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Air Force drops height restriction to allow more female pilots

Air Force drops height restriction to allow more female pilots
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The United States Air Force has officially removed a minimum height requirement for pilots in an effort to allow for a “larger and more diverse applicant pool” to the military branch, including female pilots.

Under the previous requirements, an Air Force pilot had to be between 5’4” to 6’5,” and they had to reach a sitting height of between 34 and 40 inches. Applicants outside of those heights had to file waivers, which had been mostly approved, according to a Friday statement from the Air Force.

However, the previous requirements, which were removed as of May 13, “eliminated approximately 44% of the U.S. female population between the ages 20 to 29,” according to the Friday statement. 

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The new policy ensures that initial pilot applicants do not have to submit a 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, said in the Friday statement. DeFilippi also chairs the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group. “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.”

The Friday statement explained that the Air Force’s medical and operations employees will “apply an anthropometric screening process to individual applicants for placement in an aircraft they can safely fly.”

“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,” Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber, an Air Force mobility planner and programmer who “led the height standards adjustment effort,” said. “Modifying the height standard allows the Air Force to accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints.”

“Historically, most of our aircraft were engineered around the height of an average male, not females,” Ruttenber added.

Lt. Col. Christianne Opresko, branch chief on the Air Force’s Air Crew Task Force and an aerospace physiologist, said that, although most of the waivers under the previous system were approved, “the entire waiver process served as a barrier.”

“It’s hard to determine how many women did not previously apply due to their perception of not being fully qualified or having to pursue a waiver,” Opresko said.