US Air Force Pilot Height Requirements: Getting a Waiver

As reported in Air Force Times on 02 December 2019, the US Air Force is re-examining its standard height requirements for becoming a pilot as it seeks to encourage more airmen to pursue aviation careers.

The Air Force often grants height, or anthropometric, waivers to allow pilots to fly some aircraft – meaning those aspiring to a career as a pilot should not be immediately discouraged if they fall outside the standard pilot height requirement of between 5-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 when standing.

The Air Force is currently conducting a review which should be finished this year, and will then make a decision on whether to broaden the requirements or not.

The Air Force has been struggling to correct a shortfall of approximately 2,000 pilots and is looking to broaden the pool of potential pilot candidates – partly by encouraging more women to apply.

As approximately 43.5% of the American women between the ages of 20 to 29 are 5-foot-4 or less, there is a large pool of potential pilot candidates who are (technically) unable to apply. However, as an Air Force spokesperson stated “Nobody is turned away because they’re below five-foot-four,”.

Most people who apply for a waiver exceed. Since 2015, the Air Force has approved 87% of the 223 waiver requests it has received.

Potential pilot candidates who are not within standard height range are automatically placed into the height waiver process. Their anthropometric measurements (which also include eye height while sitting, buttocks-to-knee length, and arm span) in addition to standing height are entered into a computer, which then says which planes they could safely fit into and fly.

Part of the issue, states the Air Force, is that many of their aircraft were built 50 or 60 years ago, when women were not allowed to fly in the service, so their cockpits were not built with women in mind. More modern aircraft are designed top handle pilots of different heights.

The Air Force states that the variety of measurements is important. For example, someone with an exceptionally long buttocks-to-knee length could find their knees connecting with the aircraft if they had to eject, putting them at risk of injury or even death. The Air Force also has to make sure someone can see over the instruments while sitting.

Reference

Losey, S. (2019) Air Force Considers Expanding its Pilot Height Requirements. Air Force Times. 02 December 2019, pp.8.

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