Training a Navy pilot is a long, grueling, and arduous process that pushes every recruit to the limit of their physical and mental endurance, and when the recruits don’t think that they have anything left to give, the training program and their instructors push them further and harder.
Every potential Naval aviator begins their journey at NAS (Naval Air Station) Pensacola in Florida, which is commonly referred to as ‘The Cradle of Naval Aviation.
It earned its nickname as every fighter pilot in the Navy takes the first tentative steps on their journey to flying fast jets in the halls of Pensacola.
After Pensacola, every prospective pilot then travels to Texas and reports to NAS Kingsville, where they undergo rigorous assessment and are continually pushed to excel in both academic classes and physical training.
During the time that they spend at Kingsville, all of the trainee pilots are taught aerodynamics, aviation physiology, air navigation, engineering, and water survival.
When their time at Kingsville is finished, the recruits are then sent to separate bases according to the flight discipline that they have either selected or has been selected for them.
Recruits are assigned one of the following designations, either SNA (Student Naval Aviator), or SNN (Student Naval Navigator), and head to one of three bases, NAS Whiting Field in Florida, NAS Corpus Christi in Texas, or Vance Air Force Base in Texas, for primary flight training.
Once Primary Flight Training has been completed, all of the potential aviators are selected for a particular type of aircraft flight training (either fast jets, rotary-wing or maritime) and continue to train in their chosen aircraft, before finally heading to either NAS Meridian or back to NAS Kingsville to complete their flight training.
While each of the training bases has its own specialty and teaches the students according to their chosen preference, or the needs of the service at that particular time, the nomadic training schedule also helps to prepare the students for life as a naval aviator, during which time they’ll travel, and fly, all over the world in the service of their country.
Every Naval Aviator will tell you that the training never stops and that no matter how long you spend in the air or how many times you take off from and land on a carrier deck, you’ll always learn something new every single time you fly.
It takes a lifetime to learn how to be a pilot in the Navy, and even at the end of your service, you’ll always feel like there was something else that you could have learned.
However, in order to receive your wings and earn the title of Naval aviator, it takes a total of almost seventy weeks of training after you report to NAS Pensacola.
The first six weeks of that training time is spent preparing for primary training and being schooled in the basic principles of flight and the harsh realities of what it really takes to survive as a Navy pilot.
Once these six weeks have been completed, it’s time to pass to the next stage of training, at one of the three primary training bases, NAS Whiting Field or Corpus Christi or Vance Air Force Base.
Every recruit then spends the next twenty-two weeks in primary training and during that time is taught to fly in both simulators and the T-6A Texan II.
As well as learning to fly, students are also taught everything else that they’ll need to know in order to survive in the cockpit of whatever aircraft they’re chosen, or are fortunate enough to choose, to fly.
Once the primary training period is fished, recruits then spend another thirty weeks in advanced flight training, where they are taught all of the minutiae of their chosen aircraft, and how to fly off and land on deck carrier, and what it means to be a fighter, helicopter or twin-prop pilot in the Navy.
It’s a long, hard training program, and only the very best make it all the way through to the final stages, but that’s the way the Navy has designed it to be. Because they only want the best pilots to fly for them.
There is, just as there is with the rest of the military, a minimum period of service for all Naval pilots, and when this period is up, they can either choose to extend their contract with the Navy or terminate it according to the terms and conditions of their contract.
The minimum period of service for any Naval aviator is eight years, but that doesn’t begin until a pilot has fully completed their training and been assigned to their squadron.
Their term of service only begins when they report for duty as a qualified pilot, having already earned their wings.
As the training time to qualify as a Navy pilot usually takes anywhere between eighteen months and two years, any prospective Naval pilot should expect to spend at least ten years of their life as an active member of the military.
Unlike the Air Force, the Navy doesn’t reveal exactly how much it costs them to train their pilots, but once they have qualified, in order to ensure that they remain carrier qualified, each Naval aviator must log at least one hundred hours of flight time every year, which costs the Navy two point two million dollars per pilot, per year.
We can, however, roughly estimate, given that we know how much it costs the Air Force to train its pilots, how much it costs the Navy to add a fully qualified aviator to its ranks.
As it costs the Air Force ten million dollars to train each of its pilots, if we use that as a starting point and then add the additional costs of carrier deck training and qualification and training, which is somewhere in the region of two million dollars per pilot, we estimate (and it’s a pretty good estimate), that it costs the Navy just over twelve million dollars to train every single one of their aviators.
Naval aviators are salaried according to rank and length of service.
The higher their rank and the longer the length of their service, the more they’re paid, which is a similar salary scale model as the one employed in the civilian sector.
In two thousand and twenty the median salary of a Naval Aviator was sixty-three thousand dollars, which is fourteen percent higher than the national average.
However, in the same yearly period, the salaries paid to Navy pilots varied from fifty-three thousand dollars to one hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars, which not only highlights the disparity between the amount that pilots are paid but also demonstrates how much the navy values experience and how it rewards loyalty
While it’s true that anyone can apply to become, and eventually earn their wings as a Navy pilot, there are some restrictions that can and do prevent some people from fulfilling their ambitions.
Due to the nature of the position, and the fact that any prospective recruit must be able to fit in and be able to see out of a fighter cockpit, there are height and weight limitations that are strictly enforced by the Navy.
If you’re under five foot two, or if you tower over six foot five, the Navy won’t accept you as a candidate for their flight school or as a pilot.
And if you weigh more than two hundred and forty-five pounds or less than one hundred and three pounds, they won’t accept you as a candidate either.
Flight training in the US Navy is one of the most rigorous and demanding training programs in the military.
It’s designed to be difficult from the offset and to throw every candidate in at the deep end and expects them to use everything that they’re taught and learn as well as their own initiative and intuition to become the sort of pilots that the Navy can rely on in a crisis.
It isn’t for the faint-hearted or those who aren’t fully committed and dedicated to earning their wings and complying with all of the exacting demands that life in the Navy entails. Given that it takes at least eighteen months to train as a Navy pilot, during which time each day is more difficult, it isn’t the sort of training program that anyone except the most focused candidates should apply for.
It has an average attrition rate of one in five, so even if you do make the grade and are accepted, there’s a twenty percent chance that you won’t make it to the end of the program and won’t qualify as a naval aviator.
When Navy fighter pilots are first commissioned, they enter the service at the lowest rank in the command structure, Ensign.
From that point onward, the command structure that Naval aviators are governed by is the same one that the rest of the Navy is dependent upon.
After Ensign, aviators can expect to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade and then Lieutenant.
Depending on their length of service and whether or not they extend their contract, if an aviator elects to remain in the Navy, they can then expect to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, then Commander, after that Captain, and then finally Admiral.