SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Do you think you’re too short or too tall to become a pilot in the world’s greatest Air Force? Fear not, you may still have a chance.
The Air Force is encouraging aspiring aviators who don’t meet height, or anthropometric, standards to continue to pursue their dreams of flying and apply for waivers to reach their goal.
At the end of Fiscal year 2018, the Air Force had a pilot shortage of about 2,000 manned positions. Since then, the service has been working toward reducing that deficit by looking at different factors that prevent potential pilot applicants from joining.
One area was a talent pool that, according to Air Force instructions, fell outside requirements.
Col. Russell Driggers, 80th Flying Training Wing commander at Sheppard AFB, said the standing height requirements for pilots is a minimum of 64 inches, a maximum of 77 inches and a sitting height of 34-40 inches. The standards aren’t born out of medical concerns, but rather for the operational capabilities of each aircraft.
If a candidate doesn’t meet those standards, they are physically measured at various locations in the country depending on their commissioning source, and their package is entered into a data base, at which time it is determined which aircraft the candidate would most likely be successful in flying. The package is then submitted to 19th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio for approval.
Of the 210 female waiver applicants since 2015, approximately 90% were granted.
2nd Lt. Christana Wagner, a student pilot in the 80th FTW’s Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard AFB, knows a thing or two about falling short of Air Force height requirements.
She said she was in her junior year at the Air Force Academy when she went through the pilot physical and discovered she was 2 inches too short to fly. However, Wagner didn’t worry. Instead, she immediately began the waiver process.
“I actually didn’t know I didn’t meet the height standards until that day,” she said. “But once they realized I was too short, they started taking extensive measurements of my arm span, lower-leg length, knee-to-hip length, and more, which were sent off to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to determine if and what aircraft I could fly.”
Wagner said as she awaited results, she was warned that even if she was tall enough to fly, she was likely too short to fly fighter jets, her lifelong dream.
“It was a huge bummer. Fighters are what I always wanted to fly. But it wasn’t long before the results came back and they told me my measurements qualified me to fly three of five fighters – the F-35, F-16 and F-22,” she said.
Driggers spoke about the importance of ensuring people know it is possible to pursue a career in aviation, no matter their height.
“According to demographics, approximately 43% of American women between 20 and 29 years old fall below pilot height standards,” he said. “That’s nearly half of the population who probably thinks they’re not able to fly when in reality, they could get out there and be fantastic aviators, and more importantly, fantastic officers for the United States Air Force.”
Driggers also said the fundamental strength of our military force comes from looking at problems from different perspectives to come up with the most robust solution.
“The only way we can accomplish this is bringing in people with different backgrounds, ways of thinking and problem solving skills. This is actually more important for the safety of our country than whether or not somebody is tall enough to fly.”
In addition to overcoming height stigmas, the Air Force is also looking at diversifying its overall pool of talented aviators by considering people from different geographic, demographic, or socioeconomic backgrounds and experiences. Creating a diverse and inclusive culture will help the service plug the talent gap and ensure the Air Force can recruit and place the right people in the right jobs to accomplish the mission.