Outside of Tier 1 teams like the Navy Seals or 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, the pistol skills regimen for the United States Air Marshals is arguably the most challenging of any tactical agency. Before they fly, Air Marshals have to regularly pass a qualification that defines the top one percent of shooters – period. The course is tough. Really tough. The time limits for drawing from concealment are aggressive. They look easy on paper, but when you must get hits in very small targets zones at top speed, success becomes a big-time challenge. The rules are defined for absolute pass / fail. If you go over the time limit on one stage by just a hundredth of a second, you fail the entire course. If one too many shots even touches the line of the scoring area, you fail the course. No reshoots or do-overs of any string of fire are allowed. You’ll need to complete the 30-round course of fire with no mistakes. Good luck.
Try It On Your Own
Course of Fire
All targets set at 7 yards. QIT-99 target.
Score 5 points inside the inner zones and 2 points anywhere in the bottle.
Requires 135 / 150 to pass with no single stage time overage or re-shoot.
Drill 1 (2 Rounds)
• From concealment, hands at sides
• Draw and fire one round
Time: 3.3 seconds total, 1.65 second average per shot.
Drill 2 (4 rounds)
• From low ready
• Raise the gun and fire two rounds
Time: 2.7 seconds total, 1.35 second average per shot.
Drill 3 (6 rounds)
• From low ready
• Raise gun and fire six rounds
Time: 3 seconds total.
Drill 4 (4 rounds)
• From low ready
• Fire one shot, reload, fire second shot
Time: 6.5 seconds total, 3.25 second average per string.
Drill 5 (4 rounds)
• Set up two targets, 3 yards apart
• From low ready
• Raise gun and fire one shot into each target
Time: 3.30 seconds, 1.65 second average per string.
Drill 6 (6 rounds)
• Three targets three yards apart
• Start from concealment, facing away from targets
• Draw and fire one round at each target
• Repeat and turn in the opposite direction
Time: 7 seconds total, average of 3.5 seconds per string.
Drill 7 (4 rounds)
• Set up the gun with one round in the chamber and an empty magazine loaded
• From low ready
• Raise gun and fire one round, drop to one knee while reloading, fire a second round from the kneeling position
Time: 8 seconds total, average of 4 seconds per string.
So how did you do?
What is the Federal Air Marshal Service?
The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) is a law enforcement agency supervised by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which in turn is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The agency’s mission is “to promote confidence in civil aviation by effectively deploying federal air marshals to detect, deter, and defeat hostile acts targeting the United States.”
Since the 1990s, the Air Marshals have had what is considering the highest firearms qualification standards of all U.S. federal law enforcement agencies. It’s a FAMS’ job to blend in with passengers in airports and on flights. They rely on extensive training in investigative techniques, criminal terrorist behavior recognition, firearms proficiency, aircraft-specific tactics, and close-quarters self-defense tactics to protect air passengers.
Sky Marshals: FAMS History
The agency that would become the service was created initially by President John F. Kennedy, when in 1961 he ordered federal law enforcement officers be deployed to act as security officers on specific high-risk flights. The Federal Air Marshal Service began on March 2, 1962 as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) FAA Peace Officers Program with 18 volunteers from the FAA’s Flight Standards Division.
Later, the service became an integral part of the Civil Aviation Security Division of the FAA. Early on, FAA Peace Officers were referred to as Sky Marshals internally, though the media wouldn’t start using the term for a decade.
The officers eventually received training in close quarters combat from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
In October 1969, due to the increasing violence of hijacked aircraft in the Middle East, the U.S. Marshals Service started a Sky Marshal Division out of the Miami Field Office. The program was run by John Brophy and staffed with a handful of deputies. The Miami office was chosen because a majority of hijackings were occurring out of Florida in the late 1960s.
On September 11, 1970, in response to increasing acts of air piracy by Islamic radicals, President Richard Nixon ordered the immediate deployment of armed federal agents on United States commercial aircraft. Initially, the agents were from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Subsequently, the United States Customs Service formed the Division of Air Security, and established the position of Customs Security Officer (CSO). Approximately 1,700 personnel were hired for this position and were trained at the Treasury Air Security Officer (TASOS) training complex at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Customs security officers were deployed on U.S. flagged commercial aircraft, flying on both domestic and international routes in an undercover capacity in teams of two and three.
Following the mandatory passenger screening enacted by the FAA at U.S. airports beginning in 1973, the customs security officer force was disbanded and its personnel were absorbed by the U.S. Customs Service.
By 1974, armed sky marshals were a rarity on U.S. aircraft, though a small group of Air Marshals of 10 to 12 were retained that year. In the following years they flew few missions.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan requested the expansion of the program and Congress enacted the International Security and Development Cooperation Act, which expanded the statutes that supported the Federal Air Marshal Service.
The FAM program began in response to domestic hijackings and its operations were almost exclusively conducted on domestic U.S. flights until 1985. After the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that year and the enactment of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act, the number of FAMs was increased and their focus became international U.S. air carrier operations.
Due to resistance of several countries like the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany to having individuals carrying firearms entering their countries, the coverage of international flights was initially spotty, though agreements were later made.
Through various administrative choices, the agency became one of the most proficient. From 1992 to just after the attacks on 9/11, the air marshals had one of the toughest firearms qualification standards in the world. A study from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) later came out with a classified report during this time period, placing Federal Air Marshals among the top 1% of combat shooters in the world, though this stat is no longer accurate due to changes in training requirements.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Federal Air Marshal Service consisted of varying numbers of FAMs dependent on government funding. Although 50 positions were authorized by Congress, only 33 FAMs were active at the time of the attacks.
After the attacks, President George W. Bush ordered the rapid expansion of the Federal Air Marshal Service. Many new hires were agents from other federal agencies, such as the United States Border Patrol, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (BOP), the DEA, NPS, FBI, ATF, INS, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), IRS CID, and many others.
Immediately after the attacks on 9/11, then-Director McLaughlin was tasked with hiring and training 600 air marshals in one month, an impressive feat that has not been repeated by any government agency. A classified number of applicants were later hired, trained, and deployed on flights worldwide.
In October 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff transferred the FAMS from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the TSA as part of a departmental reorganization.
As of August 2013, this number is estimated to be approximately 4,000. Currently, these FAMs serve as the primary law enforcement entity within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).