I'm asking specifically about single pilot fighter jets. How do air forces ensure pilots won't go mad and start a war with another country? For example, a pair of B2 pilots could start World War 3 by attacking China.

Are pilots checked regularly by a psychologist?

  • $\begingroup$ why the downvotes ? $\endgroup$ – Ali Erdem Sep 22 '18 at 21:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You seem to be assuming that if a single pilot did lose it and attack another country, the response would be immediate all-out war. I suspect that today, a more realistic response would be a flurry of diplomatic activity leading to a negotiated apology and possibly some minor reparations. The basic question about psych screening for military pilots seems valid to me, but the premise behind it may not be. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Sep 22 '18 at 21:18

Like any other military officers, pilots are under scrutiny of their fellow squadron mates and their superiors. Such drastic behavior would leave serious red flags prior to culminating in an event like that and said pilots who exhibit such warning behavior would probably be relieved of flight duty pending a Performance Review Board and psychological investigation to determine continued fitness for flight duty.

In addition there are quite a few safeguards in the nuclear chain of command to prevent an unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, including a verification process to arm the nukes which requires the consent of both the pilot and mission commander to authorize nuclear delivery. The strongest deterrent is that, during peacetime, very rarely do aircraft fly with live nuclear weapons in their bellies. This is primarily done to prevent an incident like the Tybee Bomb or the Goldsboro Incident from happening again.


Depending on what their responsibilities are, a pilot may require a security clearance. For example, from the US Air Force Reserve website the requirements to pilot a B-52 include:

  • Bachelor's degree; an undergraduate degree specializing in physical sciences, mathematics, administration, or management is desirable
  • Commission as an officer in the Air Force Reserve
  • Current aeronautical rating and qualification for aviation service as pilot
  • Eligibility for Top Secret security clearance *

*emphasis mine

Security clearances are for keeping sensitive information out of enemy hands, but they also serve to protect the public and the country from harmful or erratic behavior. In order to get a security clearance one must pass background checks and answer psychological questions. Sometimes they also require a polygraph.

When someone has a security clearance it is the responsibility of their superior officer to monitor for signs of mental problems. The officers are given guidelines and lists of clinical indicators to watch for.

In general, clinical indicators of the greatest concern are those that are disruptive to an individual's work or social functioning and/or activities of daily living. These indicators are sometimes identified during investigative interviews with supervisors, coworkers, friends, and neighbors.

source: Military.com

Depending on the type of clearance they hold, they will also be subject to periodic reinvestigation for their security clearance.

A periodic reinvestigation (PR) is when a currently cleared individual is required to review, update and resubmit his or her security clearance application for a reinvestigation. Periodic Reinvestigations are routinely required every 5 years for those with Top Secret security clearances, every 10 years for those with Secret security clearances and every 15 years for those with Confidential security clearances. A PR is done to ensure that a candidate should still have access to classified information. Random PRs are also administered at the discretion of the granting federal agency.

source: ClearedJobs.net

If problems are suspected there are different ways that can be chosen to deal with them. There's always a possibility of someone not exhibiting signs or managing to hide their behavior. But there are certainly protocols in place in the military to make sure that an unstable person is not put behind the controls of a weapon with deadly capabilities, not to mention the huge financial cost of the aircraft and systems.


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