Did you know that the Navy has just about as many pilots and flight operations as the Air Force? Due to funding decreases and retention issues, among a few other main issues, there has been a high demand for new Navy pilots in recent years with great opportunities for rapid advancement.
Not all Navy pilots get to fly fighter jets like Goose and Maverick in the movie Top Gun but there are all kinds of opportunities for aspiring Navy pilots. From refueling aircraft to high-elevation reconnaissance to SEAL transports and many more, options are aplenty. Regardless of your desired job, the first couple of years of Navy pilot training is roughly the same, regardless of your final cockpit destination. Here’s a closer look at how to become a Navy pilot.
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What Is a Navy Pilot?
In very broad terms, a Navy pilot is a commissioned member of the U.S. Navy who has completed the necessary training to fly an aircraft. The Navy has many different types of pilots, however, each one joins the brother-and-sisterhood of being a Navy pilot when they finish their often-rigorous training.
What Does a Navy Pilot Do?
Not all Navy pilots are fighter pilots, but there are many who do indeed spend their days doing test missions off of aircraft carriers and even some dogfighting on occasion. There are also helicopter pilots on smaller ships, submarine hunters that fly coastal missions and are generally home-based at a Naval Air Station (NAS), personnel transporters, anti-drug surveillance teams, and of course, search and rescue.
As a typical career service member will spend at least 20 years in the Navy, one unique opportunity Navy pilots have (in addition to being catapulted off a giant ship in the middle of the ocean) is the ability to move laterally in their careers, quite easily. This is something that makes the job alluring to many aspiring pilots, as you can avoid the possible boredom of flying the same exact aircraft for your entire career.
Navy Pilot Job Outlook and Salary
The U.S. government has one of the best benefits packages on the planet, and if you join right out of high school, you can actually be a fully retired Navy pilot at the age of 38, which is when many pilots on the civilian side are just hitting the proverbial cruising altitude in their careers.
Anyone who qualifies by meeting the eligibility requirements that we’ll cover in the next section can join the Navy and become a pilot. Currently, there are shortages across all military branches, making advancement even faster than it has been in the past.
Advancement equates to more responsibility and respect…but it also means more money! The officer pay scale in the military is the same from branch to branch, but add-ons for things like performing duties in hazardous areas, or being a pilot, can make for some pretty significant additions to the baseline paycheck.
The average Navy pilot’s salary is around $65,000 per year, but that does not include the military housing allowance, which can be as high as $4,500 per month depending on the location and the pilot’s number of dependents.
A pilot in their first year out of training, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, for instance, would make about $60,000 in base salary, and an additional $20,000 in housing allowance. A pilot with 15 years of experience who has advanced at a steady rate and is stationed in a more expensive area like Pearl Harbor would make about $108,000 per year and an additional $42,000 in housing allowance. Not bad!
7 Steps To Take To Become a Navy Pilot
There are plenty of perks to being a Navy pilot, but with the spoils does come a lot of work. Here is a look at the steps to becoming a Naval aviator.
Step 1: Meet the Eligibility Criteria
The pilot program, similar to that of special forces, has advanced eligibility criteria when compared to a general-issue sailor in the U.S. Navy. Here are the boxes an aspiring Navy pilot must check before they can begin training*:
- Age 19-26
- Between the heights of 5’2” and 6’5”
- Sitting height of no more than 40.9”
- Weigh between 103 and 245 pounds
- Corrected vision to 20/20 (they’ll pay for it if you need surgery)
- U.S. citizenship
- Pass a medical screening
*Waivers are available. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet one of these.
Step 2: Attend College or Flight Training
Navy pilots also have to have a four-year degree to attend training. For individuals considering Navy aviation right out of high school, the Naval Academy is certainly worth a look, as it pays for your education and also counts toward some service time for retirement. Most degrees from most universities will qualify an aspiring pilot for the flight program, though. But as one would guess, those coming from the Academy certainly are a step ahead.
Step 3: Earn Commissioning
Next, the future Naval aviators head to Newport, Rhode Island, where they attend Officer Training School (OCS) with people entering every different walk of Navy officer service, including future intelligence officers, submariners, engineers, and more.
The course is 13 weeks long, and upon completion, graduates officially become commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy.
Step 4: Take the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB)
Another eligibility requirement is scoring a 35 on the Aviation Selection Test Battery, which is generally administered at OCS. Aspiring pilots are only allowed to take this examination three times in their entire lives. Study up!
Step 5: Attend AIC—The Air Indoctrination Course
After OCS, most of the new officers part ways and go to their respective schools to get a more granular look at the jobs they will be performing. For pilots, that starts with learning all about aviation at the Air Indoctrination Course (AIC) in Pensacola, Florida.
At AIC, pilots learn the basics of aerodynamics, weather, aircraft functionality, navigation, and aviation basics such as in-air communications. It takes most students six weeks to pass the course.
Step 6: Attend Flight School
Next is the practical flight training which takes place in one of two locations: Pensacola, or Corpus Christi, Texas (both programs are the same). At flight school, pilots undergo a demanding training regimen that teaches them pretty much the entire gamut of what someone pursuing an airline transport pilot certificate would learn, in a fraction of the time.
At flight school, pilots learn how to fly by visual rules, how to fly by instrument rules, and even how to fly in formation.
Step 7: Choose What Area To Specialize In
After successfully completing the rigorous Navy flight school, pilots can choose their specialization, and learn how to perfect their basic pilot skills relative to the aircraft they will be flying.
These are the four paths:
Ready To Be a Navy Pilot?
Though the work you need to put in is rigorous, almost all Navy pilots will tell you that it’s worth it. The path is not a short one, but neither is its civilian counterpart. Furthermore, it’s very easy to go from being a Navy pilot to a civilian pilot, but the opposite (civilian to Navy) is much more difficult.
In addition to flying a lot of different, cutting-edge aircraft, the Navy bases around the globe afford pilots many opportunities to see parts of the world that most people will never get to see.
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By most comparisons, the safe answer to this question is yes. The answer to the question, “Is it worth it?” is also yes, according to the vast majority.
Like any job, it depends on how long you’ve done it. And in the military, pay is also based on where you live. Generally speaking, though, a new Navy pilot can expect to make about $80,000 in base pay and housing allowance, and a Navy pilot with 15 years of experience can expect to bring home well over $100,000, no matter where they are stationed.
Technically no, but military pilots can submit their flight logs (which are countless hours in most cases), pass a written exam, and receive their commercial certificate with instrument ratings quite easily.
If you attend a college outside of the Academy, you must graduate with at least a 2.5 GPA to qualify for Naval Flight School. The average GPA at the Naval Academy is over a 4.0, so if books aren’t your thing, a regular college might serve you better if you want a chance at making it into the pilot program.