And for the first time, the Air Force is now allowing enlisted applicants to also apply for its Rated Preparatory Program.
The Air Force said in a Monday release that the application window for the Spring 2021 Rated Preparatory Program is now open, and eligible airmen and space professionals have until Dec. 31 to apply.
Rated officers in the Air Force hold jobs that have to do with the piloting of aircraft or the operation of aircraft systems or sensors, and include both manned and unmanned aircraft pilots, combat systems officers and air battle managers.
The Air Force launched the experimental Rated Preparatory Program in 2019 as a way to help it solve the lingering pilot shortfall that has troubled the service for years. The program provides an accelerated course of instruction that helps identify potential future pilots, navigators or other air crew members, the Air Force said in an October release.
Nearly 100 officers have so far taken part in the program, the October release said, including 41 in 2020.
The prep program does not itself make students pilots or other rated officers, but it allows them to collect necessary knowledge, simulator time, and flight time that will better prepare them for flying training.
“The Rated Preparatory Program provides Department of the Air Force officers, and for the first time enlisted applicants, who are interested in cross-training to a rated career field, the opportunity to gain and strengthen their basic aviation skills,” Col. Scott Linck, aircrew task force deputy director, said in the release. “This program will allow them to enhance their knowledge through developmental modules and acquire valuable flight time in order to increase their competitiveness as candidates for future undergraduate flying training boards.”
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Maj. Sean Stumpf, the talent management branch chief for the Aircrew Task Force, said in the October release that the program will also help the Air Force improve its diversity among rated officers. Stumpf said that 57 percent of the students in the program in fiscal 2020 were from under-represented groups among rated officers.
The Air Force has grown increasingly worried about the lack of diversity among its pilots and other rated officers in recent years, and sought to reverse that.
Air Force Recruiting Service commander Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas told reporters at the Air Force Association’s virtual Air Space Cyber conference in September that 86 percent of the rated force is made up of white men, and less than three percent of pilots are women. The Air Force has made some progress at improving diversity, Thomas said, but much more work remains.
Participants in the program will first take an online ground course at their own pace, the release said. After that, students will attend a one-week in-residence course on aviation fundamentals. They will collect about seven to nine flight hours, ground instruction and additional training time in a flight simulator, the release said.
Officers who finish the program will then be required to apply to the next available undergraduate flying training selection board, the Air Force said. Enlisted graduates must then work on gaining their commission through the Air Force Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corps or Officer Training School.
The 2021 preparatory program class will take place at the Denton Enterprise Airport in Denton, Texas, the release said. This will be the third year the Air Force has teamed up with the Civil Air Patrol for the preparatory program’s training.
To qualify, an applicant must be:
*Either an active-duty officer who meets the UFT board requirements, or an active-duty enlisted airman or space professional who meets the UFT board requirements and qualifies for a commission through one of those three commissioning sources.
*A U.S. citizen.
*Of “high moral character and personal qualifications.” The Air Force said service members with open law violations or criminal investigations, previous court-martial convictions, or who have received an Article 15 are ineligible to apply.
Applicants also must have their unit commander’s approval and endorsement and a current passing physical fitness test score. They also have to have a Pilot Candidate Selection Method score before the class begins next spring.
Applicants also should have less than five hours of total civilian flight time, the release said. Those who have more than five hours of civilian flight time can still apply, but the Air Force said they will only be considered on a space-available basis.
Officers must obtain an Air Force Initial Flying Class I, 1A, Ground Based Controller or III flight physical before entering the program. Enlisted applicants must obtain an FAA Class III physical before entering the program.
And applicants must be prepared to retake the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, or AFOQT, and Test of Basic Aviation Skills at the first available opportunity after finishing the program, the Air Force said, preferably within two to four weeks.
The Air Force said the prep program gives students a vital leg up as they continue in their efforts to become rated officers. Stumpf said that students who take the AFOQT before and again after they go through the prep program show an average 20 percent improvement in their scores. They also show an average 35-point increase in their Pilot Candidate Selection Method score, Stumpf said.
About Stephen Losey
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.