The IAF is the 4th largest air force in the world and operates a fleet of over 1000 first line aircraft. It has over 40 operational squadrons and operates a range of the latest generation aircraft from MIG's, Sukhoi's, Jaguars and Illusions. This is an elite service and joining it is not easy.
However the service is open to all Indian nationals and also citizens from Nepal. The entry to the IAF is a 3 tiered affair and one can join the service at any of the tiers. The age limit for joining is from 17-28 years.
The first or the premier joining stage is after completing high school or 10 +2 in India also referred to as Higher Secondary. There is an all India examination conducted by the union Public Service Commission. About 200,000 candidates take part in this written test. The results are published in all daily newspapers as well on the net. The first 2000-2500 candidates are called for the interview. These candidates appear before the Service Selection Board interview.
The second stage is after graduation. Science stream is a must and the examination is referred to as the Combined Defense Services examination (CDS) and is again conducted by the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission). About 100,000 take this examination which is for entry into the 3 services the Army navy and Air force. Again the about 2000 candidates are shortlisted for interview by the SSB.
The third stage is direct entry in the IAF. It is only for specialist branches like Engineering, Logistics, meteorology and Administration. Candidates with first class academic records are directly interviewed
The SSB is the main interview board that shortlist candidates for training at the Air Force Academy at Hyderabad and for engineering officers the Air force Technical College at Jallahali , Bangalore. The SSB interview last 4 days and consist of psychological tests, personality tests and an important test called the OLQ test ( Officer Like Quality Test).In case you flunk in the OLQ test you fail, irresespctive of the performance in other tests.
The psychological tests are modeled by the Directorate of Psychological research, Ministry of Defense and are derived from the original tests which were used by the Royal Air Force. There is another class of entry and pertains to students who have obtained a ‘C’ certificate in the National Cadet Corps. These students are called for interview direct to the SSB and no written test is required.
The IAF is the premier service among the Indian armed forces and joining it entails facing a tougher standard than the Army and Navy entry. To become a pilot a candidate must under go a PABT test as well. This means the Pilot Aptitude Battery Test and a candidate can take it only once in his life. Hence passing the PABT test is of vital importance. In case a candidate fails even once he will never be called up to become a pilot in the IAF again though he can join the Army and Navy.