Air Force Drops Pilot Height Standards


The Air Force is scrapping minimum and maximum height requirements for pilots in a bid primarily to attract more female candidates. Until earlier this week the standard Air Force pilot was between 5 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall with a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches. About 44 percent of females between the ages of 20 and 29 are shorter or taller than that. Now, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to pilot dimensions, recruiters can assess candidates individually and see which airplanes they fit. “Modifying the height standard allows the Air Force to accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints,” said Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber, who led the initiative.

There are plenty of Air Force pilots who don’t meet the current height requirements but to get past the initial interview they had to apply for a waiver and undergo further assessment. Most of those waivers were approved but the step of applying for one was a deterrent for many candidates. “Studies have shown that women’s perceptions about being fully qualified for a job makes them less likely to apply, even though there is a waiver option,” said Ruttenber, a mobility planner and programmer. 

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. As a retired AF pilot, maybe this is good and maybe it isn’t.
    Too short: can they make the rudder pedals move full travel and keep them there? Can they do that without extra padding in the seat that might just kill them during an ejection?
    Too tall: (sitting height) well, the helmet had better still be lower than the canopy breaker tool. Using the head to break out a hole for the seat to follow will probably put a large portion of the neck and spine down between the shoulder blades and that isn’t very good.

    I DO NOT say these issues can’t be overcome, but the only way I see is to put the affected folks into a separate from the beginning flight training path into many-motors. That will cause a ruckus because the AF rewards the G-pullers with promotion more than the trash haulers. No “b**ch there, simply a fact.

  2. Says right there, “assessment to see which airplanes they fit”.

    This is a common sense approach that solves more than one problem and yet the avweb herd still fluffs up.

  3. “All people have a Human Right to be a US Air Force Pilot, regardless of their Gender/s, Height, Weight, and Country of Origin”.. 🥴

  4. I didn’t join the Air Force. I became an Army Officer. I would tell all the branches to ensure that the only proper answer to someone inquiring about joining is to direct them to the proper type of recruiter for the type of inquiry. First guy I talked to from the Air Force convinced me I was not eligible. He was wrong, but he got me off the phone in a couple minutes. I was a kid, I believed the authority figure on the phone. If you are thinking I lack persistence, think again. I became a very successful salesman.

    The Army wanted to meet me, then interview, then test. Then they were scrambling to figure out how to throw enough money at me to get me to sign. Later I tested to apply to be an Army Aviator and was told by the proctor that I had the second highest score he had ever seen. Sorry Air Farce.

    Also, I would tell them to seriously consider ending free college for ROTC programs. Then, get your candidates from prior enlisted personnel. Take the decision to not do this away from those predisposed to just say no. I’ve been impressed by every General Officer I have met. Great people. However, they are all a product of the system that produces them and only a small minority are capable of initiating changes in concept rather than quality.

  5. Since there is already a height waiver available, this is just removing one more unnecessary barrier that many potential candidates are told by a recruiter “oh, you don’t meet the XXX requirement, so we won’t accept you” when in reality there’s a good chance they would be accepted. I’m quite certain the Air Force won’t be stupid and put pilots into aircraft that they won’t physically fit in or be able to reach all of the controls.