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Navy pilot program opens to enlisted ranks

By JASON CHUDY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 1, 2006

The Navy is looking for enlisted sailors to join the new flying chief warrant officer pilot and naval flight officer program.

The program is looking for 30 E-5s to E-7s with associate’s degrees, and who meet other specific requirements, to become fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter pilots or naval flight officers. Naval flight officers are different from pilots, and usually control electronic or weapons systems in aircraft.

Those selected for the program will be commissioned as chief warrant officer 2s, attend the limited duty officer/chief warrant officer indoctrination program, then go through flight training. Once complete, they will be assigned to fleet replacement squadron training before reporting to a fleet assignment. They will be assigned to patrol, reconnaissance and certain helicopter squadrons.

“The Army does the same thing for flying,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Connolly of Naval Support Activity Naples about using chief warrant officers to fly.

“There are a lot of smart people in the enlisted ranks,” said Connolly, who is an aviation structural mechanic. “A lot of people would like to do this program. I would do it, but I turned 27 this year.”

All applicants must be under 27 before their commissioning.

“This is a good opportunity for the young folks,” said Cmdr. John Bishop, who served as a naval flight officer on P-3 maritime patrol aircraft.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Bishop, of the Naples, Italy-based Navy Region Europe staff. “We’ll welcome them to the flying ranks.”

Traditionally, the Navy’s warrant officers come only from the senior enlisted ranks. For this program, however, the requirement was dropped to E-5, so the sailors could be commissioned by their 27th birthday for pilots or 29th birthday for naval flight officers.

The Navy does have a history of enlisted sailors taking to the air.

Between 1916 and 1947 the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard sent enlisted personnel through flight training. These naval aviation pilots, which were differentiated from the commissioned naval aviators, flew everything from fighters to helicopters.

More than 5,000 enlisted pilots flew during that 30-year period, including naval aviation pilot Ken Walsh who earned the Medal of Honor. Walsh was the fourth-highest Marine ace of World War II with 21 enemy planes downed to his credit. He rose through the enlisted, warrant officer and commissioned officer ranks, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1961.

Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Robert Jones, the last naval aviation pilot, retired in 1981.

The requirements for the program are listed in the Navy administrative message 031/06, which is available at: npc.navy.mil


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