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Air Force removes height restrictions for pilots

The U.S. Air Force announced this week that it is changing its height restrictions for pilots. Applicants below 64 inches (5'4") or above 77 inches (6'5") can now enter a cockpit without a waiver. 

Under the Air Force's previous requirements, an Air Force pilot applicant — barring waivers — needed to have a standing height between 5'4" to 6'5" and a sitting height of 34-40 inches. That requirement eliminated about 44% of the U.S. female population between the ages of 20 and 29, according to the Air Force.

"Studies have shown that women's perceptions about being fully qualified for a job makes them less likely to apply, even though there is a waiver option," said Air Force mobility planner and programmer Lieutenant Colonel Jessica Ruttenber in a press release issued Thursday.

According to Ruttenber, the leader of the initiative to change the height standards, historically, most U.S. aircraft was designed around the height of an average male. 

"Modifying the height standard allows the Air Force to accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints," she said. 

"While most height waivers were approved under the old system, feedback indicated the entire waiver process served as a barrier, which negatively impacted female rated accessions," said Lieutenant Colonel Christianne Opresko, branch chief on the Air Force's Air Crew Task Force and an aerospace physiologist. "It's hard to determine how many women did not previously apply due to their perception of not being fully qualified or having to pursue a waiver."

The change is part of the Air Force's "on-going effort to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants to pursue careers in aviation," according to its press release. 

In place of the blanket height requirement, the Air Force will now use an "anthropometric screening process" to asses individual applicants "for placement in an aircraft they can safely fly." 

Anthropometry is a science that "defines physical measures of a person's size, form, and functional capacities," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to measuring height, an anthropometric assessment also takes into account weight, body mass index, body circumferences (waist, hip, and limbs), and skinfold thickness.

"We're really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force," said Gwendolyn DeFilippi, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. "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."

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