If you are considering becoming a pilot and have chosen the military as your path, at some point you’ll have to ask: “How old can I be and still go through UPT?” This is a common question we get at BogiDope and our staff wants to ensure that the facts are understood so you can make informed decisions.
The age requirements for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) are governed by Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2205 for the U.S. Air Force Active Duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. It specifically lists applicant requirements, how to apply and many other topics regarding the UPT process. This document is a must read for all applying UPT candidates. You can view AFI 36-2205 here.
For the most part, flying in the military is a young person’s game. The Air Force, Air National Guard and Reserves want to ensure that they get as many flying years as possible out of each person that they send to UPT. All three selection boards desire for applicants to meet a UPT hiring board prior to exceeding 28 1/2 years old; the specific rules are listed below. The rules are similar between the Active Duty and the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve, but there are some slight differences.
Active Duty Age Requirement
“Active Duty applicants must not exceed their 30th birthday or 5 years beyond their Total Federal Commissioned Service date (TFCSD) by the start of the board’s first available UPT class as specified in the UPT Selection Board message.” – AFI 36-2205
For Active Duty applicants there is some additional guidance. This guidance is in a document called the Line Officer Accessions Basic Officer Training Program Guide. An older version can be found by clicking here. The most current version is behind the Air Force’s wall on a share point and cannot be linked. Once again, the below highlights are for Active Duty accessions.
“Critical Age Statement process is to ensure the AF requirement that all officer selects must be able to enter rated training prior to age 30 … Age eligibility waivers and ETPS (Exception to Policy Statement) will not be considered. Note: Age critical applicants can be denied from competing on a board if it is determined the applicant cannot enter or complete required training by the appropriate age limit.” – Line Officer Accessions Basic Officer Training Program Guide
“Rated applicants applying for rated programs (Pilot, CSO, RPA and/or ABM) who are between the ages of 28-29 years of age by the board convening date require the Age statement on AF FM 56, Item 22, B to be initialed.” – Line Officer Accessions Basic Officer Training Program Guide
AF FM 56, Item 22, B Statment –
"I am submitting my application with the understanding, if selected and physically qualified, I must enter Basic Officer Training (BOT) early enough to follow on and enter UPT, UNT, or ABM training prior to age 30. If the Air Force is unable to place me in a BOT class that would facilitate the same, my selection as a (Pilot/Navigator/ABM) will be withdrawn.”
“Rated applicants must be able to enter BOT NLT 29 and one month of age to ensure completion of approximately 30 weeks of training (depending on rated classification) and entry into undergraduate Pilot, RPA, CSO or ABM training prior to age 30.” – Line Officer Accessions Basic Officer Training Program Guide
Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve
“Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve applicants must not exceed their 30th birthday or 5 years TFCSD by their assigned UPT class start date.” – AFI 36-2205
Note there is no version of the “Line Officer Accessions Basic Officer Training Program Guide” for the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve.
If you exceed the age listed above and are not applying to Active Duty, don't worry. There is still a chance to be selected for UPT! Exceeding the age limit is not a show stopper–it just will mean more work and a slightly longer process, but you might get in through using an age waiver. Age waivers for the Air Force Reserve will be sent to, reviewed and approved by Air Force Reserve Headquarters. Air National Guard age waivers are sent to, reviewed and approved by the state’s Adjutant General.
For age waivers to be considered for any component, each applicant must document how an administrative, counseling or medical error occurred that prevented them from applying while they were still fully eligible. An example of an administrative error might be any interference that caused a delay in an applicant’s UPT package reaching the hiring board once it was turned over to the administrative process. A counseling error could have resulted if advice given to an applicant regarding his or her eligibility made them think they were not fully qualified to apply. Finally, medical errors could be the result of a misdiagnosis or errors which reported the candidate ineligible when they were actually fully qualified for UPT.
In addition to proving the error, the gaining Commander will have to justify why the candidate requiring the age waiver is better for their respective service than other fully qualified applicants. This can be a difficult task, based on the service’s return on investment. Specifically, a younger candidate has the possibility of serving longer or may have fewer “issues” than an older candidate. While this is not always true, it is this mentality and judgement you must overcome to be successful in the waiver process. All is not lost, this is not an insurmountable task. In fact, BogiDope’s staff members know many individuals who have successfully navigated the waiver process, so don't give up.
Exception to Policy
If you don't fall into the above categories for an age waiver, there is still another chance through an application for an exception to the age policy. Exceptions to policies are not normally approved because they involve inherent risk for the gaining unit and command. These exceptions will only be approved in unique circumstances and when a Commander can prove that its approval is in the best interest of the total force. Even though these exception to policies are not normally granted, it doesn't hurt to try. Don't let a good reason and paperwork keep you from achieving your aviation dreams.
Military flying is best started young so that the age requirements do not pose potential barriers to entry. BogieDope recommends starting the application as early as possible. If you are able to avoid age waivers you greatly improve your chances of being hired and receiving a UPT slot. If you do exceed the age requirements, work hard to limit the impact on your gaining unit. Help the Commander prepare your application by explaining why you are better than the other, younger applicants. Understand how to successfully navigate the waiver process. By understanding the process and having the work completed, you can prove to your new unit why you deserve to be hired.