On aviation.SE, we already find this question addressing the pilot to aircraft ratio in airlines. It states that typical big airlines have roughly between 15 and 20 pilots per aircraft.

Military aircraft may require less pilots per aircraft:

  • airliners are in flight almost all day long every day
  • a typical airliner flight requires between 2 and 3 pilots (the 3rd one for very long steps or as an instructer)
  • a typical fighter is a one-seater
  • a fighter flight less time than an airliner
  • military cargo may flight more than fighters, but I hardly see a cargo used as much as a passenger aircraft (I may be mistaken)
  • HALE UAV may require several crew per flights but I don't know how long are those flight neither how many UAV can be operated simultaneously by one crew

When searching the number of each type of pilots (fighters, cargo/airliners, UAV) per air force (whatever the country), it is easy to come across recruiting websites (with requirement to become a military pilot and salary) but I fail to find anything about the number of pilot an air force has.

My question is : What is a typical ratio of pilots to aircraft in a typical military squadron? Does it differ between fighter squadron, transport squadron and UAV squadron?

  • $\begingroup$ They typically write the names of the pilot(s)/crew (and ground chief) on the side of the aircraft, so I'd say it's pretty much 1:1 neglecting training aircraft. I know this holds for fighters, I'm not sure about the larger transport/cargo type ones. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Good point. I forgot that detail (that brings other questions to my mind, I may continue asking new question within the next hours, the time to make basic research) $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Which nation? Some nations punch well above their weight when you consider their defence budget, but this same budget means less cash to train up the pilots, so there are less around. This is offset by making pilots highly trained, medically fit with full background checks, and to sign them on for a decade or so to get a return on investment. So there are a lot of variables at play, but if I had to say a number, it's about 1 to 1 in my limited experience. $\endgroup$
    – Craig
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Craig As I fail to find information for any country, any nation for which you have figure will be a good one. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuH Defence forces aren't usually in the business of divulging that sort of information. You know, operational security and stuff? $\endgroup$
    – Craig
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:45

2 Answers 2


As has been said, there is no one exact rule, but a broad estimate can be easily produced.

There are 12,500 active duty pilots in the USAF, and the service counts just over 5,000 manned aircraft. This will give an overall, rough, ballpark figure of 2.5 pilots per aircraft across the entire force.

Counting aircraft types by pilot seats, one can calculate the total number of pilot seats at around 8,350. About a thousand comes from training aircraft, however.

This gives an overall approximate figure of 1.5 pilots per seat, across the entire USAF. Some of the extra 0.5 are senior officers, who won't be the first choice for combat missions, but need to maintain their currency.

This is not distributed equally. As mentioned in the comments above, combat units tend to run ratios <= 1.5. With the recent shortage of pilots, especially ones rated for combat aircraft, it has sometimes fallen below 1:1 in some units (this is rare). For transport and utility aircraft, there tend to be slightly more crews per seat.

  • $\begingroup$ 1.5:1 is a good number. That's typical for a Navy squadron. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2020 at 16:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also "active duty pilots" may include senior officers and admin officers who maintain their pilot currency but don't expect to fly real operations. $\endgroup$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 17:03

The pilot-to-aircraft ratio depends mostly on the aircraft type the squadron flies. For example, a fighter squadron might have far more aircraft in its fleet than an airlift or reconnaissance squadron. There is no fixed number.

  • $\begingroup$ I was expected at least approximation (between X and Y, or around X). $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ There is no approximation. It could be 1:1, 2:1, 10:1, or 1:10. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2020 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ For me, your answer give less information than this comment or this answer, thus I think it should be a comment and not an answer, unless you add more precise information that give a good overview of the asked ratio. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ I am telling you the most accurate answer, which is that there is no approximation. You would have to specify an aircraft type, a specific country, and then a specific squadron. Then, you would need someone to divulge those numbers to you, which is unlikely. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2020 at 8:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I fail to understand what information it adds to this comment, which was posted as a comment, not an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 10:31

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