Does the Navy Have Pilots?

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When it comes to fighting on the frontline, both the Air force and Navy have aircraft. So yes, the Navy does have pilots to operate the different types of aircraft onboard.

US Naval aviation is among the strongest forces in the world today. Not only can they defend the waters, they can also protect the skies.

But the Navy and Air force have separate demands for skills and qualifications. This article will help you understand the differences between Navy and Air force pilots.

What is a pilot called in the Navy?

A pilot in the United States Navy is called naval aviator.

Naval aviators could be either a petty officer or a proper officer. This designation is not only found in the Navy but also in the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps.

Most naval aviators are URL officers (Unrestricted Line Officers) in the US Navy. They are given command at sea, meaning they can operate and manage submarines, warships, aircraft etc.

The career of a naval aviator is not a fixed path. It balances staff tours, operational activities and educational initiatives depending on the individual’s ambitions and world events.

For example, if a war breaks out the naval aviators will spend most of their time flying and fighting in the war. Staff tours will take a back seat in times of emergency.   

Here is a basic list of tasks and responsibilities a naval aviator must carry out on the job –

  • Training to fly very innovative and cutting-edge aircraft created by military research scientists.
  • Surveying enemy territories and bases for intelligence, using in-flight photographic technology.
  • Participating and cooperating with other forces in rescue missions and search operations.
  • Taking part in other missions like vertical replenishment, antisubmarine and mine countermeasures.
  • Aiding a fleet by providing logistical, attack and defense support.
  • Controlling and maintaining the systems (both external and internal) of an aircraft.
  • Undergoing advanced training to learn about the tactical systems in the Navy aircraft.

Does the Navy have more pilots than the Air Force?

Navy Pilots

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No, the US Navy does not have more pilots than the US Air force.

At present, there are around 12,500 pilots in the Air Force on active duty. In comparison, there are around 7,000 pilots currently serving in the US Navy.

Sadly, both branches of the military are facing a shortage of pilots. The US needs the army to meet its defense strategic and foreign policy interests.

However, currently, the US military is short of 10,000 troops. According to some projections, in 2023 the largest military industry in the world will have 21,000 less active duty soldiers.

Air Force vs Navy pilots

Navy Fighter Ship

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The US Navy guards the seas while the US Air Force protects the sky. Depending on the situation, both factions of the military could fight on the same terrain.

However, there are many operations, functions, and responsibilities which make the work of the Air Force different from the Navy’s. 

These are the differences between the Air Force Pilots and the Navy pilots –


The training of Navy pilots differs from that of Air Force pilots. But first, it is important to look at some similarities.

For example, it takes about 2 years to finish school for both Navy and Air Force. During this time a pilot is indoctrinated and begins winging.

When it comes to differences, the biggest one is that naval pilots must learn to successfully land their aircraft on an aircraft carrier.

Landing on the carrier is a difficult skill requiring time, focus and practice. This is why many otherwise brilliant SNAs (Student naval aviators) do not become a naval pilot.

Career Trajectory

Both Navy and Air Force believe in keeping their pilots busy between staff, educational and operational flights.

However, this depends on other circumstances. For example, during war fighter pilots will focus entirely on defense or offense, not tours or education.

On average, by the time a pilot has spent 10 years in the career, they have already completed two flying tours. Pilots can get more tours if they become air wings or squadron commanders during that period.

Missions and Tasks

Since it is “Air” Force, this military branch focuses and specializes primarily on air strikes. This means, Air Force pilots are well-versed in the art of radar interception and reading.

During an attack, the US Air Force fighters and bombers will assume an offensive role and attack the incoming jets or planes in the sky.

Navy pilots are also trained in combat, but they fly multi-mission aircraft. That means, Navy pilots do many other missions than simply engaging in an air-to-air combat. 

Duty Stations

The coasts of USA harbor many naval and Air Force bases or air stations. However, naval pilots are seldom found at the base because they are mostly at sea, aboard an aircraft carrier.

Air Force stations also boast of better facilities, like having a golf course which naval bases do not have.

Also, there are many US Air Force bases located in the other parts of the world. Some of these countries include – Incirlik (in Turkey) and Bagram (in Afghanistan).


The US Navy and Air Force fly different aircraft. Naval pilots operate F/A – 18s while the Air Force pilots fly F – 16s during combat.

There are other types of aircraft as well. For example, naval pilots can specialize in – helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft and tailhook aircraft.

Who gets to specialize in which aircraft depends on the need of the hour, the pilot’s performance and lastly, the pilot’s preference. 

Are there enlisted Navy pilots?

The short answer is: No, there are no enlisted Navy fighter pilots. Firstly, pilots in the navy are referred to as naval aviators.

Secondly, all flight officers and aviators are commissioned officers. People can be enlisted as aircrew who support and assist on different types of air crafts.

If an enlisted person wants to fly, they will have to undergo a special program and become an officer first.

Is it hard to be a pilot in the Navy?

Becoming a naval aviator or flight officer is a difficult task. After all, you will be trusted with the safety of the country during an attack. For that, you need to be among the best.

The following qualifications are required just to begin training as an aviator –

  • Excellent academic history (including a bachelor’s degree)
  • Physical athleticism
  • Leadership abilities
  • An all-round performance
  • Ability to maintain composure and focus during emergencies.

Once you enroll in navy school, there will be a lot of studying, practice and tests to finish for the next 2 years.

How to become a navy fighter pilot

Navy Fighter pilot

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To become a naval pilot, you will have to take the following steps –

  • You need to be between 19 and 26 years of age to enroll in the navy pilot program. Other requirements include excellent vision, a bachelor’s degree and a body weight of103 to 245 lbs.
  • The Bachelor’s degree may not necessarily be in a STEM field (STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
  • After graduation, get into an Officer Candidate School. Only officers can fly in the US Navy.
  • Next, your Primary Flight Training begins. It will either happen in Pensacola, Florida (at the Naval Air Station Whiting Field) or in Corpus Christi, Texas (at the Naval Air Station).
  • Eventually, you must clear the ASTB (Aviation Selection Test Battery) exam.
  • Lastly, you must clear a series of psychological and physical challenges. The naval authorities will also conduct background checks on you.

How long does it take to be a fighter pilot in the Navy?

It will take between 18 and 24 months of aviation programs and training for a student to get their “wings” and become an aviator.

Prior to this, students must complete 13 weeks of officer training along with a 6-week course on air indoctrination.

Navy pilot acceptance rate

The acceptance of naval pilots or aviators is quite low. That’s how tough it is to become a pilot in the navy.

On average, only 10% of applicants go on to become naval aviators. This translates to around 1,300 aspiring officers every year.

Navy fighter pilot salary

The salary of a naval fighter pilot depends on their length of service and rank. Basically, a pilot with more experience and higher rank will earn more.

Having said that, the average salary of a naval pilot is $72,410 per annum.

FAQ relating to whether the navy has pilots

Are there Navy fighter pilots?

Yes, the US Navy also has fighter pilots. These sky soldiers are called naval aviators. In fact, the US Navy has 3,700 aircraft, making it the second biggest air force in the world. The only body with more aircraft is the US Air Force.

What is a pilot called in the Navy?

A pilot in the Navy is called a naval aviator. In fact, even the pilots operating aircraft in the Coast Guards and Marine Corps are called naval aviators. Most US naval aviators are also URL (Unrestricted Line Officers) who can can command at sea.

How much is a Navy pilot paid?

The salary of a Navy pilot averages around $72,410 per annum. It varies from pilot to pilot, depending on their rank and the amount of time they have served. Also, pilots enjoy a host of benefits like health insurance, retirement plan and tuition reimbursement.

Which military branch is best for pilots?

Without a doubt, if you want to become a pilot, it is best to join the Air Force. In the Air Force, there are all sorts of aircraft available – fighter jets, bombers, electronic warfare aircraft and even rotor-wing aircraft.

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