Test Program Will Give 30 Enlisted Sailors Wings... and
One of the world's
largest Air Forces -- the US Army's aviation branch -- is made up
mostly of Warrant Officers. It's worked well for the Army for 40
years, attracting everyone from 19-year-olds with no other way to
learn to fly to Air Force Lt. Colonels who were about to lose
flying status and start commanding desks (one of whom, Mike
Novosel, went on to win the Medal of Honor in Vietnam -- I
bet the USAF regrets giving him up). But the other services have
resisted the idea of flying Warrant Officers.
The Navy, which sixty-five years ago actually had enlisted
pilots, is going to dip a toe in the warrant-officer pool and see
how it works out. The program is a pilot program in both senses of
the word: only 30 enlisted sailors are going to be accepted in this
program, and their career horizons are going to be considerably
narrower than a regular commissioned officer (which Army warrants
have traditionally called "RLO's" -- a pointed acronym for "Real
The Navy isn't going to be putting these pilots and Naval Flight
Officers in the ejection seats of the glamor community: no F-18
rides here. Instead, they're being offered the hard work of Patrol,
Electronic Warfare, and Light and Cargo Helicopter assignments. The
plan is for these officers to fill junior officer slots that aren't
in the career progression of the Navy's future captains and
admirals. They will incur the usual eight year minimum service
requirement for Pilots (six years for NFOs).
"The intent is to create flying specialists unencumbered by the
traditional career paths of the unrestricted line (URL) community,"
the message from Vice Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., Chief of Naval
Translated from Admiral-speak, what he means is, the Navy knows
its flying officers now are its future senior leaders, and there's
room in the fleet for pilots and flight officers that just fly, and
aren't focused on climbing the ladder. Another Navy document
explains another rationale: "A secondary goal of the program is to
offer increased opportunity to the Enlisted ranks." The Navy knows
that it has some outstanding people in white hats, and it can put
them to better use.
Some sailors can't apply: SEALs, Special Operations boat crew,
divers, nuclear specialists and Masters at Arms. What these
communities have in common is higher standards and lengthier
training than many other Naval ratings (so we're told; we only have
former grunts and zoomies here). Or to put it another way, the Navy
is already extracting max potential, or very nearly so, from those
men and women.
With a whole Navy --almost -- to choose from and only 30 billets
to fill, the officers that want to see this program succeed can
afford to be selective. The sailors that apply must be in grades
E-5 through E-7, young (must be commissioned by 27th birthday,
although one can get a waiver for each of up to four years spent in
the Navy), fit and smart. They need to have at least an Associate's
Degree, and pass the Aviation Standard Test Battery (as other Naval
Aviators now do). Adm. Harvey's message asks for "highly-qualified
and hard-charging sailors".
The selected sailors will be commissioned as Chief Warrant
Officers (CWO2), and subsequently undergo flight training (as
pilots or Naval Flight Officers). When they get their wings,
they'll go to the fleet, and alternate ship and shore tours.
The first board will meet this summer and select 10 pilot and 4
Naval Flight Officer candidates. They'll be commissioned September
1st. The next board will select 10 more pilots and six more NFOs in
Of course, if you know anything about Navy aviation, you know
that even highly-qualified candidates can fall short in training or
in the fleet. What then? The cut-off point is three years of
commissioned service (which is well beyond training). If the
candidate loses (or turns in) his or her wings before that point,
it's back to the enlisted grade and rating he or she came in with
(for the rest of the five or eight year obligated service).
And then there's the $64,000 question: this is a pilot program
after all, what happens to the warrants if the Navy pulls the plug?
The Navy is saying, a deal's a deal. If they cancel the program,
they'll keep the individual aviators flying, alternating between
sea duty and shore duty (such as flight instruction).
Navy email contacts for this program are listed as -- OCM: email@example.com,
More information, including a sample application and Frequently
Asked Questions in Microsoft Word format, is available at the Navy
Limited Duty Officer/Chief Warrant Officer Community webpage,
listed in the FMI link.