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    Service Assignment Spotlight: Navy Pilot and NFO

    By Bill the Goat on November 8, 2023

    Service Assignment Spotlight: Navy Pilot and NFO

    The U.S. Navy’s aviation arm is the most powerful on the planet. To earn the honor of wearing these wings, navy pilots and naval flight officers (NFOs) must undergo some of the most rigorous training on the planet. The Navy is fortunate to deploy the highest technologically advanced aircraft available today and the best and brightest to protect the safety and security of our country. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the critical role navy pilots and NFOs play in the strongest Navy in the world.


    What is a Navy Pilot?

    Many of us know the role from the rare air view seen through movies like Top Gun and its sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. While they do fly state-of-the-art aircraft, navy pilots and NFOs do more than engage in dog fights and carry out secret missions. They have the capability to seek out underwater threats, deploy payloads of intense firepower and manpower, and make unbelievable aerial maneuvers that run from the stratosphere to mere hundreds of feet above the ocean. This is all to serve the Naval Fleet with critical attack, defense, and logistic support. 


    As part of a network of exclusive, world-class officers, navy pilots, and NFOs are expected to consistently perform at the top of their game. They are trained extensively and must be intimately familiar with all of the nuances of controlling and maintaining their internal and external aircraft systems. Here’s what that looks like:



    • Participate in antisubmarine warfare and mine warfare training, as well as search and rescue operations and vertical replenishment missions.
    • Undergo specialized training on the advanced tactical systems found on Navy aircraft.
    • Perform enemy surveillance by gathering photographic intelligence.


    • Study aerodynamics, aircraft engine systems, meteorology, navigation, flight planning, and flight safety.
    • Train and specialize in EA-6B Prowler electronic countermeasures aircraft, F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet jet fighters, E-2C Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft, and the new P-8A Poseidon antisubmarine aircraft.
    • Electronically detect and track ships, submarines, aircraft, and missiles.

    Related: Service Assignment Spotlight: Navy Surface War Officer.


    How to Become a Navy Pilot or NFO

    From the Naval Academy, newly minted ensigns that wish to enter aviation programs will first complete a six-week air indoctrination course at Naval Aviation Schools Command, in Pensacola, Florida. Then, prospective pilots and NFOs head to primary flight training.


    At this point, pilots and NFOs request an aircraft pipeline and begin the intermediate phase of flight training that comes after basic flight and navigation training. They finish flight school with advanced naval flight training, focusing on mission specifics. When they master this, pilots and NFOs receive their coveted “wings of gold,” one of the biggest moments in their early naval career. They then report to their respective Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRSs) for additional training focused on their aircraft.

    After their first flying tour as a Navy pilot or an NFO, they can attend the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California, to earn a master’s or doctoral degree.


    Once they have their wings, both pilots and NFOs are eligible for myriad promotion possibilities and Navy pilot and NFO ranks; these are competitive and performance-based. Those who have pursued specialized training opportunities and gained work experience while serving can also reap the benefits of valuable credentialing and occupational opportunities in related fields.


    Related: USNA Service Assignment Spotlight: Navy Submarines


    What Does a Navy Pilot or NFO Do?

    Work locations are virtually limitless since pilots and NFOs are needed across the globe wherever there is sea or sky. They may complete missions and assignments from carrier battle groups or other sea-based platforms, as well as Naval Air Stations or at other locations on shore. 


    They uphold a high degree of excellence. They are honored to operate the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, they take this responsibility seriously and are committed to protecting and serving those at sea and on the ground. Navy pilots and NFOs strive for excellence in all they do.


    Aircraft Options


    Navy Planes and Jets

    The naval aircraft they fly fulfill a number of roles, including warning the Fleet of a threat, deterring that threat, and when necessary, striking targets to eradicate the threat. They harness the full power of advanced electronics, sensors, weapons, and all-weather capabilities to uphold air superiority.


    These are the superior fixed-wing aircraft:


    • F35-C Lightning II
    • F/A 18 Hornet Strike Fighter
    • EA-18G Growler
    • E-2C Hawkeye
    • P-8A Poseidon
    • P-3C Orion
    • C-2A Greyhound 


    As the USNA site reads, “Navy planes get the glory. Navy helicopters get the work orders.” These workhorses are major multitaskers, carrying relief supplies into disaster areas, handling med-evacs, transporting supplies ship-to-ship, executing search and rescue, providing ground support, clearing mines, torpedoing enemy subs, and more. It’s all in a day’s (or night’s) work. No matter the weather, they get the job done. “Whirlybirds are the unsung heroes of Naval aviation,” concludes the site. Navy helicopter pilots are a special breed. These are the aircraft they fly:


    • MH-60 Seahawk
    • MH-53E Sea Dragon


    Where Navy Pilots are Made

    At USNA, we are proud to support our midshipmen as they prepare to become Navy pilots and NFOs. You can make a difference for them as well. The Naval Academy Business Services Division (NABSD) supports the Brigade of Midshipmen by giving proceeds from our 20 business units to help our midshipmen be successful, well-rounded future leaders. We support a variety of extracurricular activities such as cultural arts, theater, music, club sports, and other activities. When you visit and explore USNA through tours, dining, and shopping, you’re also supporting the Brigade. NABSD and the naval aviators thank you for your support.


    Take a Tour

    Bill the Goat
    Written by Bill the Goat | November 8, 2023


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