U.S. Naval Aviator Program (2024)

Last Updated on November 16, 2023

This guide provides information that will help you with your decision to become a Naval Aviator (Navy Pilot) during Fiscal Year 2024.

You will not find anywhere in the world a more advanced aviation training than that offered in the United States Navy.

Navy Pilots (or Naval Aviators) are in the center of the United States naval aviation team – A highly skilled team that is in charge of over 6,000 military aircrafts. As a Navy Pilot (Designator 1310), you will be part of an elite group of aviators who fly and fight in the world’s most technologically advanced aircrafts—sometimes from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Navy Pilot-1 Image 704X396

To do this job well, you will need critical thinking skills, unwavering determination and the strong will to persevere through the toughest challenges.

There are not a lot of jobs in the world that are even slightly more exciting than being a Navy Pilot. 

Let us jump right into the specifics.

What Does A Navy Pilot Do?

Navy Pilots fly from different types of aircrafts to conduct critical missions around the world—most of the time on short notice.

The Navy has a wide variety of aircraft that are used for various purposes, including transport and combat roles.  From jets, to helicopters and turbo-propellers or other tactical aircraft, the Navy aviation training pipeline is diverse enough to give you plenty of choices after completing primary flight training.

During advanced flight training:

You will learn technical and leadership skills specific to your aircraft such as air-to-air combat, bombing, search and rescue, aircraft carrier qualifications, over-water navigation, and low-level flying.

As a Navy Fighter Pilot, the sky is yours to dominate. Your missions are among the most daring and most important.  Imagine yourself doing…

  • Complete complex air maneuvers while flying at Mach speeds.
  • Catapult off carriers at 170 mph and land on moving runways only 300 feet long.
  • Gather intel, drop ordnance and conduct defensive missions—all in the most versatile strike fighters on the planet, the F/A-18 Hornet and the cutting-edge F-35C Lightning II.

As a helicopter pilot, you’ll have the opportunity to fly different missions from the decks of several types of Navy ships with such missions as anti-submarine warfare or tracking potential enemies.

Helicopter pilots search for underwater mines, fly vertical replenishment missions, and conduct emergency search and rescue missions.

As a turbo-prop pilot, you may fly a multi-engine E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft on a radar-surveillance warfare mission from either an aircraft carrier or shore station.

Turbo-prop pilots conduct some of the Navy’s most important missions including tracking submarines, surveillance, and collecting photographic intelligence.

Naval Aviator (Pilot) Training

As a Navy Pilot, you’re first a U.S. Naval Officer – then a Naval Aviator.  So, the training pipeline starts at the Navy Officer Candidate School where you’ll be transformed into a Naval Officer.

You then transition to Flight School.  The specifics will depend on your assigned aircraft platform.

Let’s go deeper…

Officer Candidate School

Prospective Navy Pilots attend a 12-week Navy orientation course that develops knowledge of the naval profession and helps make the transition from civilian life to Navy life. 

This is called Officer Candidate School or OCS, which is located in Newport, Rhode Island.

Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) do not attend Navy OCS.

Academic and military training at OCS are difficult and intense. Good study habits, self-discipline, and physical fitness conditioning are required. 

Course subjects include Programs and Policies, Sea Power, Engineering and Weapons, Damage Control, Naval Orientation and Warfare, Leadership, Naval Orientation and Seamanship, Navigation and Military Law.

Satisfactory completion of Navy OCS is required prior to commencing flight training.

Also Read: Navy OCS Guide for Officer Applicants

Naval Flight School

U.S. Naval Flight School is composed of four phases:

  1. Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API)
  2. Primary Flight Training
  3. Intermediate Flight Training
  4. Advanced Flight Training

Now, let’s go through the details of all the phases.

Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API) 

API introduces Student Naval Aviators (SNA) to flight basics. SNAs attend classes such as introduction to basic aerodynamics, aviation weather, air navigation, flight rules and regulations, and aircraft engines and systems.

SNAs also attend classes with the Naval Operational Medical Institute where they are exposed to aviation physiology and learn about how flight affects the human body.

API is located in Pensacola, Florida.

Primary Flight Training (Primary)

Primary Flight Training teaches the SNA the basics of actually flying. SNAs have two choices for where to attend Primary Training.

  1. Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Pensacola, Florida
  2. Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas

All Naval Air Stations use the T-6B Texan II to train for Primary.

In Primary Flight Training, SNAs learn visual flight, basic instrument flying, introduction to aerobatics, radio instrument navigation, formation flying, and conduct several solo flights.

All SNAs go through the same curriculum for Primary. At the end of Primary, SNAs choose the type of aircraft they would like to fly.

Here are the options for aircraft types:

  • Jet
  • E2/C2
  • Maritime
  • Helicopter
  • E-6 TACAMO

Each of these choices have its own subsequent training pipeline.

Intermediate Flight Training

Intermediate Flight Training is different for each of the 5 aircraft platforms that you can choose upon completion of Primary Flight Training.

In Intermediate Flight Training, SNAs learn more about navigation and air traffic control by flying to other training bases.

Intermediate training for the single seat aircraft such as the jet platforms will focus on individual skills, while the multi-seat platforms such as maritime propellers, helicopters, and E2/C2 will focus on crew coordination.

Here are the Intermediate training locations for the aircraft platforms:

JetMeridian, MS or Kingsville, TX
E2/C2Corpus Christi, TX
MaritimeCorpus Christi, TX
HelicopterMilton, FL
E-6 TACAMOCorpus Christi, TX

Advanced Flight Training

Advanced Flight Training is the final stage of Naval Flight School.

Here, SNAs learn skills specific to their chosen platform such as air to air combat, bombing, search and rescue, aircraft carrier qualifications, over water navigation, and low level flying.

Here are the training locations for the aircraft platforms:

JetMeridian, MS or Kingsville, TX
E2/C2Meridian, MS or Kingsville, TX
MaritimeCorpus Christi, TX
HelicopterPensacola, FL
E-6 TACAMOCorpus Christi, TX

After completion of Advanced Flight Training, SNAs receive their Wings Of Gold.

Real Navy Pilots – Top Gun Instructor Profiles

LT Orion “Sid” Kelly

LT Stu “Gizmo” Whipkey

LT Kyle “Washjob” Haith

>> Also Read: “Is Top Gun Real? (Fact Check)”

How To Become A Navy Pilot

If you are interested in becoming a United States Naval Aviator, you must first be aware that earning a commission in the United States Navy is very competitive, especially in naval aviation.

You must determine if you meet the initial requirements to obtain a commission in the United States Navy. So, apply early – approximately 12 months before you graduate from college – as openings are limited and fill up quickly.

To become a Navy Pilot, you must be a 19 to 32 year-old American citizen with an undergraduate degree from an accredited university and must pass the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) exam.

Note that this is slightly different from applying for a civilian aviation position because Navy Pilots directly affect national security. Know that you will be held to a higher standard of performance and behavior compared to civilian counterparts.

If that did not deflate you, you may have the right sense of pride and integrity for this job.

Below is basic information you will need to know before applying. There will be more requirements during the application process, but these will get you in the door.

Contact your local Naval Officer recruiter for a more personalized assessment and support.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

The list of application criteria for Navy Pilot below is current as of May 2022.

1) Citizenship
You must be a United States citizen either by birth or naturalization.

2) Gender
The Navy Pilot program is open for both men and women.

3) Age
You must be at least 19 years old and must not be older than 32 years old upon commissioning. Navy Pilot age limit updated as of May 2022.

4) Education
Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited college or university.

5) Physical
You must be physically qualified and aeronautically adapted to engage in duties involving flying in line with the Navy physical standards. 20/20 Vision or better. Quick Trivia: Can Navy Pilots Wear Glasses?

6) Aptitude
Aviation Selection Battery Test (ASTB) minimum qualifying scores are (as of May 2022):

  • Academic Qualifications Rating (AQR) – 4
  • Pilot Flight Aptitude Rating (PFAR) – 5

The most crucial requirement that you can fully control is your ASTB score. It is the primary objective criteria upon which all applicants are compared against.

To maximize your chances of obtaining an exceptional ASTB score, we only recommend this ASTB Study Guide for your success. All others are mediocre at best.

>> Also Read: “How Do Navy Pilots Get Call Signs?”

Get More Information

If you want more information about becoming a Naval Aviator, the next logical step is to contact a Naval Officer Recruiter.

Let us start figuring out how you can benefit from becoming a Navy Pilot (Aviation) – or if it is even the right career move for you.

You may also find more information about other closely related Navy Officer jobs in our Quick Guide for Unrestricted Line Officer programs, such as the Navy EOD Officer or the Naval Flight Officer jobs. Check them out.

Lastly, if you wish to fly Navy drones instead, check out the Navy Air Vehicle Pilot job.

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