About four in 10 cadets who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy Wednesday are headed for pilot training, a slight uptick in prospective flyers after a two-year decline.
They are among an estimated 973 students in the Class of 2022 who became newly minted second lieutenants at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Of that group, 863 joined the Air Force and 94 joined the Space Force. This year’s graduating class is slightly smaller than in 2021.
“A little snow can’t stop the Class of 2022!” the school said on Facebook Tuesday, after unseasonably heavy snowfall hit the area over the weekend.
Growth in the USAFA-to-pilot training pipeline of about 4 percentage points in the past year may signal some good news for the Air Force, which has long lamented losing airmen to commercial airlines and is about 1,800 pilots short of its staffing goal.
But the figure — about 43% of all 2022 graduates and 48% of those who commissioned into Air Force — marks a return to the normal amount of pilot trainees that come out of the service academy. The number typically hovers between 40% and 50% but spiked to 53% in 2019. It fell slightly in 2020, though remaining above half, then dropped to 38% in 2021.
As for the Space Force, its new crop of guardians is slightly smaller than that of 2021, but on par with graduates from the past two years. The newest military service has received nearly 300 officers from USAFA since its creation in December 2019.
This year’s cohort is about as diverse as in 2021, with women comprising a quarter of the class and minorities comprising a third. They studied alongside 16 international students from 15 countries.
In addition to the pilot hopefuls, 24 graduates will train to fly drones, 11 to become combat systems operators and nine to become air battle managers. Nearly 400 more plan to join nonrated, or nonflying, career fields.
Academy grads must serve in the military for at least five years, depending on their career path. Those who earn their pilot’s wings owe the Air Force 10 years in the cockpit.
About 53,500 graduates have gone on to military service since USAFA was founded in 1954.
Academy officials said May 21 they would award bachelor’s degrees to three cadets who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as required by the Pentagon, but that they would not commission as military officers. A fourth unvaccinated cadet ultimately chose to get a shot shortly before graduation and will join the Air Force, the Associated Press reported.
It’s up to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to decide whether the three unvaccinated graduates must reimburse the government for the cost of their educations, which the school says is valued at more than $416,000 per person.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.