The Air Force has established interim height standards for flying enlisted aviator career fields — broadening the pool of airmen who can serve as flight engineers, special-mission aviators and aircraft loadmasters, among other specialties.
The new, interim height standards range from 4′10″ to 6′8″ — depending on career field — while the service awaits results from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s anthropometric study to determine crew position-specific requirements for 32 different types of aircraft.
“Up until now, CEAs did not have an anthropometric-based height requirement, so our team here worked to accelerate the AETC commander’s efforts to implement these interim changes while the Air Force study is underway,” Chief Master Sgt. Erik Thompson, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, said in an Air Force news release Monday.
“The CEA career field, like every Air Force specialty, needs a diverse team of multi-capable airmen to be able to complete our missions,” Thompson said. “These new height requirements will be instrumental in helping us build just that.”
The new standards take effect immediately and are a departure from the previous physical qualifications that required all CEAs to be between 5′4″ to 6′5″ — figures that stemmed from a 1967 study with a sample of predominantly white male pilots.
However, the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics reports that 43.5 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 20 and 29 are shorter than 5′4,” and the Air Force said the previous height standards do not “reflect the actual operational requirements of CEAs.”
“The former policy was not applicable to career enlisted aviators, as the vast majority of CEAs move throughout the aircraft for the duration of the duty day,” Chief Master Sgt. Philip Leonard, the Air Force’s CEA career field manager, said in an Air Force news release. “While the highly conservative nature of the previous requirement has seemingly kept the force safe, the study will finally provide specific requirements by aircraft and crew position.”
The anthropometric study is slated to conclude in the fall of 2022 and will aim to expand the recruit population for 10 CEA Air Force Specialty Codes, the Air Force said.
The shift comes almost a year after the Air Force announced it was eliminating initial height requirements for officers who were seeking to become aviators. That meant that those applying to become aviators and were shorter than 5′4″ or taller than 6′5″ standing, and 34 inches to 40 inches while sitting, would no longer need waivers.
“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” Gwendolyn DeFilippi, assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in an Air Force news release in May 2020. “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.”
Even with waivers, the Air Force has feared the initial height restrictions to become pilots were discouraging many women from applying.
Career Enlisted Aviator career fields are made up of Inflight refueling specialists, flight engineers, aircraft loadmasters, airborne mission systems specialists, flight attendants, airborne cryptologic language analysts, airborne ISR operators, special mission aviators, sensor operators, enlisted RPA pilots.
These specialties account for approximately 35 percent of the service’s total force aviator community, the Air Force said.