How to Become a U-2 Pilot in the United States Air Force

Yes, the U-2 Dragon Lady is still flying, and there is no flying mission more unique than that of a U-2 Pilot.  Flying at altitudes higher than 70,000 feet alone is an experience like no other.  If you think you may want to become a U-2 Pilot, first read our blog called “How to Become an American Fighter Pilot,” then come back to this blog.  If you are already a military pilot, read on.  As always, if you have any questions, you can always contact us at

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing is looking for a few officers with the professionalism and flying skills necessary to pilot the U-2 “Dragonlady” and provide our nation’s decision-makers with critical high-altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).  ISR is the fastest growing aviation mission in the world.

U-2 pilots come from every military flying background – fighters, bombers, tankers, transports, trainers – and include inter-service transfer officers from the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. They exercise close control over the application and acceptance process, which leads to a highly qualified and very tight-knit group of aviators.

Those selected for an interview generally possess a strong flight evaluation history, strong performance evaluations, and exceed the minimum flight experience requirements. Because the U-2 does not meet military specifications for handling qualities, those selected for an interview must pass a demanding three-sortie profile in the two-seat U-2 to determine their suitability for training.

U-2 training lasts about 9 months, and includes a checkout in the T-38 Talon. Typical line pilots alternate between two month TDYs flying operational missions and two months back at Beale for continuation training, though the current trend is sliding towards more time at home between deployments.


Possess at least 1200 rated hours (Notes: RMQ-1/9 Reaper time may be used to partially satisfy minimum rated hours. Do NOT include pilot training or civilian time)

– Or –

800 rated hours in trainer aircraft such as T-1, T-6, T-34, T-37, T-38, T-45, etc

– Or –

500 hours in fighters

– And –

Possess at least 500 hours in fixed wing, non-RPA, aircraft

– And –

Possess 12 months or 400 hours as pilot-in-command in primary mission aircraft

You must also have an SCI/SBI or the capability to obtain one.



If selected for an interview, you will go to Beale AFB TDY for approx 10-14 days. The first week consists of interviews with squadron and group leadership, mission orientation, mobile rides, flight physical, egress training, and many hours briefing for your interview U-2 sorties. This is an opportunity to see first-hand the unique difficulties associated with flying the aircraft and working in a pressure suit environment. At the end of the first week, a determination will be made as to whether you will progress to week 2. If so, the second week consists of three Acceptance Flight Sorties (AF-1, 2 & 3). AF-1 is 2.5 hours, consisting of flight characteristics maneuvers, descent for an ILS, then multiple normal VFR patterns/landings. AF-2 is a 2.5 hour pattern-only sortie that consists of an instrument approach, followed by normal, no-flap, and simulated flameout (SFO) patterns/landings. AF-3 is a 2.0 hour sortie, nearly identical to AF-2. However, the pilot that drove the mobile chase car on AF-1 & 2 will fly the sortie, and the other pilot will mobile. At the end of this sortie, a determination will be made as to whether or not you will be offered a U-2 assignment.

If you are still reading, you may have the interest and experience required to pursue flying the Dragon Lady.  Again, we are more than happy to answer your questions.  Post a comment on this blog or email us at You can also check out the official U-2 recruiting site at

To see a short video of the U-2 in action, see the below link.  This and other videos can be found on youtube and are not the property of TallyOne.