Airborne SchoolUpdated: December 23, 2022
There are plenty of American war films that feature the familiar military cadence chant, “I want to be/An Airborne Ranger/I want to lead a life/of danger.” This is a reference to the United States Army Ranger elite special operations team. Civilians refer to them often as “Airborne Rangers” but the Army official site simply describes them as Army Rangers.
The “Airborne” designation indicates a soldier is a graduate of Airborne School, and not necessarily that they are an Army Ranger. Airborne training is not MOS-dependent so those not interested in becoming Rangers still have opportunities to attend the school–we’ll examine what that means below.
Why Airborne School?
There are many Army specialties that require knowing how to, as the old joke goes, jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Since we started with Rangers, let’s continue with their example. The Army official site describes those who serve as Army Rangers as being members of the 75th Ranger Regiment, “…the U.S. Army’s premier large-scale special operations force”. GoArmy.com describes the work of Army Rangers as “joint special operations raids and joint forcible entry operations”.
None of the missions listed above can be accomplished solely through the tactics used in a strictly ground-based assault. Air support is crucial to many such operations and Airborne School is the Army’s preferred method to get troops ready to provide such air support–at least where soldiers parachuting into the area of operations is concerned.
Airborne School is designed to find those with specific skills related to parachuting, dealing with stressful situations involving heights, combat arms, and tactics. Not everyone who graduates from Airborne School becomes an Army Ranger, but all Army Rangers are Airborne School graduates.
Airborne School Basics
The Basic Airborne Course is held at Fort Benning, Georgia and is a three-week program designed to screen Airborne candidates for physical and mental fitness as well as ease the trainees into the process of learning how to perform parachute jumps and related procedures.
Who May Apply For Airborne School
- Commissioned Officers
- Warrant Officers
- Noncommissioned Officer
- Enlisted members
- “Qualified cadets”
All applicants must “physically qualify for parachute duty” according to Army medical standards. All applicants must have passed their most recent Army Combat Fitness Test and “successfully execute the flexed arm hang (FAH) for ten seconds as an assessment for Airborne training”.
The flexed arm hang requirement has a specific, functional purpose. The Army official site states that this requirement is “a safety mitigation measure to ensure students can pull and hold a slip to safely avoid fellow jumpers in the air, obstacles on the ground, and assume a proper prepare to land attitude”.
The flexed arm hang is held on the first day of Airborne School. Anyone who cannot meet the initial fitness assessment including the arm hang are re-evaluated the following day in a pass-or-drop situation. If you fail the test twice, you’re out.
Applying For Airborne School
Some of those in the list of eligible Airborne applicants above have specific times when they are permitted to apply and not before:
- U.S. Military Academy Cadets must complete Cadet Basic Training
- ROTC cadets must be contracted OR under scholarship
- Enlisted personnel must have completed Basic Combat Training or equivalent training
- Those currently on duty should contact an Army Retention NCO about getting Airborne training and how to prepare before an application. Army Reservists must coordinate with their unit.
There are other categories of potential applicants who have special procedures–for example, a new recruit who has not shipped out to Basic Training may be eligible to sign up for an Airborne Incentive Bonus.
Those who have already passed Basic Training and are in the Advanced Individual Training program should contact their Drill Sergeant Cadre or an Airborne recruiter to learn how to submit an “Airborne packet”.
Airborne School Class Structure: Three Phases
It’s assumed that the students have zero experience with parachuting, jumping out of an airplane, etc. which is why the three-week course is broken into three individual weeks:
Airborne School Ground Week
This initial portion of the school requires soldiers to take and pass the Army Physical Fitness Test, followed by intensive training involving a mock aircraft door, a 34-foot tower and something known as “the lateral drift apparatus”.
Airborne School Tower Week
Tower week marks the end of “individual skill training” and begins focusing on team skills. In order to qualify for Jump Week, the next phase of the training, each soldier must qualify on mass exit procedures from the tower, learn how to use a parachute from the tower, and qualify on a “swing lander trainer” apparatus.
Airborne School Jump Week
Jump Week is, for the Airborne class, basically “Superbowl Sunday” requiring actual parachute jumps–five in all from at least 1,250 feet. Those who successfully complete Jump Week are identified as Airborne in their military records and are authorized to wear the Airborne Silver Wing device on uniforms.
What You Should Know About Applying To Airborne School
Volunteers for Airborne School must be younger than 36 at application time. Army regulations provide some exceptions; those E-5s and above may be considered for an age waiver if the examining medical officer approves.
All candidates must meet physical qualification requirements associated with parachute duty. These requirements are found in Army Regulation 40-501 which defines Army “medical readiness”.
All applicants must score 180 points on the Army Physical Fitness Test. This means scoring 60 points in each event using the 17-21 age group scale. This test must be no older than 30 days at application time.
Furthermore, all volunteers are required to do a five mile run within 45 minutes. This must be accomplished no later than 30 days before Airborne classes begin. All applicants must meet Army body composition standards.
Each applicant must have a copy of the physical examination that approves them for Airborne School. Physicals given for the purpose of clearing a soldier for Airborne training are good for 24 months but applicants with physicals over 12 months old must obtain a “valid Periodic Health Assessment”.
Army rules in this area state clearly, “Physicals…that do not specifically state they are for the purpose of Airborne training can be used by placing any additional requirements on a SF600, specifically stating the Soldier is ‘Qualified for Airborne’.” These must be signed by qualified medical personnel.
Personal Statement Required
Anyone applying for Airborne School is required to sign a waiver that indicates the following:
- The applicant is a volunteer who seeks Airborne training and assignments as an Airborne-qualified soldier.
- The applicant volunteers to “perform frequent aircraft flights, parachute jumps, and to participate in realistic training while undergoing airborne training and/or performing airborne duty.”
- The volunteer acknowledges that they may be assigned to an airborne unit for a period of not less than 12 months after completing the school.
- The volunteer agrees to extend enlistment or reenlist if necessary to meet the length of service requirements (12 months after completion of training).
- The volunteer affirms there has been “no significant change in my physical condition since the time of the attached physical examination. I consider myself qualified for airborne training and/or assignment”.
- The volunteer agrees to serve a minimum of 12 months in airborne status.
- The volunteer acknowledges that they may not “voluntarily terminate my airborne status unless physically disqualified.”
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News