December 02, 2021

Air Force Opens Door for Select Few From the Enlisted Ranks to Become Officers

Featuring Katherine L. Kuzminski

Source: Task and Purpose

Journalist David Roza

The airmen involved in the Air Force’s enlisted drone pilot program have a great shot at becoming officers and remaining pilots if they want to, the top officer and enlisted airman in the service said in a memo on Monday.

Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., the Air Force chief of staff, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said that if they meet the requirements, enlisted drone pilots “will be offered” a seat at officer training school if they desire to commission. If they get a commission, they could then continue to fly as officer drone pilots or try learning a new aircraft or a new non-aviation career.


Any time enlisted airmen get to fly aircraft is a big deal. Though the Air Force assigns enlisted airmen to maintenance, security forces, logistics and other career fields, pilots are the ones who ultimately execute most of the airpower operations which constitute the branch’s reason for being. Why are only officers allowed to be pilots in the Air Force? There are three big reasons according to Katherine Kuzminski, senior fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

The first reason is legal authority. Like Navy officers sailing far from home, Air Force pilots must have the legal authority to make independent and consequential decisions while flying their aircraft deep over enemy territory or while carrying nuclear weapons, Kuzminski said, and officers have greater latitude to make those decisions than enlisted airmen.

The second reason is expense. It costs between $600,000 and $2,600,000 to train an Air Force pilot, and the service wants to make sure it gets a decent return on its investment, Kuzminski said. Officers tend to have longer terms of service than enlisted service members, so the Air Force can count on those pilots staying in longer.

The third reason is, well, that’s the way it’s always been.

“Historically there’s a class divide between officers and enlisted,” Kuzminksi said, and she’s right: the American military inherited the officer/enlisted divide from the British military, where officers were basically considered better people than their enlisted subordinates.

Read the full story and more from Task & Purpose.


  • Katherine L. Kuzminski

    Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Katherine L. Kuzminski (formerly Kidder) is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society (MVS) Program at CNAS. Her research specializations include Dep...