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Here’s how much money is on the table for the Air Force’s 2021 aviation bonus program

Diana Stancy Correll

1st Lt. "Enzo" of the 96th Bomber Squadron out of Barksdale Air Force Base, La. performs co-pilot responsibilities on a B-52H Stratofortress flying out of RAF Fairford, England, during a training mission near the Black Sea
The Air Force is doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to airmen eligible for the service’s aviation bonus program in fiscal 2021 — but the lengths of the contracts have been revised slightly since last year.

These bonuses are being offered to active-duty aviators whose initial undergraduate flying training service commitment expires this fiscal year:

Bomber pilots (11B), fighter pilots (11B), mobility pilots (11M), special operations pilots (11S) and CSAR fixed-wing pilots (11H) have the ability to earn up to $420,000 if they renew their contracts in 2021, according to the Air Force.

Those pilots can receive annual payments of $25,000 for contracts between five to seven years, for a maximum of $175,000, or an up-front payment of $100,000. Likewise, these pilots can earn annual paymentsof $35,000 for contracts spanning eight to 12 years, with an up-front payment option of $200,000.

That’s a shift from the FY2019 and 2020 aviation bonus programs, where 11B bomber pilots, 11F fighter pilots and 11M mobility pilots were eligible for annual bonuses of $35,000 for contracts between three and 12 years. Those who signed on to seven to nine-year contracts could receive an initial payment of $100,000, while those who agreed to ten to 12-year contracts were eligible to receive an upfront payment of $200,000.

11S special operations pilots were also eligible for these bonus amounts in FY2019 and 2020 as well, although the upfront payments only became available to them in the last fiscal year.

Last year, 11H CSAR fixed wing pilots were eligible for annual bonuses of $30,000 for serving three to six more years, and were offered $35,000 per year if they agreed to serve seven to 12 more years. These pilots were eligible for money up front, $100,000, only if they signed on for 10 to 12 more years of service.

Under the fiscal 2021 aviation bonus program, 11H CSAR rotary-wing pilots are eligible for annual payments of $15,000 for five to seven-year contracts, or $25,000 annually for eight- to 12-year contracts.

That’s a departure from the FY2020 aviation bonus program, where 11H CSAR rotary-wing pilots qualified for annual payments of $25,000 for three to six year contracts and $30,000 annual bonuses for seven to 12-year contracts.

Remotely piloted aircraft pilots (11U and 18X) who sign contracts for five to seven more years in fiscal 2021 can receive annual payments of $25,000, or $35,000 for contracts lengths of eight to 12 years, with the option for an initial payment of $100,000.

The Air Force has expanded the window for receiving the lump-sum payment for 18X RPA pilots in comparison to last year’s bonus program, where pilots could receive a $100,000 payment if they signed on for another 10 to 12 years.

Additionally, the bonuses for this year are slightly different than the ones offered in FY2020, where 18X RPA pilots could receive $30,000 for three to six-year contracts, and $35,000 bonuses for seven- to 12-year contracts.

Combat systems officers and 13B air battle managers this year qualify for annual payments of $15,000 if they renew their contracts for five to seven years, or $25,000 for contracts of eight to 12 years.

That’s a shift from the bonuses offered in FY2020 and FY2019, where they could receive $20,000 annually for three- to six-year contracts, and $25,000 annually for seven- to nine-year contracts.

Aviators whose contracts have expired, or who previously signed an aviation bonus contract that expired prior to fiscal 2021, also have an opportunity to receive a bonus:

Bomber pilots, fighter pilots, mobility pilots, CSAR fixed-wing pilots, special operations pilots and remotely piloted aircraft pilots are eligible for annual payments of $15,000 for five- to seven-year contracts or $25,000 for eight- to 12-year contracts.

In the event an aviator’s contract has expired or is non-contracted, there is a five-year contract minimum and a 24 years of aviation service maximum, the Air Force said.

Since 2017, the Air Force has said that it is short approximately 2,000 pilots.