SIFT Study Guide for Army Aviation

Updated on May 23, 2018
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Daniel is an Army Aviation officer currently serving as a UH60 Blackhawk Pilot in Texas. He has a bachelors degree in history.


The Selection Instrument for Flight Training or SIFT is the Army's test to see if a potential future pilot is academically qualified. The test lasts about three hours with a break in the middle and ranges from sections that will test your math and physics (an important skill for an aviator) to seeing how fast you can think and react. While it seems like a long and hard test, if you are able to understand how the test works—and what is being asked of you in each section—it makes it a lot easier. You are only allowed to take the SIFT a second time if you fail. The second attempt has to be six months after the first test. Once you pass with a 40 or above, you cannot retake it for a higher score. That being said, most people who actually study with some kind of effort score around the low 50 or high 40 mark. The purpose of this article isn't to make you an aviation expert, but simply knowing the format of the test and some basic knowledge can greatly impact your score.

Sections on the Test

Since knowing is half the battle it is beneficial to understand what exactly you'll be doing for the SIFT. Here I list the seven different sections, and later I'll go into more detail one by one.

1. Simple Drawings
2. Hidden Figures
3. Army Aviation Information
4. Spatial Apperception
5. Reading Comprehension
6. Math Skills
7. Mechanical Comprehension

Simple Drawings

The first section of the SIFT is actually very simple, simple drawings to be exact. In this section, you simply have to identify which one of the drawings are different from the rest. The catch, however, is that you only have two minutes to finish 100 questions. Right away the SIFT gives many anxiety, but just remember that they know it is humanly impossible to answer all 100 questions correctly in only 120 seconds. This section is to see how fast you can think and react. That being said, once time starts running out, do not simply guess to get through more questions. Take your time and answer as many as you can correctly.

For the practice quiz below, I could have added a picture from other study guides that show objects like stars, boxes, and even compasses facing different directions, but the overall gist of this is just to be able to quickly identify a difference. No matter what you study, the objects on the actual SIFT will be completely different.

Simple Drawings Practice Test

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Hidden Figures

Another self-explanatory section. Here you will have 5 minutes to answer 50 questions, which leaves you with about 6 seconds for each question. Again, don't start guessing when time starts to run out. You are going for accuracy not speed. However, you shouldn't linger too much on one question. It's a fine balance of quickly identifying the figure and moving on versus knowing when to drop it and go to the next question. When studying, I recommend just becoming familiar with this section and coming up with a strategy, like squinting or finding a defining feature on a figure. The test will always give the same size, position, direction and everything else to exactly match the correct answer. If you see a shape that kinda looks like an answer choice if you turn it, it's not it.

Remember to look for one defining feature that makes that shape stand out from the others. Also, the correct shape will always be exactly as the answer choice shows.
Remember to look for one defining feature that makes that shape stand out from the others. Also, the correct shape will always be exactly as the answer choice shows. | Source

Army Aviation Information

This is the first section that feels like a normal test. Unfortunately, it can be pretty intimidating. You will have 30 minutes to complete 40 questions about aviation knowledge, specifically how helicopters work, and specific questions about US Army aviation. This section is also different for every test taker. For example, my test had few questions on the specifics of helicopters and more on Army aviation, while one of my underclass cadets in ROTC had it the other way around. Regardless of how you think your test might be orientated, here is where I would recommend investing in a hard copy study guide as I could end up writing countless other articles on what to study here. Personally, if you want to be an Army aviator, you should already know basic Army aviation info, such as which Army helicopter is which, so you should focus your studying on the technical side of flight. That being said, here is a very quick and basic rundown on some of the key points you will run into:

  • The cyclic in a helicopter is the stick in front of the pilot that controls the pitch of the main rotor blades, and by moving the cyclic you change the blade's angle of attack (AOA) and create variable lift, i.e., if you push the cyclic forward the aft blades rise and the corresponding thrust vector pushes the helicopter forward.
  • The collective is on the left of the pilot and moves up or down. The collective changes the pitch (which changes the AOA) for all blades simultaneously thus creating more or less lift.
  • The throttle is on the collective and works like a motorcycle throttle by a twist grip. The throttle controls the power produced by the engine and allows the pilot to apply more or less power.
  • Lift is produced by airfoils (rotor blades) and counteracts weight to cause the aircraft to rise or fall.
  • The Angle of Attack is an aerodynamic angle measured from the chord line (imaginary line drawn from from the trailing edge through the leading edge of the airfoil) to the relative wind (direction of wind movement which is parallel but opposite to the flight path)
  • The Angle of Incidence is a mechanical angle measured from the chord line to the resultant relative wind (relative wind that is modified by induced flow)
  • Induced flow is the air that is flowing vertically through the rotor system (sometimes called down wash or "rotor wash")
  • Due to the torque produced by the main rotor blades, anti-torque or tail rotors are on the tail of the aircraft and spin opposite of the main blades to counteract the torque and prevent the aircraft from spinning. This is also controlled by anti-torque pedals at the pilot's feet which allow the pilot to designate more or less power to the tail rotors, allowing the aircraft to spin in the desired direction.
  • In Army aviation the first letter of the aircraft's name tells you what it does.
    - U = utility, C = cargo, A = attack

That was an extremely basic overview of what to study for. I highly recommend getting a physical study guide that can devote pages and pages to this section as well as briefly looking over some FAA regulations ( Also, this section has some basic scientific principles such as energy and Newton's laws which I have a separate quick study guide for also. While this section is pretty intimidating because many taking the SIFT don't know the technical aspect of helicopters, just remember that the rest of the SIFT is stuff you should have learned in high school so don't sweat it too much if this part is kicking your butt.

Army Aviation Information Practice Test

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Spatial Apperception

This is another simple section if you understand what is being asked of you. You will be shown a picture of a horizon that usually contains land, water, and some kind of distinguishable feature, as if it was your view from a cockpit. It is your job to determine which way the aircraft is going based on the cockpit view. It seems difficult but once you know what to look for it is fairly simple.

Firstly, you want to determine if the aircraft is banking or tilting. If the picture shows land or any other feature on the side, then you know the aircraft obviously isn't level. If the land is level, then the aircraft isn't banking. Next try to determine if the aircraft is climbing or diving, by simply seeing if the horizon is above or below the center point. Lastly, determine where the aircraft is directed simply by looking at the features. Is the aircraft pointed towards water or land? Is the land above the center point making the aircraft upside down?

Lastly, once you start being able to identify the aircraft's position some people get the answer switched (banking left but put that the aircraft is banking right) always remember that it is your view from the cockpit. Try to picture yourself in the aircraft and what would it look like.

Spacial Apperception Practice Test

Top: A - The horizon is level and flat so there is no bank, and the horizon is at the center point so the aircraft is level and flying straight. Bottom: E - The horizon is level so there is no bank, but it is above the center point indicating dive.
Top: A - The horizon is level and flat so there is no bank, and the horizon is at the center point so the aircraft is level and flying straight. Bottom: E - The horizon is level so there is no bank, but it is above the center point indicating dive. | Source

Reading Comprehension

Now we get into the high school stuff. The rest of the SIFT revolves around basic academics that are taught in high school like reading, math, and physics. In this section, you will be given a passage of text to read through and answer a few questions about. You will have 20 questions and 30 minutes to complete the section. Each passage will have about 5 questions within it, so there are about four passages in total. I won't add a practice test for this section because it would be too cumbersome for this article and would be the same as any other reading test. Just remember the basics they teach in high school: read the questions first, pay attention to facts that stand out, and try to think a little deeper and read between the lines. The questions range from what was the main idea, to what was the author's attitude or opinion, to what does a specific word mean. Just use context clues, suffixes, and prefixes, and try to get an overall understanding of what you just read and you will be fine.

Mathematics Skills

This section covers math up to algebra and geometry. It isn't too difficult, and it provides any formulas you may need right there on the screen for you. The only downside is that while you are allowed scratch paper, you cannot have a calculator. However, all of the math is simple enough to be done by hand. You will have 40 minutes to answer a number of questions that depends on how you do in the section. You will never know how many questions are left until you finish the section so do not guess unless you have to. The test constantly changes the number of questions asked and the difficulty as you progress depending on your previous answers.

The review for this section will be pretty short since I can't really teach you high school level math all over again in one little article, but you should brush up on some algebra, geometry, and word problems. Like I said before nothing is too difficult that it cannot be done by hand, and any formula you might need is provided for you.

Math Practice Test

15. D 16. A 17. B 18. B 19. B
15. D 16. A 17. B 18. B 19. B | Source

Mechanical Comprehension

Like the math portion of the SIFT, this section is basic high school physics and mechanics, and the number of questions and difficulty vary based on your answers as you go. You have 15 minutes to complete this section. To review I simply recommend looking over some of Newton's laws, gravity and weight, torque, and energy. Simple machines are also on the test. However, these are usually common sense, such as if this gear turns this way, what way does the connected gear turn. Again I can't reteach high school physics in one article, but I do have two other study guides that can help. For this, I recommend getting a SIFT study book or simply looking up basic physics problems.

Mechanical Comprehension Practice Test

18. B 19. A 20. C 21. B
18. B 19. A 20. C 21. B | Source

Study Guide I Recommend

SIFT Study Guide: Test Prep and Practice Questions for the Army SIFT Exam
SIFT Study Guide: Test Prep and Practice Questions for the Army SIFT Exam
All pictures I used I took from this book. I highly recommend this study guide to anyone considering taking the SIFT. It helped me greatly and does an excellent job in explaining and teaching the material. Good Luck!


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    • profile image


      7 months ago

      Angle of Attack is angle between chord line and resultant relative wind.

      Angle of Incidence is angle between chord line and the rotor hub.

    • profile image

      S Maree 

      2 years ago

      Whoooooo! I had enough trouble flying a fixed wing!

      My hat's off to chopper wranglers. Thank God for all who assisted in the hurricane rescues!

      Think I'll leave helicopters to the fine pilots of our Armed Forces. Thanks for sharing this info!


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