Civilian T-38 Pilot: a Dream Job Just For You

One of the many interesting people I met at TPNx this year was Nate Vogel. My standard question of, “What do you fly,” got a response I never expected to hear.

“I’m a civilian T-38 pilot for the Air Force.”

My ears perked up immediately. Then he told me about the kinds of fun and unusual flying he gets to do in the T-38 as a civilian flying for test projects, doing post-depot FCF flights, and fighting F-16 students at Holloman AFB. Sure, that means living in Alamogordo, NM, but if it’s right for your family this would be an awesome job. By the time he got done explaining things, my eyes were green with envy.

One of your future T-38s. If you don’t want to work in a place like this, there are plenty of cubicles in the Pentagon.

Nate’s sugar mama is an O-5 hospital administrator being sent to bigger and better things, and his squadron (of 6 people!) is looking for someone to replace him. If you love flying, don’t mind the location, and want a fun job that pays well. It could be perfect for you. Don’t take my words for it though. I begged him to write something up about the job and here’s what he sent me. (I’ve made only small changes for formatting.)

Nate Vogel:

I have quite a deal to share with you, it’s to take my job. No really. I have an awesome job, and I need someone to take it. Let me explain. A few years ago I stumbled into this job via a bro-net reference. Now, since my active duty spouse is set to PCS next summer, I regretfully have to vacate this position. But what sucks for me could be a huge win for you.

Here’s what I do, I fly T-38s at Holloman AFB as a Department of the Air Force Civilian. A well-paid civilian (GS-14 scale to start). So I fly pointy nose aircraft (yes, no radar or weapons, but still a pointy nose and all the fun that goes with it) and do little else. I get all of the fun of fast jets with almost none of the queep. My primary job is to fly. True, I’m the squadron safety officer on the side, but with 6 pilots (all highly experienced), that really amounts to very little side work. If I get more than 5 emails in a week (not counting the spam sent to everyone), it’s a busy week. And those 5 emails are almost always directly flying related. I sit Ops Sup from my desk and occasionally from home via phone (all while getting paid). Sitting SOF, what is that? Sounds horrible.

Using the mighty Talon, I support different test missions. Sometimes as a radar target, sometimes carrying a pod, sometimes I carry an internal test pallet in place of the back seat. I chase brand new drones around or chase B-52 and B-2 weapon drops. We’re getting Link-16 and there are some other unique upgrades and missions on the horizon. I also get to FCF A-model T-38s out of depot—which is a blast. It’s a refreshing change to fly some 1960’s avionics with no frills.

One of your future T-38s with test pallet installed. Affectionately known as RD-D2, this companion is far superior to any UPT student or IP.

I’m certified to fly down to 200’ AGL and do so routinely. I do BFM (albeit T-38 BFM which my spine appreciates), and surface attack. I fly Red Air for the F-16 B-course on occasion. There is a touch of mission planning and pre-brief, but not the CAF level of pain, and almost no debrief.

I could be dual qualified in the C-12 and do even more cool missions (even if the flying is less fun). It’s my fault I’m not, I was short-sighted and jinked out of the qual. That would mean even more flying and unique experiences. If you take this job, learn from my mistake. Between the T-38 and C-12, we test some pretty cool capabilities that directly support the warfighter. Overall, this gig has been a very rewarding experience.

Why aren’t all of our T-38s painted in WWII heritage paint schemes?

I am a grossly overpaid captain—and it is AWESOME. I have fixed hours. If I exceed them, then I get comp time or overtime. I wear what I want—Batman shirt under the flight suit—go for it! Handlebar mustache and soul patch—no problem! (For the record, I do not have a mustache or soul patch, but that’s by my choice, not some AFI mandated dress code).

I am sad to leave, but that’s life. So if you are interested, here are the minimum and desired qualifications needed to apply.


  • 300 fighter hours
  • 750 total hours
  • 100 hours in previous 12 months
  • At least a 4 ship flight lead
  • Prior IP qual in something at some point
  • Ability to hold TS/SCI


  • T-38 IP time
  • TPS or WIC grad

If interested, contact Tom “Sulu” Hill at

4 thoughts on “Civilian T-38 Pilot: a Dream Job Just For You”

  1. How do I break into the network of flying as a civilian at UPT bases? I’m a former AH-64/former Air Force Navigator/former King Air pilot/current airline/UH-60 pilot.

    1. The generic answer is: networking! Check out this post for some ideas:

      More specifically, just start asking around…people you fly with and people you’ve flown with in the past. Let them know what you’re looking for. Also be sure to post that you’re interested on the TPN Community website ( There is more than one current or former UPT base big-wig on there who will know the right person.

      If you don’t get any bites, shoot me a PM on the Community website or the FB group.

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