This is the first installment of my husband’s guest post series. My husband is a F-18 pilot in the United States Navy, and these blog posts are his take on how to become a Naval Aviator and what the job is actually like. He has been a qualified F-18 pilot since March 2007. We have 5 more posts coming over the next few weeks.
How to Become a Naval Aviator: NROTC, College, and Officer Commissioning
The first thing I always tell someone who is interested in becoming a Naval Aviator is to strive to get the best grades possible early on, and keep it up through college and flight school. Now that I’ve said that, you’ll find that I didn’t necessarily practice what I preach.
My journey started at San Diego State University. After my first year there, I applied for and received entry into the NROTC program and scholarship. A lot of people assume that you need to attend the Naval Academy or a have flying background through Embry Riddle or somewhere similar to become a Navy pilot. That is completely untrue. People also assume you need an Aerospace Engineering degree or some form of science degree. That is also untrue. If you want to be an astronaut or test pilot, and plan on using the Navy to get there, then yes, you’ll need that type of education. If your goal is to get an officer’s commission and fly airplanes, and you don’t have a specific love for math, than feel free to follow in my footsteps and major in Political Science. I have friends who were History, Communications, TV, Media, Philosophy, and Art majors who all became Naval Aviators. The Navy will teach you all you need to know from scratch. Having said all that, a sizable percentage of my peers do have engineering degrees. It’s just not mandatory.
When you graduate from ROTC or the Naval Academy, your first step is to tell the Navy your preferences for your career Naval community. The three main options are Surface Warfare, Submarines, and Aviation. I obviously put aviation first on my list of choices. Among other things, GPA is a strong determining factor when they decide your career (by the way, this is a similar process for all service academies, too). The Navy will take a look at all the graduates, look at what they requested, and then compare that with the number of available spots in each community.
My grades at SDSU were far from spectacular. I finished right at a 3.0 GPA, which I think is the bare minimum number to strive for. A 3.0 looks a hell of a lot better than a 2.9, especially with a liberal arts degree. While I waited to learn what I selected, a 4.0 GPA would have given me a lot of “selection security” for aviation. I got what I wanted at a 3.0, but why make it hard on yourself if you don’t have to? I usually make it hard on myself.
In San Diego the NROTC unit was a consortium between San Diego State University, University of San Diego, University of California San Diego, California State University Santa Monica, and Point Loma Nazarene University, which made it the largest ROTC unit in the country. ROTC is mostly what you make of it. I wasn’t the type to volunteer to travel the country spinning rifles while marching around and yelling a lot, but if that’s your cup of tea, there are plenty of chances to do just that. There are also many leadership experiences and opportunities to see what the Navy/Marine Corps have to offer through NROTC. There are month long summer commitments, weekly early wake ups which include drill and formation, and standard Navy fitness requirements, but if ROTC is too much for you to handle, the military is not for you.
There are two other avenues to receiving a commission into the aviation community: attending the Naval Academy or attending Officer Candidate School (OCS).
Usually the Naval Academy graduates take grief from those of us who went to “real college.” Naval Academy graduates have an unmatched education, and a 4-year experience in a gorgeous town and campus that are filled with rich history and tradition. Naval Academy students are not allowed to party or skip class like a typical college student, so, as you can imagine, Naval Academy graduates probably get the aviation slot first if all other things are equal – so, don’t let everything be equal.
Should you not want to do NROTC or attend the Naval Academy, the final avenue of receiving an officer’s commission in the Navy is to attend OCS. I can’t speak too smartly about that process since I did not go through it, but I do know this: it is possible to be guaranteed an aviation contract before you sign anything and the 12 weeks you’re there are very miserable. However, it’s only 12 weeks, and once you complete that process, you’re the same Ensign as everybody else in flight school.