The question is motivated by the recent events in Ukraine and the Ukrainian parliament on Monday tweeted that Europe was sending 70 fighter planes to Ukraine.

If this were to happen, how much time would it take, roughly, to train a commercial pilot to fly a fighter jet? (provided that the pilot is in excellent physical condition)

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    $\begingroup$ The linked and somewhat nebulous article suggests the 70 jets are all models similar or identical to those in Ukrainian service, flown by existing pilots. Suggest edit to define if this question is about this type transition process, which is pretty common and probably has good sources, or the more nebulous 'how long to train an F35 pilot to some arbitrary level'. $\endgroup$ Mar 1 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ Not an useful answer, but with enough twisting you could claim 12 minutes to learn to fly a fighter en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden%27s_Lightning_flight $\endgroup$ Mar 1 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ There's a fairly high chance that a number of commercial pilots were fast jet pilots before becoming commercial pilots as thats the more usual path to commercial aviation. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Mar 1 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question, but, with regards to what prompted it, the types of aircraft that were said to be in the process of being given to Ukraine are ones that Ukrainian pilots have been flying since the 1970s. They're very accustomed to these aircraft. Ukraine does have an Air Force. It's not like they would be sending airline pilots to fly them. That being said, it appears that there was some significant miscommunication. The countries that were said to be donating the aircraft have now stated that no such agreement existed, as per updates to the article linked in the question $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 1 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ In almost all modern air forces, number of trained pilots typically exceeds number of available aircraft at any point in time. Historically there have been times where this hasnt held true, such as the Battle of Britain where production exceeded training output, but complexity of aircraft has gone up to the point where maintenance is an issue these days. $\endgroup$
    – Moo
    Mar 2 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


fly it or fight it? There is a major difference.

A few days studying the systems and maybe a few hours in a simulator and/or a two seater with an instructor and he could probably fly the aircraft and take off and land without damaging it seriously enough to need major repairs (depending on the type of course, some are notoriously difficult to handle).

But to operate it effectively as a weapons platform so he's not just flying around in circles while people take potshots at him takes a lot longer. Months, at least in peacetime, if not years.

That's the drawback of how advanced and complex machines have become since 1940 when raw recruits with a few hours of instruction were thrown into the Battle of Britain and expected to defend the realm against the Hun, and succeeded (though at very high cost of life and aircraft).

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    $\begingroup$ I still remember that day some 30+ years ago when as an engineer in the USAF, I was introduced to the reality of a fighter pilot. I was watching a cockpit video from an F-16 while a pilot was narrating how the radar intercept was progressing. The pace was similar to an announcer at the horse races. At some point I asked; When is he flying the plane? The response was; Oh, that's a background task. That's when I realized that an F-16 isn't a plane, it's a weapon system that just happens to fly. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Mar 1 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Everything changes when "Aviate, Navigate, Communicate" adds in "watch for bad guys, identify your mission target, don't get shot, select the correct munitions, configure and target them correctly, evade counterfire, coordinate with air and ground forces, etc, etc, etc...". Just keeping situational awareness is a monumental task by itself. Consider, for example, how much a bus driver would need to learn before they could effectively command a tank. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Mar 1 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ The pilots of SR-71s were 'a little busy'. Seated behind them, the reconnaissance systems officer did everything else. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 1 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura And the SR-71 isn't even a warplane - no dogfights, no weapons; just cameras, really. Some multirole/fighter class planes did have a RIO/WSO, of course. In an airliner you always have at least two flight crew also and they don't have any extra stuff to worry about at all. Instead of two pilots managing flight you have one who has to play PF and PM at the same time. For one-seaters without the luxury of a RIO/WSO you're now down to just one pilot who is PF, PM, and RIO/WSO all at the same time. The workload is crazy. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Mar 2 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ @J...: And yet, pilots of single-seater fighter jets like the F-16 joke about rather having the extra gas than another person in the cockpit with them. e.g. youtu.be/REtqz-zIhP4?t=126 (Mover Ruins Movies: IRON EAGLE (1986)), he says "that's the way it should be" about being all alone in a single-seat cockpit. He flew F-16s for the US air force reserve, and F-18s for the navy, and now T-38 adversary air for the air force. If I spent longer looking, I could probably find something less jokey, maybe in one of his interviews on his channel with an F-14 pilot about their RIO. $\endgroup$ Mar 3 at 4:20

As a baseline answer, the Royal Australian Air Force has a rundown on the recruiting page, hidden under 'full details' option and 'training' where after completing initial flight training they have:

Pilot Advanced Courses (1 year). If you are streamed to go down the FJP pathway you will be required to complete the following courses: Pilot Advanced Course (6 months). Remaining at RAAF Base Pearce you will undergo training on the Hawk Lead-in fighter at Number 79 Squadron (79SQN). Lead-in-Fighter Course (6 months). Once you have learnt the basics of flying the Hawk and operating at higher airspeeds, you will be posted to 76SQN at RAAF Base Williamtown to learn how to operate the Hawk in a tactical environment (air to air and air to ground).

This is training on the Hawk, a fast jet with weapons capability but not a current combat aircraft. Then they have

Operational Conversions (6 months). At the end of the advanced courses you will be streamed for operational conversion onto one of the following platforms:

And then listing the F18F, F18G and F35

So the starting point for a hypothetical pipeline for pilots to effective fighter pilot is 18 months. While a war footing might let you strip weekends and other down time out it seems unlikely you could do better than 6 months. In practice I would suspect that the key factor in this timelines is training assets - do you have enough simulators, instructors, training aircraft and a safe places to fly for all your pilots, for Ukraine I'm sorta expecting the answer to most of above is 'no'.

So if you need highly effective general purpose pilots you need to have started a year or so ago. If you are at the point of sacrificing one or more of 'effective', 'general purpose' and 'pilot' then other things become possible.

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    $\begingroup$ For Ukraine, I'd guess that providing training to potential pilots is something other countries could help with. i.e. fly the pilot trainees to another country where they can train. Not that it would make sense, because the timeline for becoming combat-effective is just so long. Modern jets are too expensive to risk on half-trained pilots, and full training takes a long time. $\endgroup$ Mar 3 at 4:27

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