Air Force Should Change Height Standards for Enlisted Aviators Too, Guard Official Says

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Two airmen illustrate the varying standing heights of Air Force pilots.
Maj. Gen. Craig Wills stands side-by-side with a 19th Air Force pilot to illustrate the varying standing heights of Air Force pilots to dispel the myth that there is one height standard for all Air Force pilots. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

An Air National Guard official wants the Air Force to change height restrictions for career enlisted aviators since it's already done so for pilots.

Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Dawson, the Air National Guard's career enlisted aviator (CEA) field manager, said this week that the height policy, which applies to 10 aviation operations-related jobs, is outdated and limits the Air Force from recruiting more talent -- especially women -- for these career fields.

"The CEA height policy follows the 1967 pilot standard ... which was based off of the population of pilots at that time, predominantly male, sitting at a control station," Dawson said, according to a Feb. 10 Air Force news release. "But CEAs are different than pilots."

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CEA jobs include support crew such as loadmasters, flight engineers, gunners and even remotely piloted aircraft sensor operators across 32 different airframes. As Dawson points out, most of these jobs require personnel to move about the aircraft while working.

"This policy does not reflect the actual requirements and does not create an accurate safety standard," he said in the release.

Last May, the Air Force ditched the initial height requirement for pilots. Previously, those shorter than 5'4" or taller than 6'5" (64-77 inches) had to apply for a waiver. While the waiver process had existed since 2015, officials said many failed to take advantage of it.

Air Education and Training Command, citing the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, in 2019 said that roughly 43.5% of U.S women ages 20 to 29 have a stature of 64 inches or less. Through its own Air National Guard Diversity and Inclusion study, the ANG career management office confirmed that statistic.

"Over the years, this policy has eliminated a large portion of talent and has contributed to a CEA readiness problem," said Dawson, who credited his predecessor, Chief Master Sgt. Kurt Uchimura, for picking up on the gap. He said Uchimura received phone calls and emails about ineligible candidates, most of whom were female. "That's when he reached out to the Diversity and Inclusion Office at the Air National Guard Readiness Center to ask why."

Dawson is a member of the service's Women's Initiative Team, an all-volunteer group that looks at outdated policies and instructions that may be career-limiting for female service members. With WIT's help, Dawson got the Air Force's approval to commission another study that will determine "appropriate standards for each CEA specialty," the release states.

The $4 million study began in July 2020 and is analyzing the safety measures required for each aircraft that CEA members fly on -- an extensive effort. Members of the Airman's Accommodations Laboratory, which falls under the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Air Force Materiel Command, have begun measuring various body types to compare against airframe data.

Before the Air Force made its final decision on pilots, it used lasers to measure the cockpit in each airframe to precisely analyze their size limitations, Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, commander of the Air Education and Training Command's 19th Air Force, said in 2019.

Pilots also undergo a full anthropometric measurement: buttocks to knees, knees to ankles, and full seated height, which should be between 34 and 40 inches. It also includes "functional reach, wingspan, body mass, weight-to-height ratio, waist-to-hip, hip-to-knee and more," according to the Air Force.

"We put all of that stuff into a software program, it spits out the dimensions of the prospective pilot and then we compare it to all of those dimensions we have for every airplane in the Air Force," Wills said at the time.

The CEA study has already completed measurements on the Air Force's newest helicopter, the MH-139A Grey Wolf. The fleet-wide evaluation is expected to be complete in fall 2022, according to the release.

The Air Force signed a directive last August to keep women in mind in future aircraft designs.

The change, sanctioned by Dr. Will Roper, then-assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, requires the service to look at and buy equipment that considers the body composition of those eligible for military recruitment from the diverse population of the United States, according to a report from Defense News.

The military as a whole is responding to increased numbers of women in the ranks. According to an October 2020 USA Today report, women make up about 21% of the Air Force; 20.2% of the Navy; 15.4% of the Army; and 9% of the Marine Corps.

"Although there have been some recent quick wins with interim CEA entry standards, the fidelity that this study provides will cement a path to readiness," Dawson said, crediting the WIT team for spearheading many of the initiatives over the past four years. "It is essential that we take the time and resources to modernize."

The study will continue to look at pilot anthropometric measurements in case there is more to be learned on that front, Dawson said.

"So both officers and enlisted will benefit," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

Related: The Air Force Will No Longer Reject Pilot Applicants for Being Too Short

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