The U.S. Air Marshal Pistol Qual

Liam Neeson makes some dumb movies these days. Ever since “Taken” and the creation of the geezer teaser, he’s become the face of old-man-does-action. I love these movies, and I’m excited to see Marlowe. Have you ever seen “Non-Stop”? Liam Neeson plays a Federal Air Marshal with an alcohol problem and a gun. After watching and enjoying this silly film, I wondered what Air Marshals do for a firearm’s qual.

They have a unique beat, and I don’t envy their work. I’m six-foot-five inches tall, and planes just aren’t for me. I imagine a Federal Air Marshal has to be pretty skilled. They are shooting a firearm inside a tube full of people. Their accuracy standards have to be high, and they have to be able to effectively take down a terrorist in just a few seconds. While I’m sure a lot of their job is dealing with unruly drunks, they still have to be trained for the worst situation possible.

Luckily, the Federal Air Marshal qual was plenty easy to find, and we shot it out.

What You Need

First and foremost, you will not only need a gun and holster, but you will be shooting from concealment! You’ll need a concealment holster. The Air Marshals carry a Gen 5 Glock 19, and it seems like the famed P229s are still in service as well. Generally, any gun that’s in that compact realm is a good way to go.

Air marshal gear
A Concealment holster and a concealable mag pouch are necessary.

You need 30 rounds of ammo, so it’s not absurdly demanding in the ammo department. You’ll need at least two magazines and a concealable magazine carrier to make things happen. You’ll also need all the appropriate safety gear, including ears and eyes, as well as a shot timer to keep track of par times. Finally, you’ll be using the FBI QIT target, and you’ll need three of them.


Scoring is simple. You get five points for hits inside the bottle of the Q target and two points for hits that touch the edge of the inner and out bottle and shots inside the outer bottle but on the target. The maximum possible score is 150 points, and the minimum qualifying score is 135 points.

There is also an interesting way they score the times. You’ll shoot most of the drills twice, and your times for each drill are combined, and they cannot exceed a specific time. For example, the first drill is shot twice, and your two times have to equal less than 3.3 seconds total. If you shoot one string in 1.3 seconds and the second in 2.0 seconds, you pass.

Shooting Like an Air Marshal

All right, let’s stop talking and start shooting. This is shot cold without a warm-up, with concealment being used twice. Prepare and ensure you can safely draw your firearm from concealment. I won’t make fun of you for going OWB for safety’s sake or to follow range rules. This qual is shot entirely at seven yards, which makes plenty of sense for an Air Marshal. Planes can be big, but even in a big plane, the lines of sight are fairly short.

Stage One: The Draw

Stage One acts as a decent warm-up. It’s quick, mean, and fast. From concealment, you’ll draw and fire one round into the target. Repeat this drill one more time for a total of two runs. Your combined times must not exceed 3.3 seconds.

Drawing handgun for air marshal qual
Make sure you know how to safely draw your firearm.

Stage Two: The Double Tap

Start from the low ready. At the beep, fire a double tap into the target. You’ll repeat this drill twice for a total of two runs and four rounds fired. Your combined times for each string cannot exceed 2.7 seconds.

Stage Three: Getting a Rythym

Again you are in the low ready and doing something interesting. You are attempting to find a good cadence or rhythm. This requires you to shoot six rounds in three seconds. You’ll only shoot it once and have to find the right balance between speed and accuracy. That balance is your rhythm.

Aiming to shoot
A red dot makes life much easier.

Stage Four: Reloading

Ensure your chamber is loaded, but your magazine is empty for this drill. At the beep, fire one round and do a slide lock reload and fire one additional shot. You will repeat this drill one more time for a total of four rounds fired. Your combined time for each string cannot exceed 6.5 seconds.

Stage Five: Two Targets No Problems

From the low ready, you will fire one round on the right target and one round on the left target. The targets need to be three yards apart. You’ll shoot this stage twice, and your combined time for each run cannot exceed 3.3 seconds.

Stage Six: Dancing Around

Returning to concealment for this run, you’ll be shooting three separate targets. You’ll start facing 180 degrees away from the threat. At the beep, you’ll turn, draw and engage each target with a single round. It’s basically a modified El Pres. You’ll do this stage twice, and you’ll turn to the right for the first one and to the left for the second one. You cannot exceed seven seconds between each run.

rotating to shoot during air marshal qual
I’m practicing my Blue Steel…or just rotating to take a threat down.

Stage Seven: Move and Reload

Things are getting tricky, and we have some moving parts here. First, ensure you have a loaded chamber and an empty magazine, and your spare magazine ready for a reload. At the beep, you’ll fire one round, and your gun is empty. Then drop to one knee and reload. Now fire one additional round on the target.

Reloading handgun in kneeling position
Reloading on a knee is smart. Smaller targets are harder to hit.

You’ll repeat this drill twice, and the sum of both runs cannot exceed 8 seconds.

Unload — Show Clear

Whoo boy, this is not an easy one. This qual made its way into one of my favorite qualifications, especially for concealed carriers. I understand its design and limitations considering the target audience. Should you practice outside of seven yards? Yes, of course. However, this is a great close combat course.

It’s different than most and seems to be well thought out for its purpose. The times are tight, and you might struggle. I know I did near the end. I made it, but not as fast as I wanted to be. After shooting this live one time, I used the Mantis Laser Academy and a hammer-fired pistol to shoot it dry. Sadly using a Glock 19 is tough because you have to recock between shots.

It’s a solid bit of training that has high demands and a low round count. Give it a try, and let us know what you think below.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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