The Air Force has decided that reserve chaplains who wear beards for religious reasons do not imperil the national defense after all.

For more than a year, the Air Force has rejected a request by one of its reserve chaplains, Rabbi Alan M. Kalinsky of Bangor, Maine, to wear a beard, saying that it needs to "preserve its interests in military image, esprit de corps and high morale."

But now the Air Force has relented and says that Kalinsky and other "chaplains not on extended active duty will be permitted to wear beards as a religious observance."

Kalinsky, a 28-year-old Orthodox Jew, has refused to shave his beard, declaring that it would violate religious dictates as found in Leviticus 19:27, which admonishes, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corner of thy beard." For his efforts, Kalinsky was placed on inactive status in January 1978.

Kalinsky sued the Air Force, claiming that forcing him to shave violated his constitutional right to freedom of religion.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Flannery recently ruled that there is a constitutional issue to be decided in the case. But with a hearing scheduled Thursday on the constitutionality of the regulation banning beards except for Air Force personnel with medical problems, the Air Force relented.

Lt. Gen. Andrew P. Iosue, deputy Air Force chief of staff for manpower and personnel, wrote Kalinsky that he could "wear a neatly trimmed beard...when on duty for training." He also said that he would be reinstated as an active reserve with the rank of first lieutenant and given credit for points toward retirement benefits in addition to all back pay he would have received had he not been placed on inactive status.

In a separate affidavit submitted in the case, Iosue said the Air Force grooming regulations would be changed for other reserve chaplains, but not for anyone else, including chaplains on duty for extended periods of time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis A. Dutterer, who has represented the Air Force in the case, said the government will now move to dismiss the case since Kalinsky's case has been resolved.

But David J. Butler, one of Kalinsky's lawyers, said he will continue to press the case on grounds that the Air Force has decided which "class of people (reserve chaplains) that the 1st Amendment will protect," excluding others. He said that any Air Force personnel who want to wear a beard for religious reasons ought to be able to do so.

The Army, Air Force and Navy all have different regulations on beards. The Army allows practicing Sikhs and soldiers who need them for medical reasons to wear beards, while the Air Force now says beards are OK for medical reasons and for reserve chaplains. The Navy permits neatly trimmed beards on any naval face. CAPTION: Picture, ALAN M. KALINSKY...cites religious dictates