Amphetamines/"go pills" in the military


New Member
After watching a documentary on steroids and "the American way," I am wondering how much truth there is to the required use of amphetamines in the USAF. I have a feeling the truth has been dramatized for the movie, but I am curious because it seems believable.


Dunning–Kruger Observer
Yes, they are available for use by USAF pilots under pretty tightly controlled circumstances. It is FAR, FAR from "required" in any way.

You are required to ground test them -- e.g. take one dose on a day that you are not flying -- to see how your body reacts to both the "go" (Dexadrine) and the "no go" (Ambien or Restoril). Other than that, they are simply made available to pilots under some very specific circumstances that I'll talk about here in a second.

The pills themselves are tightly controlled by the Flight Surgeon, and the FS is only authorized to issue them to individuals under certain circumstances (e.g. long flights). After use, you have to report that you used them to the FS.

Here's how it works for the fighter world (no idea how they do it in the "heavies"). How you generally see them used is for ocean crossings; usually one "no-go" to get your sleep cycle aligned (since transoceanic flights usually leave at night so as to arrive at the destination while the sun is still up) and one or two "go" pills for use in flight.

In combat deployments, it is relatively standard to issue one-two go-pills to each pilot that they carry in their flight gear for the duration of the deployment. This is because typical fighter combat sorties are lasting 4-8 hours, and occasionally they have to stay longer depending on what is happening. I have only seen these used on a very rare basis...and if a particular pilot was regularly going back the the Fight Surgeon to re-stock, the FS would know that there was something that needed some further investigation with that pilot.

Nobody is ever forced to use them. Ever.

I have used them a handful of times and never experienced anything except being awake. In fact, the feeling is usually less stimulating than having several cups of coffee or Mountain Dews -- probably because by the time I actually take one, I'm feeling very fatigued.

I don't buy any of the claims (notably by the F-16 pilots who bombed the Canadians at Tarnak Farms in 2002) that they cause any strange behavior. People who say that are trying to leverage peoples' Nancy Reagan-inspired gut feeling when someone says "speed" or "amphetamines" for some kind of personal benefit.


Well-Known Member
I passed the test for the "no-go" pills, so theoretically I guess I could use them with FS approval. But it's probably more trouble than it's worth, so I haven't bothered yet.....


Well-Known Member
Prior to the war the Navy was tested all of the bubbas in my community for the go no go pills. The philosophy being that 12 hour missions and minimum turn around, change in circadian rhythm etc may cause some adverse sleep effects on the pilots. For example up to and prior to the start of GWII we were flying 10 hour profile missions, 2 hour preflight, 2 hour post flight, and going again in 12 hours. We were scheduling right up to the allowable turnaround times. Like Hacker said, strictly controlled by the flight surgeon. I felt that the no go pills had a lot more effect than the go pills. The go pills I didn't feel any weird effects, the no go made me fall asleep right away, no matter what time it was. Don't know of anyone personally who did use them.


Well-Known Member
Can't speak for all the heavies, but in 2400 hrs on the E-3, I only used no-go's a a handful of times. Every occasion was after a 14.0 quick turning to another 14.0. I never used a go-pill and can't recall ever being issued one, either; usually better CRM was to have an augmented crew. Longest duration was 21.0, augmented crew, no pills.

Again, very tightly controlled by FSO.


Well-Known Member
Never was offered to use them. Might be the type of aircraft I flew, had pax on board at times. Back in OEF, we flew 3 straight months, literally non stop every day. Even if the airwing stood down for a day, we didn't. I logged 121 hours in Nov 01. One of our guys had 135 hours that same month. Back in Jan 05, during Operation Unified Assistance, my guys flew around the clock, non-stop for a month. Not quite as bad being only one month vs 3 months but I had one guy log 16 hours in one day. Not as bad as a small cockpit but the COD really isn't that big, but at least one can stand up and stretch near the cargo cage. The wing doesn't care, especially in war time. We don't fly tactical missions so as far as they were concerned, it was deal with it. Luckily nobody went into the water with a full load of pas dealing with it. There were times we were exhausted and the pills may have been beneficial I think.


Well-Known Member
Kinda wish we had them in the CG for those unanounced middle of the night 8hr Law Enforcement Flights!


Well-Known Member
Just on a side note, back in the day... in our squadron- which was the largest in the USN at the time (almost 700 people, similar in structure to a USAF wing) we had 2 flight surgeons for about 125-150 enlisted and commisioned flyers. This was before the go and stop pills, but it was nice to have such access expert medical care.

So the circumstances were quite different than a civilian operation.


Fly Casual
I'm a C-130 guy. We only get issued "no-go" pills, almost never a "go" pill. Since we lack the ability to midair refuel, we're pretty much limited to 9-12 hours of flight time anyway. I wasn't even required to ground test the "go" pill.

In the desert our schedules flip flop every 72 hours it seems. You'll fly a night, a day, a night, a day, and on and on. Its havoc on your sleep schedule, so they'll issue you either Ambien, Restoril, or Sonata, and each has their own "use x hours prior to flight" rules. I was a fan of Restoril- knocked me the hell out, and no hangover when I got up.

You'll never get no-go pills in the CONUS. And any use of the leftover no-go pills once you get home from the desert is STRICTLY forbidden. There have been quite a few pee-pee schwackings from that.

Hope this helps.