The US Air Force is removing height restrictions for pilots, which will allow more women to serve

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F-35A Lightning II pilots with the 421st Fighter Squadron return after flying a sortie during exercise Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2020. Red Flag is the Air Force’s premiere large-scale combat exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

The US Air Force has removed its minimum height requirements for prospective pilots, doing away with a barrier that had disadvantaged women.

Previously, aspiring Air Force pilots were required to have a standing height of 5’4″ to 6’5″ and a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches. Applicants shorter than 5’4″ or taller than 6’5″ had to submit a waiver.

Though most height waivers were approved, the restrictions eliminated about 44% of the US female population ages 20 to 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,” Air Force mobility planner and programmer Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber said in news release last week.

Historically, most of the Air Force’s aircraft had been engineered around the height of an average man, said Ruttenber, who led the effort to change the height standards. The new policy will allow the Air Force to “accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints,” she said.

The average height for US females aged 20 and older is 63.8 inches across all ethnic groups, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, the average height for US males 20 and older is 69.3 inches.

The new policy removes the height barrier “while still preserving safety of flight,” the Air Force said.

Instead of the height standards, medical and operations teams will now apply an anthropometric screening process to applicants to place them in an aircraft that they can safely fly, the Air Force said. That process could factor in a number of different human body measurements, including weight, limb lengths, breadths and body mass index.

“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” said Gwendolyn DeFilippi, 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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