South African Air Force Pilot

Air force pilots are all top of the range pilots! They should be 100% medically fit, young and strong but also smart, quick thinkers. Therefore the selection process is quite rigorous and only a few candidates are successful in applying for training.

Air Force Pilots

The South African Air Force has been training their own pilots since the air force was established in 1921. After a candidate has passed the final selection phase he/she is offered a three year Core Service System contract after which the three year training program will commence. In these three years the students are trained to be soldiers and are subjected to different military courses including a basic military training course and an Officers course. Ab-initio flight training will also be completed in the 3 year contract period after which the candidates will receive their wings. The ab-initio training is done at Central Flying School at the Langebaanweg Air Force Base in the Western Cape. All pupils are trained on the Pilatus PC-7 Mk.II Astra aircraft.

The South African Air Force has different aircraft requiring different pilots to fulfil a diversity of different roles. When a pupil receives his/her wings after ab-initio training he/she will either be transferred to another training squadron in the air force for further training or stay at Central Flying School and continue training to become a flight instructor at the school.

Other squadrons a pilot can be transferred to after ab-initio flight training include:

  • 87 Helicopter Flying School (Bloemfontein)
  • 85 Combat Flying School (Makhado)
  • 41 Squadron (Light Transport)(Pretoria) 


The air force has its own syllabus and structure which differs from that of the South African Civil Aviation Authority. Air force pilots hold air force pilot licences and they will need SACAA pilot licences to pilot civilian aircraft. This means that they also have their own requirements that are completely different from SACAA requirements. One advantage is that you don’t have to pay for your training. The hard to meet requirements on the other hand can be a major disadvantage for some people. The following requirements are necessary to be considered for direct entry into the Flying Training Programme: 

Educational Requirements

As stated above the selection requirements are quite high. It is said that the air force receives more than 4 000 pilot applications per year of which only 30 pupils are successful!

The minimum educational requirements to apply for a pilot in the air force are stated below:

  • You must have a valid National Senior Certificate (grade 12) (or equivalent certificate) or be busy with your final year of the certificate.
  • You must have passed Grade 12 English or equivalent level. (Or busy with your final year)
  • You must have passed Mathematics and Physical Science with: (Or busy with your final year)
    • National Senior Certificate: Level 4
    • N4: at least 60%
    • N5 or N6 or University First Year: at least 50%

Medical Requirements

The bar is set even higher when it comes to medical requirements. A candidate must be 100% medically fit before he/she can be taken into consideration for selection.

The requirements are as follows:

  • 6/6 vision without the aid of classes or contact lenses.
  • Must not have any need for a hearing aid.
  • Buttock-heel length must be between 1 035mm and 1 343mm.
  • Body weight between 55kg and 110kg.

Other Requirements

There are numerous other requirements that you have to meet before you will be taken into consideration for air force training:

  • South African Citizen
  • Age between 18 and 26 years
  • Be willing to relocate Nationally and Internationally in case of deployment
  • No criminal record
  • Be recommended by a selection board

The Flight Training Syllabus

Ab-Initio Side-by-Side Training

Before a student can get into the cockpit of an advanced aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-7 Mk.II Astra he/she must first learn the basics of flying. Therefore all students are first sent to a private flying school outsourced by the air force to obtain a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) before attending the Basic Flying Course at Central Flying School. The duration of this phase is only a few months and the student will obtain about 65 hours of flying.

The Basic Flying Phase

After successful completion of the PPL course the student will relocate to Central Flying School at Langebaanweg Air Force Base and continue training on the Pilatus PC-7 Mk.II Astra.

Subjects presented in the Basic Flying Phase:

Ground Phase

  • Aerodynamics
  • Navigation
  • Electronic Warfare

Flying Phase

  • General Flying
  • Simulation Exercises
  • Navigational Flying
  • Night Flying
  • Instrument Flying
  • Formation Flying
  • High and low level flying

The entire flight training course will take approximately 3 years to complete. About 65 flying hours will be obtained during the side-by-side training phase and about 110 hours on the Pilatus PC-7 Mk.II Astra during the Basic Flying Phase. Approximately 75% of the selected students graduate with each take-in.

Period of Service

As soon as a candidate is selected he/she will be offered a 3 year Core Service Contract. In these 3 years the candidate will go through numerous training phases that will include Basic Military training, an Officers Formative Course and Military Certificate Course as well as the flight training phases explained above. Upon successful completion of the Core Service Contract the candidate will receive his/her wings and be offered a 13 year contact as pilot or navigator in the South African Air Force.

A selection board will decide where a pilot will be allocated to using the following criteria:

  • Needs of the air force at the time
  • Student results and achievements obtained during the training course
  • Student preference
  • Recommendation by the flight instructor

The pilot will then be transferred to any one of the following squadrons for further training:

  • 87 Helicopter Flying School, Bloemfontein (Advanced training on helicopters, Agusta A109LUH and Atlas TP-1 Oryx)
  • 85 Combat Flying School, Makhado (Advanced jet and combat training, BAe Hawk Mk.120)
  • 41 Squadron, Waterkloof (Advanced light transport training, Cessna U-27A Caravan)
For more information please visit the Unofficial SAAF website or contact the SAAF Recruitment Office at:
Tel: +27 12 312 2148 / 2609
Fax: +27 12 312 2138