Armed forces pilot
Operators & Traffic Monitoring

Armed forces pilots are officers who fly aircraft or helicopters with the Army, Royal Navy or RAF. Pilots join a flight division after completing initial officer training with their force.

Work Activities

Armed forces pilots serve in the RAF, the Royal Navy or the Army. Each one of the three forces has its own specialist flight division, which pilots join after their initial officer training.

Army pilots serve with the Army Air Corps (AAC); Royal Navy and Marines pilots fly with the Fleet Air Arm; RAF pilots enter the Flying Branch.

Pilots in the RAF have the opportunity to fly a wide variety of aircraft. After initial training, pilots are assessed and selected for further training in flying jets, larger multi-engine aircraft or helicopters.

Pilots of a jet, such as a Typhoon, are primarily involved in air-to-air combat or ground attack. Pilots of a C-17 transport aircraft could be sent anywhere in the world on military support or humanitarian aid missions. Helicopter pilots' duties can include anything from search and rescue flights to ferrying troops and equipment into combat zones.

Pilots in the Royal Navy either fly helicopters or fast-jet 'short take off and vertical landing' aircraft. At sea, Royal Navy pilots may be involved in assault operations or in anti-submarine warfare. Other flying duties include reconnaissance, transportation and search and rescue.

Army Air Corps (AAC) pilots fly helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. On exercises and operations, pilots provide air support for combat troops on the ground. They also airlift troops and supplies, and evacuate casualties.

Pilots in the armed forces spend time maintaining and perfecting their flying skills to make sure that they are always prepared for an emergency situation. Pilots have support from navigators (RAF) and observers (RN) and ground crew.

As officers, pilots also have ground or ship-based duties, such as looking after the welfare of people under their command. They are also trained in management and administration. Instructing new pilots is quite a common role for more experienced pilots.

Most pilots continue flying duties until they reach their mid-forties. After this, they are almost completely confined to ground duties.

As with other careers in the armed forces, pilots must be prepared to live and serve anywhere in the UK and overseas. They will have to work in difficult, dangerous (and sometimes life-threatening) conditions.

Personal Qualities and Skills

  • An agile mind so you can respond quickly in any situation.
  • Good co-ordination.
  • To be able to act on your initiative.
  • Knowledge of avionics, map reading, navigation and weapons systems.
  • Flexible and adaptable.
  • Able to remain cool and clear-headed.
  • Reliable and responsible.
  • Able to prioritise your workload.

As armed forces pilots are officers, you will need the necessary skills to motivate, lead and encourage those under your command.

Pay And Opportunities

Pilots are based at military bases in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.

Pilots can expect to be deployed on exercise or active service in overseas countries.


Entry routes and training

Age for entry to flying training varies depending on the service:

  • Army - 18 to 29
  • Royal Air Force - 17.5 to 25
  • Royal Navy - 17 to 25.

To become a pilot in the armed forces, you must get through the selection board of the force you are applying for, and complete physical and mental ability tests.

Each of the forces has its own initial officer training course, which all new recruits must complete before they specialise in flying duties. Many new officers are graduates.

To become an officer in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or RAF, you are expected to have a minimum of 2 A levels and 5 GCSEs (A to C), including English Language and Maths. In Scotland you are expected to have a minimum of 3 Highers (A-C) (180 UCAS tariff points) plus 5 National 4/5s (1-3) including English and Maths.

Other qualifications, such as an Edexcel (BTEC) Level 3 National qualification or the International Baccalaureate Diploma could also be considered.

Many armed forces pilots are graduates.

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