By lex, on May 2nd, 2010
The Navy’s first flying warrant officer has received his helicopter aircraft commander ** sign-off:
Forty sailors make up the experimental program, which puts former sailors in the cockpit and creates a nontraditional career path in the aviation community. The program feeds aviators into the helicopter, P-3 Orion and the E-6 Mercury — or “TACAMO,” for “Take Charge and Move Out” — communities.
Unlike line officers, flying warrants focus solely on flying for their entire career rather than spending time on officer career requirements that include department head tours and Pentagon staff jobs.
It remains unclear whether the Navy will extend or expand the 4-year-old program. Initially limited to 30 sailors, officials expanded the program to 45 slots last year.
Firstly, congrats to CWO3 Adams for achieving this important milestone. There’s never been any doubt that an enlisted sailor can handle flying duties: As a commanding officer, I sent two of my top-notch sailors down to Pensacola for flight training, subsequent to completing officer commissioning programs. The Army has successfully employed flying warrant officers for pretty much ever. And I retired a master chief petty officer whose first mentor was the Navy’s last enlisted flier, so Navy has a track record * there too.
There are downsides, of course. The program is limited to non-tailhook aircraft; helicopters, P-3s and potentially P-8s, which sets up a “two tier” aviation culture. If a flying warrant is “good enough” for non-TACAIR, why would they not also be good enough for Carrier Navy? And having career-restricted chief warrant officers in squadrons who “only fly” will take flight hours from officers who also fly – and there are few enough flight hours to go around these days. Many young people join the Navy in order to fly, and quite a number of them are being sent to such non-traditional duties such as filling individual augments in Iraq and Afghanistan. If warrant officers take crucial instructor pilot duties at replacement squadrons while lieutenants blow bubbles in the mud ducking mortar rounds, resentments, petty or otherwise, will inevitably abound.
Although there’s little doubt that this program will be very interesting to Navy’s most exceptional junior enlisted, there’s also little doubt that this is anything but a cost-savings measure: While the cost of training an individual to fly does not vary with paygrade, the lifecycle cost of a commissioned officer pilot – especially one who goes through a full 20 year (or more) career – is much higher than for a warrant officer.
The Navy is wisely going slow on this program, awaiting fleet feedback. The real question will be whether it was wise for Navy, at least, to go here at all.
Update: In possibly related news **-
Fourteen members of the Army’s 12th Combat Aviation Brigade on Thursday became the first non-Germans to receive Germany’s Gold Cross, one of that nation’s highest honors for valor.
The soldiers, based at U.S. Army Garrison-Ansbach, Germany, were honored for medevac flights they performed April 2 involving German troops who had been ambushed by some 200 Taliban fighters while on patrol north of the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan.
The firefight was still going on when the Black Hawk evacuation helicopters — two medical transport helicopters and one heavily armed “chase” helicopter — arrived, according to what Army Capt. Robert McDonough, who piloted one of the medical helicopters, told his father, Jack McDonough.
* 09-30-2018 Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.
** 09-30-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.