I recently sat in the SR-71 cockpit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. I am 6'5" tall and it seemed I was too tall (with the existing seat configuration). Another post on this forum noted that the seat height could be adjusted. So, were there minimum and maximum height requirements for the pilots?


1 Answer 1


Yes, there were height requirements for pilots in the USAF. I can say that back in the 70's when I went in (and I don't think they had changed much in the previous 20 years or so) there was a minimum height of 64" and a maximum sitting height of 39". Sitting height was a bigger factor than overall height. I knew a few 6'4" and 6'5" pilots that made it due to long legs and a shorter sitting height. It was possible to get a waiver if you didn't meet these requirements.

In 2020, the AF removed initial height requirement for officer aviators. They have instead shifted to "an anthropometric screening process to individual applicants for placement in an aircraft they can safely fly as they pursue a rated track."

Eliminating arbitrary standards will help with recruiting, especially when the number of otherwise qualified recruits is dropping. My gripe at the time was the 20/20 vision standard. Once you were in the pilot pipeline, if you needed glasses it was no big deal. But you had to have 20/20 to get in.

From the linked press release:

While still preserving safety of flight, the policy adjustment prevents initial applicants who are below 64 inches or above 77 inches in height from requiring an accessions waiver.

“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” said Gwendolyn DeFilippi, assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. DeFilippi, who chairs the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group, explained, “This is a huge win, especially for women and minorities of smaller stature who previously may have assumed they weren’t qualified to join our team.”

With the removal of the blanket height standard, the medical and operations communities will apply an anthropometric screening process to individual applicants for placement in an aircraft they can safely fly as they pursue a rated track.

“Studies have shown that women’s perceptions about being fully qualified for a job makes them less likely to apply, even though there is a waiver option.” said Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber, Air Force mobility planner and programmer and team leader on the Women’s Initiative Team, who led the height standards adjustment effort. “Modifying the height standard allows the Air Force to accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints.”

Under the previous Medical Standards Directory requirement, the height requirement to become an Air Force pilot was a standing height of 64 inches to 77 inches (5’4” to 6’5”) and a sitting height of 34 - 40 inches. Although most height waivers were approved, the previous restriction eliminated approximately 44 percent of the U.S. female population between the ages 20 to 29.

  • $\begingroup$ Would those requirements apply to, for example, KC-46 pilots? I guess they have to fit in a trainer even if the combat job has a spacious cockpit. $\endgroup$ May 12 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ The air force doesn't recruit people for a particular plane. It wants people who can, at least physically, fit in any plane. (When I was trying to join I was told "we don't want people who want to fly cargo planes. We want people who want to fly fighters, because that's the hardest people to find. There are plenty of people who want to fly fighters but can't, and we put them in the cargo planes". Might have been just the one guy I was talking to though.) $\endgroup$ May 13 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist It would have in my day, but not under the current guidelines. See edited response. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    May 13 at 0:23

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