United States Naval Aviator

United States Naval Aviator
Naval Aviator Insignia

A United States Naval Aviator is a qualified pilot in the United States Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard.


Naming Conventions

Most Naval Aviators are Unrestricted Line Officers; however, a small number of Limited Duty Officers and Chief Warrant Officers are also trained as Naval Aviators.[1]

Until 1981 the US Navy and Marine Corps also had a small number of senior enlisted personnel trained as pilots. Such individuals were referred to as Naval Aviation Pilots or "NAPs." NAPs have a fraternity known as the Silver Eagles.[2] The Naval Aviation Pilot insignia was identical in design to the Naval Aviator Insignia.


Except for an extremely small number of enlisted personnel selected for flight school, Student Naval Aviators must first obtain an officer commission. To become a Naval Aviator, one must be between the ages of 19 and 27 when entering flight training. Adjustments (waivers) can be made up to 24 months for those with prior service, and up to 48 months for those already in the military at the time of application or for Marine Corps PLC (Platoon Leader's Course) applicants with prior service.[3]

Marine Corps Aviation Pipeline

Naval Officers are commissioned through six sources: The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, The United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) at a number of universities across the country, Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia or via the Navy's Limited Duty Officer (LDO) or Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) programs. Coast Guard Officers receive their commissions either from the United States Coast Guard Academy or Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, both located in New London, Connecticut. Graduates of these programs are commissioned as Navy Ensigns, Coast Guard Ensigns, or Marine Second Lieutenants. Individuals must pass an aeronautical screening and be selected for pilot training prior to being designated as Student Naval Aviators (SNAs).

Student Naval Aviators (SNAs) progress through a significant training syllabus ― typically 18 months to four years ― four years being for the Advanced Strike pipeline ― en route to becoming designated Naval Aviators. This includes ground and flight training at numerous locations.

Introductory Flight Screening (IFS)

IFS is the first step to becoming a Naval Aviator. All new flight school students first enroll in a civilian flight school (normally near NAS Pensacola, but also located near Marine Corps Base Quantico and the United States Naval Academy) for 15 (previously 25) hours of flight training in small general aviation aircraft. The student must solo (and previously had to complete at least one cross country flight). The purpose of IFS is to screen all students to see their aptitude for flight in actual aircraft, before sending them through all of flight school. Students who already have a Private Pilot Certificate skip IFS and go straight to Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API).

Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API)

All SNAs start at the "Cradle of Naval Aviation", NAS Pensacola, Florida. There, SNAs (along with Student Naval Flight Officers) receive classroom instruction in aerodynamics, aircraft engines and systems, meteorology, navigation, and flight rules and regulations. They also receive field instruction in survival tactics, survival swimming, and aviation physiology. API is a 6 week long program, the first four of which are academic and the final two are survival and physiology training.

Primary Flight Training

Following API completion, SNAs are assigned to Primary Flight Training at NAS Whiting Field, Florida or NAS Corpus Christi, Texas where they learn to fly the T-34C Turbo Mentor or Beechcraft T-6 Texan II (JPATS). A small percentage of SNAs attend Primary Flight Training with the United States Air Force flying the T-6 at Vance AFB, Oklahoma as part of a joint USN-USAF training effort. Primary teaches the SNA the basics of flying, is approximately six months long, and is divided into the following stages:[citation needed]

  • Ground School (aircraft systems, local course rules, emergency procedures)
  • Familiarization (take-off/landing, limited maneuvers, spins)
  • Basic Instruments (common instrument scans, used during maneuvers)
  • Precision Aerobatics (aileron roll, loop, 1/2 Cuban Eight, barrel roll, wingover, Split S, Immelmann, etc.)
  • Formation (basic section flight, cruise formation flight)
  • Radio Instrument Navigation
  • Night Familiarization
  • Visual Navigation

Intermediate and Advanced Flight Training

Upon successful completion of Primary Flight Training, SNAs are selected for one of four Intermediate Flight Training paths: E-6B Mercury, multi-engine propeller / maritime aircraft, helicopters, or Tailhook aircraft. Selection is based upon the needs of the service (USN, USMC, etc.), the SNAs performance, and finally, the SNAs preference.

  • A small number are selected for further training leading to assignment in the E-6B Mercury. These SNAs transfer to Vance AFB, Oklahoma for training in the T-1 Jayhawk, or NAS Corpus Christi to fly the T-44C Pegasus.
  • Those selected for multi-engine propeller / maritime training are assigned to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas for training in the T-44A Pegasus or TC-12 Huron.
  • Those selected to fly the MV-22 Osprey (USMC SNAs only) are assigned to NAS Whiting Field for advanced helicopter training. Upon completion, the SNAs then report to NAS Corpus Christi for multi-engine propeller / maritime training prior to winging.

Tailhook syllabus

Student Naval Aviators selected for Tailhook training are assigned to NAS Kingsville, Texas or NAS Meridian, Mississippi flying the T-45C or T-45A. NAS Meridian uses only the T-45C while NAS Kingsville is nearly completely transitioned to the T-45C. The syllabus incorporates basic instrument flying, formation, night familiarization and airway navigation over approximately 58 graded flights lasting approximately 27 weeks. At the completion of the Tailhook syllabus, approximately 80% of those SNAs are selected for Advanced Strike training, leading ultimately to tactical jets like the F/A-18 or AV-8B (Marine Corps only). The remaining 20% receive further training in the E2/C2 pipeline, ultimately leading to assignment flying either the E-2C or C-2 Greyhound. Marine Corps SNA's automatically continue in the Advanced Strike syllabus and will ultimately fly either the F/A-18, AV-8B, or the EA-6B.

Advanced Strike pipeline

Advanced Strike students continue with approximately 67 additional graded flights lasting approximately 23 weeks in the T-45A/C. The syllabus covers bombing, Air combat maneuvering (ACM), advanced instruments, low-level navigation, tactical formation flying (TACFORM), and Carrier Qualification (CQ) (see Modern US Navy carrier operations). Graduates of Advanced Strike will fly versions of the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, EA-6B Prowler, EA-18G Growler and AV-8B Harrier II. In addition to current aircraft, this pipeline will eventually produce pilots for the F-35 Lightning II.

Advanced Strike previously produced pilots for the since-retired F-8 Crusader, F-4 Phantom II, F-14 Tomcat, A-4 Skyhawk, A-6 Intruder, A-7 Corsair II, RA-5C Vigilante, and the S-3 Viking.

E2/C2 pipeline

E2/C2 students go straight to CQ in the T-45 Goshawk with approximately 20 additional graded flights over 8 weeks. Upon successful CQ, E2/C2 students go to NAS Corpus Christi to complete multi-crew and multi-engine training (approx. 16 weeks) in the T-44A. Following winging, they will go on to fly the E-2 Hawkeye or C-2 Greyhound.

Rotary-Wing pipeline

Student pilots selected for helicopter training report to NAS Whiting Field, Florida and complete advanced training in the helicopter training squadrons there as well, flying the TH-57 Sea Ranger. Students learn the unique characteristics and tactics of rotary-wing aviation, to include basic instrument flying, night familiarization (including use of night vision goggles or NVGs) and airways navigation. They are also introduced to shipboard landing on the Helo Landing Trainer (HLT), the Navy’s only ship dedicated to teaching helicopter pilots how to land onboard a moving vessel for Deck Landing Qualifications (DLQ).

Once they receive their Wings of Gold, Navy helicopter pilots report to their respective Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for training: NAS North Island, CA for the MH-60R Strikehawk (HSM), SH-60F/HH-60H Oceanhawk (HS), and MH-60S Knighthawk (HSC), NS Mayport, FL for the SH-60B Seahawk (HSL), and MH-60R Strikehawk or NS Norfolk, VA for the MH-53E Sea Dragon (HM), or the east coast MH-60S Knighthawk squadron.

Marine Corps helicopter pilots report to the FRS at MCAS New River for the CH-53D Sea Stallion and CH-53E Super Stallion, MCB Camp Pendleton for the AH-1W Super Cobra, AH-1Z Viper, UH-1N Twin Huey, UH-1Y Venom and CH-46 Sea Knight, or MCAS New River for the MV-22 Osprey.

Coast Guard helicopter pilots will report to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama for further training, or the "T-Course," on the MH-60T Jayhawk and MH-65D Dolphin.

The Navy also trains pilots from several NATO and other allied nations as military and naval helicopter pilots.[4]

Land-Based syllabus

Maritime pipeline

Maritime students complete their advanced training at NAS Corpus Christi flying the twin engine T-44A Pegasus or TC-12 Huron. Particular emphasis is placed on single-engine flight in varying conditions. Upon receiving their Wings of Gold, Navy pilots report to the P-3 Orion Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for further training in the P-3 and EP-3. Marine Corps pilots report to the KC-130 FRS, while Coast Guard pilots destined for the HC-130 or HC-144 proceed directly to their assigned Air Station. As budget and time allow, the HC-130 pilots will report to an Air Force C-130 Formal Training Unit (FTU) at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas or Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia. In addition to training all Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard maritime pilots, VT-31 and VT-35 trains United States Air Force student pilots bound for C-130 duty. Coast Guard HU-25 Guardian and HC-144A pilots report to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center(ATC) in Mobile, Alabama for a transition course after reporting to their assigned Air Station. The Coast Guard is in the process of eliminating the HU-25 transition course.

Similarly, Navy E-6 Mercury TACAMO pilots complete advanced training in the T-44C Pegasus at NAS Corpus Christi, TX or the T-1A Jayhawk, a militarized version of the Beechcraft 400, complete with digital cockpit displays. This training is done at the Air Force’s 32nd Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

The maritime pipeline will also eventually produce pilots for the Boeing P-8 Poseidon.

Insignia and winging

Leather Naval Aviator "soft wings" worn on flight suits and flight jackets.

The Naval Aviator Insignia is a warfare qualification of the United States military that is awarded to those aviators of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard who have qualified as Naval Aviators. The Naval Aviator insignia is identical for all three branches, as are the similar Naval Astronaut and Naval Flight Officer badges. Naval Aviation Pilots were awarded the Naval Aviation Pilot badge which, while considered a separate award, was identical in design to the Naval Aviator badge.[5] The all-gold badge was designed by John H. Towers c1917, and consists of a single fouled anchor, surmounted by a shield with 13 stripes, centered on a pair of wings.

To qualify for the Naval Aviator insignia, a service member must have completed flight training and be designated a qualified pilot of a military aircraft. Traditionally, Student Naval Aviators are awarded "soft wings" immediately after the completion of their final training flight. These soft wings are typically gold-leaf impressions on leather patches that Velcro to the flight suit. The official Naval Aviator insignia are later awarded at a "winging" ceremony.

Community selection

Upon completion of flight training, a final selection process takes place in which the Student Naval Aviators are assigned a particular fleet aircraft community (e.g., F/A-18, EA-18G, or EA-6B for Strike, E-2/C-2 for Carrier AEW, SH-60 or CH-53 for Rotary-Wing, P-3 or E-6 for Maritime, etc.). This selection is also based upon the needs of the service and performance. Newly-designated Naval Aviators (no longer referred to as "students") are then assigned to a Fleet Replacement Squadron for training on their specific aircraft type. Currently, approximately up to 1,000 pilots are designated each year, and between 1910 and 1995 more than 153,000 Naval Aviators earned their "wings of gold".[5]

Fleet assignments

Upon completion of FRS training, Naval Aviators are assigned to a fleet squadron – either ship or land based – in their type aircraft. In addition to flying, Naval Aviators also hold one or many “collateral” duties of increasing responsibility such as Legal Officer, Maintenance Division Officer, Training Officer, Safety Officer, etc. Initial fleet assignments typically last approximately three years.

Shore rotation

After completing a successful tour in the Fleet, Naval Aviators complete a “shore-duty” tour typically as a flight instructor, adversary pilot, or staff officer. Some complete further military schooling or are assigned specialized flight duty (e.g. foreign exchange pilot, test pilot, Blue Angels, presidential support in HMX-1, etc.). Typical Navy shore rotations are approximately two and a half years long, after which time personnel return to the fleet for a non-flying disassociated sea tour for two years. Some individuals are selected to go on Global War on Terrorism Support Assignments (GSA) which are one year in length but to a forward deployed location supporting either OIF or OEF. All naval aviators are now 'Wings Plus Eight', i.e. they incur an 8-year service obligation upon receiving their wings, so very few individuals are entitled to separate from active service off their shore rotation, instead having to accept new orders as described above.

Service commitment

Because of the costly nature of flight training, Naval Aviators incur a longer minimum active duty service commitment than any other occupation in the Navy or Marine Corps. This service commitment begins on the day the Naval Aviator is winged.[6][dead link]

Student Naval Aviators incur an eight year active duty service commitment, regardless of branch. The only exception is that Marine SNAs who select helicopters incur a six year commitment.[6][dead link]

Reserve Naval Aviators

Naval Reserve Naval Aviators all come from the active ranks. They fly fleet type aircraft (such as the F/A-18 Hornet and P-3 Orion) as well as aircraft exclusive to the reserve force. These include the F-5 Tiger II primarily used for adversary support, and the larger cargo or transport aircraft such as the C-9 Skytrain, C-20D Gulfstream III, C-20G Gulfstream IV, C-35 Citation, C-40 Clipper, and C-130 Hercules.[citation needed] These aircraft are used to transport cargo and personnel, including dignitaries and senior leaders.

Aircraft Carrier Commanding Officer

US Code Title 10 requires that US aircraft carrier commanding officers be Navy line officers designated as naval aviators or naval flight officers.[7] Prior to assuming command of the largest warships on earth, these officers first command smaller ships AND serve as executive officer of an aircraft carrier and go through an extensive training syllabus in ship handling and nuclear propulsion.

Naval Astronauts

Naval Aviators who fly in space are designated Naval Astronauts, and are issued the Naval version of the Astronaut Badge.[8]


Fixed Wing

U.S. Navy

  • C-2 Greyhound - cargo plane designed for aircraft Carrier Onboard Delivery
  • C-26 Metroliner - land based passenger and cargo plane
  • C-130 Hercules – land based medium cargo and personnel transport
  • E-2 Hawkeye - all-weather, carrier-based tactical battle management airborne early warning, command and control
  • E-6 Mercury - strategic command, control, and communications
  • EA-6B Prowler - electronic warfare and countermeasures
  • F/A-18 Hornet - all-weather fighter/attack aircraft
  • F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - updated version of the Hornet
  • EA-18G Growler - electronic warfare and countermeasures
  • P-3 Orion - anti-submarine warfare, maritime surveillance
  • EP-3E Aires II - intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance
  • C-40A Clipper - Fleet Logistics Support and Navy/Marine Corps personnel transport
  • C-9B Skytrain II - Fleet Logistics Support and Navy/Marine Corps personnel transport

United States Marine Corps

U.S. Coast Guard

Rotary Wing

U.S. Navy

  • MH-53E Sea Dragon - anti-mine warfare, shipboard delivery, and assault support
  • SH-60 Seahawk - medium lift, utility, assault helicopter, special operations support, anti-submarine warfare, command and control, Search and Rescue (both combat and overwater), and naval gunfire support
  • UH-1 Iroquois - station search and rescue

United States Marine Corps

  • SH-3 Sea King - Executive Transport Mission, ex. HMX-1
  • CH-53D Sea Stallion - medium lift helicopter used for transport of personnel and cargo
  • CH-53E Super Stallion - heavy lift and assault support.
  • CH-46 Sea Knight - medium lift helicopter used for transport of personnel and cargo
  • AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter
  • UH-1N Twin Huey - search and rescue, command and control, and special operations
  • UH-1Y Venom - utility/attack helicopter

U.S. Coast Guard


United States Marine Corps

See also


This article incorporates text in the public domain from the United States Marine Corps.

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