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How Tall to Fly a Jet?

Before May 2020, your sitting height had to be between 2′ 9″ and 3′ 4″, and your standing height had to be between 5′ 4″ and 6′ 5″. Now, height is no longer a hard requirement in order to encourage more diversity in applicants.

To fly a jet safely you have to be able to physically fit in the cockpit or cabin— to be able to reach all controls and to be as comfortable as possible.

Among other demands like:

  • 20/20 vision
  • No allergies
  • No asthma

— there are physical requirements regarding weight and height.

But the majority of men or women at average height will fit right in, it’s only a problem when you are too tall or short to safely maneuver the plane.

After seeing Tom Cruise in Top Gun, we all wanted to be a pilot one day. But wanting something and achieving it are two different things.

Let’s see how to become a pilot for a fighter jet.

Who Flies Fighter Jets?

A fighter pilot flies the fighter jets, and he is a military aviator trained for air-to-air combat and air-to-ground combat while in the cockpit of the plane.

how tall fighter jet

To become a pilot you would have to have an exceptional academic record, be in good health, and physically ready to pass all the testing and practices. A good candidate will also be mentally stable and willing to work in a team.

A fighter pilot needs to be composed and calm, with proper reactions and reflexes. This is why pilots are considered to be an elite part of any military force.

It is also important to be physically ready and able to perform to the best of your abilities. Limited movement can become a huge obstacle.


How to Become a Pilot?

To become a pilot you have to go through the following process:

  1. Join the Air Force
  2. Get a bachelor’s degree
  3. Pass all officer qualifications
  4. Go to an officer training school
  5. Pass the initial training
  6. Pass the undergraduate training

It sounds simple, but it’s a long path that takes both physical and phycological excellence.

Before you embark on the journey, make sure that your basic physical stats are in place—for example, that you are able to move comfortably in a fighter jet cockpit.


How Long does it Take to Become a Fighter Pilot?

It usually takes more than 10 years to become a fully educated and capable fighter pilot.

That includes getting officer qualifications, pilot training school, and undergraduate training.

Then after a few years of training, a pilot will become a wingman.

It’s a constant training and learning process that will take over a decade to perfect.


How Big is a Fighter Jet?

There are several models of fighter jets available. To better understand the height requirements for pilots, you should consider the size of the actual jet.

One common model used for air combat is the F-22 Raptor. This plane is built by the American Lockheed Martin and Boing.

The dimensions of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet are:

  • 62ft long
  • 16.7ft tall
  • 44.5ft wingspan

The cockpit is fitted with hands-on throttle and stick control (HOTAS). It’s not very big, so if you’re taller than average, you won’t be able to operate the plane well enough.

Like with cars, it’s unsafe to feel crammed in there, if your legs are too long or your elbows hit some of the instruments.

Most fighter jets have two pilots and a maximum weight they can carry, and that includes fuel tanks. This is one of the reasons and limitations for the pilot’s weight and height.


Does Height Matter when you want to be a Pilot?

Yes, the pilot needs to be a certain height to sit comfortably in the plane and be able to move around enough for a safe flight and fight.

The pilot can either be too tall or too small to operate the fighter jet.

If the pilot is too tall:

–          Too big to manoeuvre the plane in a tight space;

–          Too heavy to fit the limitations, and planes can carry an exact weight.

If the pilot is too short:

–          Not able to reach all the controls;

–          Efficiency will be jeopardised, and precious reaction speed lost.

All of this leads to unsafe flight conditions that are not allowed, especially when flying a jet.

Pilots are trained for combat and have to be ready to react on time. This can be very hard to do if the cabin is too small or big for your size.


Do Fighter Pilots get Shorter when Catapulted?

In case of emergency seat ejection, the pilot momentarily loses one inch in total height. This is caused by extreme G-force pressure on the spine, causing it to shrink a bit.

Seats in jet planes are not designed for comfort, rather for the safety of the pilot. The ejection is the last effort to stay alive, so it’s not used commonly and the risk for spine injuries is lowered with new and improved seats.

But injuries to the spine can be severe and almost 50% of pilots that eject never fly again.

The ejection is also considered a penalty for the pilot, and they are not allowed to exceed three ejections.


Do Fighter Pilots Stick to their Planes?

No, the names that are printed on the side of a plane are purely symbolic and for public relation purposes.

It’s more of a Hollywood trademark to put each pilot in their own plane.

There are always few available jets on the ground, and depending on the task at hand a pilot will be put on a mission with the assigned plane.

This is another reason why standardization between fighter jets is important. The options to change your seat are limited, so the pilots need to be equally sized.

If you don’t fit in the height regulations for becoming a pilot, you can always consider joining some other forces like the Navy, Army, or Marines.


How Tall to join the Navy?

If you want to join the Navy you need to be between 4′ 9″ and 6′ 8″. This requirement is for men and women and means that most will be able to join.

Besides the height requirement, there are some extra standards that you will have to comply with:

  1. Abdominal circumference measurement (ACM) or simply put the size of your waistline;
  2. Minimum body mass index (BMI), anything under 17.5 BMI is not allowed;
  3. Weight between 127 and 241 pounds (57 – 110 kilos), within the required height span.

The Navy’s height regulations are not as strict as for becoming a jet pilot and for good reason. Fighter jets are expensive machines that cost around $100 million for one plane.

If you’re not fitted for the cockpit, you might make a mistake that can cost the plane, yourself, and others.

To operate the equipment used in the navy you can be taller and still be safe and comfortable.


How Tall to Join the Army?

To join the Army you have to be between 5′ and 6′ 8″ for a man and between 4′ 10″ and 6′ 8″ for a woman.

In order to enrol in the army, there are a couple of other requirements you need to live up to:

  • Over 17 years old (with parent consent)
  • US Citizen
  • Without debt
  • A high school graduate
  • Drug and alcohol-free
  • Without a criminal record
  • Generally healthy

How Tall to Join the Air Forces?

Since May 2020, regulations regarding the height of the pilot changed, and the new ones don’t require applicants to be in the range of 64 to 77 inches.

Shorter or taller individuals are welcome to apply, while the safety measures are still the number one priority.

Air forces decided to make those changes to provide a chance for more applicants to become pilots. The planes in the Air Force are more versatile and able to accommodate different sized pilots.


How Tall to Join the Marines?

To become a marine, you need to be between 4′ 8″ and 6′ 10″ tall for both men and women.

But keep in mind that this chart is only informative. Marines pay more attention to body fat and weight, rather than height.

Marines are more performance-based, so any marine needs to maintain their body in optimal condition.

They are measured semi-annually to make sure they don’t exceed the body fat allowance.

If they are taller than the chart allows or heavier, they are not immediately disqualified as long as their body fat is not over the limit.

Male Marines must be within the 18-21% body fat range, depending on age, and female Marines must be within the 26-29% body fat range.

If their body fat does go over the limit, then they are obligated to attend a Body Composition Program to lower the fat percentage.


What is the best choice for tall?

If you are 6’8″ like me, you’d probably be best fitted for the Army or the Marine.

You may be subject to physical tests that conclude that you’re back isn’t strong enough (if you’re very skinny). But don’t skip the session because of that risk.

Some requirements are more conditioning, and some have room for adjustment. But an important thing to remember is that optimal health is always a must and a good starting point.

Height and weight restrictions are set in stone only when it comes to airplanes. That is because you can put yourself and others in direct danger if those limits are not respected.

Serving in any of the mentioned forces is an honor, so if you’re not too tall or small, keep the dream alive and seek to fulfill the criteria over time.


References:

Aviation academy blog: https://www.osmaviationacademy.com/blog/im-too-tall-to-become-a-pilot

US Military – Jet careers: https://usmilitary.com/fighter-pilot-air-force-f-22-jet-careers/

U.S. Air force: https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2195833/air-force-removes-initial-height-requirement-for-officer-aviators/

Navy Height and Weight Chart: https://www.navycs.com/navyheightweightchart.html

US Army: https://www.goarmy.com/soldier-life/fitness-and-nutrition/components-of-fitness/body-composition.html

1 Response
  • Anonymous
    April 23, 2021

    6’3 USAF F-15 Pilot

    Just to correct a few things in case anybody reads this and gets discouraged.

    1) 20/20 vision and allergies are not hard and fast no’s. I have 20/200 vision but have a vision waiver and wear contacts while flying. Allergies are on a case by case basis and can be waived.

    2) There are multiple ways to become a pilot. You do not have to join the military, then go to college, and then to an officer candidate school. This is one way, but there is also ROTC (done concurrently with college before joining military) and the service academies. You can also go to OTS/OCS without first joining the military.

    3) From the moment you start training (because the different routes you take to commissioning can be longer than others) the typical time to become a qualified wingman is approximately 2.5 to 3 years. Pilot training is 1 year, IFF (Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals) is 2 months, B-course is 6-9 months based off the jet you get, MQ (Mission Qualifications) is about 2-4ish months.

    4) I am by far not the tallest fighter pilot I know. There are many pilots that are taller and heftier than me flying smaller airplanes. Yes you will have to adapt but it can be done.

    Fights On!

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