Naval Aviator: Definition, Duties, Salary and How To Become One

Updated June 24, 2022

If you are considering a career in the military and have a strong interest in aviation, then a career as a naval aviator may be for you. With its strong earning potential, a variety of exciting responsibilities and the ability to serve and protect their country, naval aviators often find their careers very fulfilling.

In this article, we discuss what a naval aviator does, the average salary for this role and the steps you need to take to become one yourself.

What is a naval aviator?

A naval aviator is an officer or petty officer in the United States Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard who has completed training as a pilot. Most naval aviators in the U.S. Navy are unrestricted line officers (URL) who are eligible for command at sea. However, some former senior enlisted military service members are commissioned as chief warrant officers and limited duty officers who have also been trained as naval aviators.

The Navy tries to create a balance between educational, operational and staff tours. How a naval aviator's career goes is often highly influenced by world events, such as whether there are any current wars, as well as individual aspirations. In general, most naval aviators complete two flying tours, which last a total of five or six years, within the first ten years of their career. They may complete more tours abroad if they're chosen to command air wings or a squadron.

Related: Top 12 Jobs in the Navy

What does a naval aviator do?

Naval aviators have several responsibilities, including:

  • Flying some of the most high-tech, innovative aircraft in the world

  • Conducting enemy surveillance by gathering in-flight photographic intelligence

  • Taking part in search and rescue operations, antisubmarine and mine countermeasures and vertical replenishment missions

  • Offering defense, attack and logistical support to a fleet

  • Maintaining and controlling both the internal and external systems on the aircraft

  • Receiving advanced training on the tactical systems that are located in Navy aircraft

Average salary for a naval aviator

The average salary for a naval aviator, also known as a U.S. Navy pilot, is $65,053 per year. Salary for a naval aviator depends on the officer's rank, which increases based on years in service, evaluations and qualifications.

Read more: A Complete Guide To Military Pay

How to become a naval aviator

If you're considering a career as a naval aviator, these are the basic steps you should take:

1. Obtain a college education

In general, all naval aviators are officers. In order to become a naval officer, you must obtain a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. You can obtain this from any civilian university or college or pursue an education from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Many aspiring naval aviators choose a bachelor's degree in a science or technology-related field, although this isn't a requirement.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Navy Physical Requirements

2. Become a commissioned officer

There is more than one route you could take to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. If you are currently attending college, you could enroll in a Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at your college. This will help you obtain the foundational skills you need for a role as a naval officer while you attend college. As part of your ROTC training, you will participate in drills and attend military classes. You also are required to report for midshipman cruises during the summer months when you aren't in school.

If you already hold a bachelor's degree, you can immediately begin pursuing Officer Candidate School (OCS). This is a 12-week training program held at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. During OCS, aspiring naval aviators will learn the basic regulations and rules for being an officer in the U.S. Navy and about the basics of naval propulsion. You also will participate in an intensive physical conditioning program that involves a large amount of swimming.

A third option for becoming a commissioned officer is to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. This competitive academy only accepts approximately 1,300 aspiring naval officers each year, which is generally only 10% of the total applicants. Applicants generally have exceptional academic records, a proven record of leadership and oftentimes a background in varsity sports.

3. Pass the Aviation Selection Test Battery

To become a naval aviator, you are required to pass the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB). This test consists of five different sections, including aviation and nautical, mechanical comprehension, spatial perception and mathematics and verbal.

4. Attend flight school

Unless you already have a private or recreational pilot license or have completed a solo cross-country flight, you are required to be evaluated in an introductory flight screening. As part of the introductory flight screening, aspiring naval aviators are required to complete 25 hours of instruction at a certified flight school.

As part of that training, they must complete a minimum of three solo flights, one of which must be a cross-country flight. After accomplishing this, they can then enroll in the aviator program for the Navy.

After finishing the introductory flight screening, candidates spend six weeks studying aerodynamics, navigation, engines and aviation physiology in a classroom at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola.

After completing their aviation pre-indoctrination, they then complete their primary flight training in Florida at Whiting Field. During this flight training, aspiring naval aviators receive hands-on instruction with a T-34C, the Navy's main training plane. By the time students finish their training, they will have spent over 100 hours in this plane or in-flight simulators. During the primary flight training, they learn basic flight skills, how to fly in formation, how to fly at night and how to complete aerobatics.

5. Choose a specialization

After finishing primary flight training, naval aviators choose the aircraft that they want to specialize in. Depending on the aircraft you choose, you may be sent to another location to complete specialized training. The actual flight time that naval aviators complete depends on the type of aircraft that they select. However, it's over 100 hours in all cases.

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