Be prepared for a series of tests if you are keen on joining the Indian Air Force.

The enormous gates swing open to admit a bus carrying a fresh batch of officer aspirants. They have received a call letter to report to 2 AFSB, having successfully cleared the first step , which is a written test. The blue and gold Air Force crest adorns massive gates that stand out on the busy T. Narsipur road in Mysore, proclaiming the location of No. 2 Air Force Selection Board (2 AFSB). The eagle on the crest represents passion to soar into the skies while the Ashoka capitol proclaims the immeasurable pride an air warrior feels in serving our motherland.

The Board at Mysore is half a century old, having celebrated its golden jubilee in 2012. Along with its counterparts at Dehradun, Varanasi and most recently, Gandhinagar, 2 AFSB selects officers for all branches of the IAF as well as the National Defence Academy (NDA) and also those who have cleared the Combined Defence Services Examination (CDSE). The advertisement for the NDA is released twice a year in May and December and for the CDSE in June and October by UPSC. For eligibility criteria, refer to the UPSC website: www.upsc.gov.in.

For the NDA and the CDSE, the written test is conducted by the UPSC. For the other branches, candidates have to undergo the Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT), conducted by the Indian Air Force across the country. For eligibility criteria and other details, log on to www.careerairforce.nic.in.

On one side of these gates, at an elevation, king-size blow-ups of a gung-ho aircrew, against a backdrop of modern supersonic aircraft, exhort kindred spirits to join the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Over the next five to six days, the aspirants will be evaluated for aptitude and officer-like qualities which include leadership, physical fitness, mental toughness, team spirit and communication skills. According to assessors, the qualities that impress them the most in potential officers that go through the AFSB are enthusiasm and motivation and a realistic understanding of what they expect from a career in the Air Force. So candidates are assessed not only through the formal tests but also, in an unobtrusive way, on how they conduct themselves during their stay at the Candidate’s Mess on the Board’s premises where they are billeted.

Tests

Stage I of the testing at the AFSB involves an Officers Intelligence Rating Test and a Picture Perception and Discussion test. Those who make the grade in stage-I become eligible to undergo stage II of the testing. This involves psychological tests, group tests and a one-on-one conversation with an Interviewing Officer.

The psychological tests are written tests carried out by a psychologist; the group tests, conducted outdoors, measure a candidate’s ability to perform under stress, demonstrate leadership skills and work in a team.

When it comes to the selection interview, assessors say that the best way to overcome nervousness is to be as prepared and give answers that highlight the candidate’s qualities and achievements. It’s also useful to have basic knowledge of current affairs, they point out. Here too, as in the psychological test and the group test, the candidate’s ability to take decisions in stress situations is evaluated. The selection board’s testing is unique in that the candidate is assessed by means of three different techniques for the same officer-like qualities.

Pilots

For those aspiring to the Flying Branch, the once-in-a-lifetime Pilot Aptitude Battery Test (PABT) is aimed at assessing a candidate’s aptitude to be trained as a pilot for military flying. Assessors point out that such testing looks for innate ability. Therefore, in reality you've either got it or you haven't. It's not something you can prepare for. When all the tests have been completed, a conference is held where the President of the Board and the assessors - the psychologist, Ground Testing Officer and the Interviewing Officer - meet to discuss the results and decide who’s to be recommended for selection. The decline in educational standards has compelled the selection boards to take up ever-increasing numbers for assessment in order to meet targets.

There is a sense of exhilaration among those who make it through to the next stage which is the medical examination either at Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), New Delhi or Institute of Aviation Medicine, Bengaluru. Even those who don’t make the cut are encouraged to return and give it another shot. Some of the bonds formed during these few days last a lifetime.

An All India Merit List is then compiled on the basis of the written test and AFSB interview, subject to the officer aspirant being medically-fit. Based on the vacancies available in various branches /sub branches, joining instructions are issued to join one of the training establishments.

Advertisements inviting applications for the AFCAT are out in June and December. Air Squadron NCC Senior division ‘C’ certificate holders are to apply through the DG/NCC the respective NCC Air Squadron. They would then appear for the AFCAT.

It’s a heady feeling to serve the Nation and keep the planes flying round the clock; to be ready for anything, at any time. But a career in the IAF comes with other benefits as well — such as job satisfaction and excellent training, an opportunity to travel and countless intrinsic benefits linked to quality of life. In keeping with the sobriquet, “The Silent Service” that the IAF has earned, the Air Force Selection Boards work silently, away from the glamour of the flying stations, to ensure that, when the nation calls, the best will surely answer.

The IAF’s website address is www.careerairforce.nic.in.