Air Force vs Naval Academy: Best for Becoming a Fighter Pilot
One question asked repeatedly is whether it’s better to go Air Force or Navy if one wants to fly or be a fighter pilot. The FAQ of this site answers this question (as well as many others), but there’s interesting and relevant information from the graduation of the class of 2011 that just occurred.
Class Size: 1035
Pilot Training (incl. “Marine Air”): 305 (30%)
Naval Flight Officer: 75 (7%)
Class Size: 1021
Pilot training: 495 (49%)
Combat Sys Officer: 25 (2%)
So if you attend USAFA, you basically have a 50/50 chance of going to pilot training, as opposed to 1 out of 3 at Annapolis (to be a “naval aviator,” since pilots drive the boat). By contrast, if you want to (or are medically only able to) fly in the back seat as a systems operator, you’re three times better off going to Annapolis.
It’s also worth noting that the Navy/Marines fly a far lower percentage of fighters (and a high percentage of helicopters) than the Air Force. For example, the only F/A designated aircraft in the Navy right now are the variants of the F/A-18 Hornet, which number around 700 or so. By contrast, just the F-16 accounts for nearly 1,200 aircraft in the Air Force (then add F-15s, F-22s, A-10s…). So if you want to fly a “fast mover,” you’re statistically better off in the Air Force — which kind of makes sense even without the numbers to prove it.
That said, past performance does not guarantee future results. The Air Force is currently in a draw down of some officers, and the RPA/UAV field is growing faster than manned aircraft. The USAFA Class of 2011 sent 32 directly to RPA training; there was no equivalent Navy assignment. The Navy UAV program is still developing, though it is doing so rapidly.