Posted by lex, on January 8, 2008
I spoke at the retirement of a master chief petty officer a few years back. Over supper the night prior he told me that when he’d been a brand-new boot in his first squadron the senior chief petty officer there had been one of the Navy’s last enlisted flyers, a program that dated back to World War II.
Well, here we are again:
The U.S. Navy awarded wings to its first two non-officer pilots in over sixty years. Faced with a growing shortage of pilots, the U.S. Navy has finally adopted a solution the U.S. Army implemented long ago; warrant officer pilots. The first fourteen navy warrant officer pilots were commissioned a year ago and sent off to flight school.
There’s no doubt that this is a great deal for those selected and will save the Navy money while setting up a juicy alternative career path to time spent shoveling PowerPoint briefs in the five-sided wind tunnel. What will be interesting is the effect that the arrival of flying warrant officers will have on a traditionally hierchical naval culture – a culture which, although attenuated in aviation ready rooms as compared to the surface force wardrooms, is by no means absent.
There will be two tiers of pilots: The warrant officers who will only fly, and the commissioned officers who will also fly. The second cohort will generally be younger and undergo a “grooming” process for ultimate leadership roles while the first will already have a proven track record of leadership, albeit at a different level. The officers will be selected and advanced to command positions, but the warrants will face a kind of glass ceiling even as they perform the same work.
Nor is it hard to envision a multi-place cockpit wherein the warrant officer may be – in fact, probably will be – far the more experienced aviator, but junior in military rank. Add volatile personalities and ego to the mix – you can’t leave the latter out of a aviation setting – and it should make for some “interesting” CRM.
Another second order effect will come from the fact that such flying warrants will only be assigned to helicopter and patrol squadrons. Whether or not that will cause tension and “self-esteem” issues between those communities and “officers only” tactical jet ready rooms will again be interesting to watch.
This (he dryly observes) will no doubt be called a leadership issue.