagements, etc. You may have a couple how-goes-it meetings throughout the day to see how things are going. It’s a busy day.

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Daily Life – Flying

On the day of a KC-135 mission, you’ll show up at your squadron two hours before scheduled takeoff. The mission planning will be complete, and you’re just the “talent” who is going to put the plan into action. You’ll review the plan and hold a mission briefing before “stepping” to the jet one hour before scheduled takeoff.

Your preflight procedures won’t take nearly as long in your operational squadron as they did at Altus, but they’re still pretty involved. It’ll take you that full hour to get into the air.

At the Phoenix Guard, the standard flight is four hours long (launch at 8, land at noon). You’ll usually spend your time refueling F-16s, F-35s, A-10s, or C-130s from nearby bases. Since there aren’t a great number of currency events (more on those later), you’ll probably finish the flight with just one approach to a full-stop landing. Some days you’ll fly a dedicated pilot proficiency mission where several pilots ride on the back of the aircraft and take turns shooting approaches for a few hours.

Tanker crews will conduct a mission debrief, but it always runs less than an hour and frequently is less than 30 minutes.

After debrief, you’re welcome to hang around, study, or clean up the squadron, but the default expectation is that you’ll go home!

A flying day at a fighter squadron works very differently. Having spent the previous day mission planning, you’ll show up knowing exactly what kinds of flying you get to look forward to. You will show up 2 – 3 hours before takeoff and attend a mass briefing for everyone who will be flying that day. This brief covers weather, NOTAMS, intel, currencies, and other notes applicable to the whole squadron.

After the mass brief, you’ll go to mission briefs. You’ll be in a flight of 2-4 aircraft flying against another 2-4 aircraft. Both sides will brief together before breaking up into teams. You’ll go over the types of engagements you plan to fly, rules of engagement, safety procedures, and the tactics you’re going to use to defeat the other flight. These briefs will last 30-90 minutes.

After all this briefing, you’ll step to your jets 45-60 minutes before takeoff. Preflight goes more quickly than the tanker, though you’ll have to join up with your flight and stop by the arming/de-arming pads before you launch.

Flint’s fighter unit enjoyed great tanker support and was able to get air refueling on most of their training missions. This meant great training and frequently allowed him to accomplish two training events every time he flew. With tanker support, the average flight lasted 2 – 3.5 hours.  Without a tanker, the average flight time falls to 45-90 minutes.

For fighters, an alternative to air refueling is to “hot pit.” This involves landing at a base and refueling with the engines running before launching again. While this can also allow for a lot of training, hot pitting takes longer and leads to slightly less overall flying.

Although fighters also hold post-mission debriefs, they are anything but brief. Each pilot records the entire flight through a variety of sensors and cameras (radar, Fighter Data Link, Heads Up Display, etc). These video feeds are downloaded, synchronized, and stepped through in great detail. Every engagement in the mission is scrutinized and analyzed. You’ll be taking detailed notes, analyzing your own performance, and chair-flying to improve next time you fly. If being a fighter pilot is a potentially good path for you, this will sound like the relentless pursuit of excellence. It’ll sound like exactly what pro athletes go through. If this sounds like tedious overkill, flying fighters may not be for you.

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Non-Flying Days

Sadly, you won’t get to fly every day. In the Guard or Reserve, your boss can’t make you show up unless you’re being paid. In general, federal law says that a part-timer needs to be mission planning or flying to be on a paid status. However, even if you’re complete with Verification, you’re always expected to spend time working toward the next higher level of pilot qualification. There are upgrade programs for 2-ship and 4-ship Flight Lead (the DC Guard combined those while Flint was there), Instructor Pilot, Evaluator Pilot, and some other special mission qualifications. You’re expected to spend time in the squadron studying and preparing for these upgrades anytime you aren’t flying. Your squadron may be able to write you orders to do this on an occasional, day-by-day basis, but there will always be some pressure to put in extra (unpaid) time to get all this done. That’s a tall order if you have a (non-airline) day job.

In the tanker, a part-timer will rarely if ever be expected to come into work if not flying.

If you’re on full-time orders, you’ll be assigned an additional duty no matter what type of aircraft you fly. You could work in the scheduling, tactics, deployment, or other shops in your squadron. In tankers, full-timers generally work from 7 am – 3 pm. In a fighter unit, you’ll have a similar amount of office work to do, but you’ll be expected to work on your professional pilot development after that work is over.

This is a 5-days-a-week schedule, plus your unit will have a monthly drill weekend. It’s not uncommon to get a scheduled day or two off to make up for having to attend drill.

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Currency

The point of all this home-station flying is being ready to go to war at a moment’s notice. Each aircraft has an entire regulation listing the requirements for maintaining currency, but these two communities handle them differently.

In the tanker, the fundamental currency requirement is that you must land the aircraft at least once every month. And that’s it! Neither Flint or I could think of another military aircraft with fewer currency requirements than the KC-135. Beyond this single landing, you have a laundry list of events to accomplish every six months. (This could include numbers of certain types of approaches, right vs left seat landings, night landings, ocean crossings, etc.)

Fighters work very differently. They’re required to have accomplished a list of events within a rolling window (usually about 30 days). This means approaches and landings, but also includes types of weapons employment (simulated or actual), and types of missions (Basic Fighter Maneuvers, Close Air Support, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, etc). In aircraft like the F-16 with a very large variety of missions, there is frequently too much to accomplish every month. Instead, the squadron tactics shop comes up with a training plan and the squadron will focus on one or two types of missions for a month at a time. The entire squadron cycles through its entire mission set in between each deployment.

Guard and Reserve units also have a real-world alert mission to intercept aircraft violating restricted airspace including Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). These missions may allow a pilot to log currency requirements, but they only launch if there’s a conflict.

In both communities, the pilot and the squadron share responsibility for maintaining currency. However, if you go non-current you’ll be the one on the carpet in front of your boss explaining why. It’s important for you to track your own currency events, make sure you log what you do, and communicate to both the scheduling shop and your immediate supervisor if you have a looming deadline.

As long as you’ve been making yourself available to fly, putting forth the effort to get your training “beans” on time, and communicating with your leadership, you won’t be penalized if the flying schedule fails to get you what you need. The nature of a fighter pilot’s currency requirements make it a little easier for the squadron schedulers to help manage. In the tanker, it’s possible to go a long time without flying and still remain current and qualified. This can leave you in a pinch if you find yourself at the end of the half with a pile of beans left to log. This isn’t the end of the world, but you’ll be expected to make yourself available enough to do that flying. You’d need to be prepared to drop some military leave and take some time from your day job to facilitate that. On the other hand, it’s possible to log a large number of beans on a single, productive sortie and cover most of your requirements for the half all in one shot.

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Perspective

I asked Flint how he felt being a tanker pilot having flown the Lawn Dart…uh, Bingo-Winchester Mobile…uh, Fighting Falcon…uh, the Viper. He put it this way: The F-16 is an easy aircraft to fly, but the mission sets are complex and demanding. The tanker for him is the exact opposite. For him the mission is easy: “Be at this place at this time.” He makes that happen and then the boom operator does all the hard work. However, the KC-135 is ancient technology compared to his last jet. It requires a pilot to think consciously as he or she flies (and lands!) and Flint finds that part of his job engaging.

Although he likes his current aircraft, he admits that there are some annoying parts to his job. During initial training at Altus AFB, preflight procedures take 1.5 hours or more to complete. Coming from the ruthlessly-paced fighter world, he felt like KC-135 training was about 2 months worth of material packed into 4 or 5 months.

Another annoyance is that the KC-135 has been around for so long that it has a lot of artifacts leftover from the past. These quirks, techniques, and procedures are out-dated, but they just refuse to die. (As a B-1 pilot, I can confirm that the Strategic Air Command mentality did not die when the USAF reorganized and made SAC go away.) In the KC-135 there will be times when you feel like trying to help things change to be better, but you’ll eventually realize that you’re better off just embracing things the way they are.

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Notes for Applicants

Flint noted that if you want to be an ANG tanker pilot, enlisting in that unit is a great choice. There are many former crew chiefs and boom operators now flying as KC-135 pilots in the AZ ANG. (Is there any wonder why I call this the Ultimate Military Pilot Career Path?)

Although he agreed that enlisting is a great option, he recommended taking the shotgun approach to Guard and Reserve unit applications. Even if you enlisted with one particular unit, don’t be afraid to send out applications to units throughout the country. Flint originally applied to virtually every fighter unit in the country–from New York to Hawaii. After two interviews, he landed Montana.

When applying for any Guard or Reserve job, you need the best possible GPA and AFOQT scores you can get. Being low in one particular area won’t ruin your chances, but strong scores in all areas will make things easier for you.

Like most ANG units, the 161st likes to see applicants with ties to the area. Not being local won’t disqualify you, but this is a tight-knit unit and they’d prefer to have people who are and will stay nearby. They also need to see pilot applicants who already possess a Private Pilot License, though they’ve recently hired some pilots who were only in the process of getting their PPL done. (It certainly wouldn’t hurt to show up with advanced pilot ratings.)

The 161st also likes applicants to rush the unit. Look for a separate article on how to do this another day, but basically they want to spend time getting to know you before holding a formal interview. Numbers and resumes are nice, but they’re hiring you for what will potentially be a multi-decade relationship. They want to make sure you’ll all be able to stand going out on the road together for weeks at a time.

You’ll want to look around to find someone you know at the unit or someone who can introduce you to someone there. Then, you’ll be able to coordinate to show up at their drill weekend activities and get to know everyone. Flint had some family ties to the unit, but he also spent 6 months going to drill weekends before he got an interview. This sounds like a lot of time to invest in what is not at all a sure thing, but I promise that it’s worth it. You’ll be just as glad to end up in a unit where you have good chemistry as they are.

When I asked, Flint identified a couple of things that can hurt you on an application. Having a bad GPA in the wrong major isn’t good. (A 2.7 GPA in Computer Engineering is very different than a 2.7 GPA in Basket Weaving.)

They like seeing tenacity from applicants. If you don’t get hired this year, apply again next year! However, if you do, make sure that you worked to improve any weak areas from last time around. They had a pilot applicant who didn’t have a PPL not get hired one year. He showed up the next year and still didn’t have a pilot’s license, despite the fact that they had told him to get his PPL and come back. No bueno.

For pilots wanting to transition from Active Duty, Flint mentioned that it’s okay to complain a little about how Active Duty sucks. (It does in many ways.) However, don’t overdo things. There’s a fine line between “sport bitching” and just being a downer. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re going to continue finding things to complain about once you get your hands on an ANG good deal. I recommend focusing on what you’re looking forward to in the Guard, rather than complaining about what you didn’t like about Active Duty.

Since this is BogiDope, I’ll put in a shameless plug here for our services. We specialize in Application Review and Interview Prep, and have successfully helped hundreds of pilots achieve their military flying dreams. If you want to make sure you didn’t overlook an opportunity to strengthen your application and you want to make sure that you give yourself the best possible representation at your interview, our consulting services could be just what you need.

If you’re interested in flying for the AZ ANG, now is the time to apply. They’re expecting to get 4 additional KC-135s soon (meaning 12 total jets on the ramp). And with the additional ramp space they’re about to receive, there is the potential that Phoenix may be a good candidate for the KC-46. They’ll need to hire a lot of people to fly those jets. The 161 ARW sounds like a great environment with the right perspective on Air National Guard service, and any of us would be lucky to fly with them!

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Wrap-Up

Flint and I chatted for over an hour and he seems extremely happy with his job and the people in his unit. However, I have a tendency to paint a pretty rosy picture of life as an airline pilot. Both Southwest and American have domiciles in Phoenix. I have another buddy in the 161st who lives in his hometown and flies, in base, for both his military and airline jobs. He’s truly won the pilot lottery.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Flint play that lottery someday in the future. The beauty of our career field right now is that you can truly have it all. You can get a seniority number at a major airline and enjoy all the benefits of that amazing job while still getting to serve your country and do everything that you love about military aviation. For now, thanks to Flint for sharing this perspective on his unit with us! If you’re trying to decide between types of units to apply for, I hope this information will make a difference. Fly safe everyone!

 

Photo credit: 161 ARW KC-135 refueling F-16s from Luke AFB obtained from 161 ARW homepage at: https://www.161arw.ang.af.mil/About-Us/.

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