The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps maintain separate aviation entities but combine much of their mutual training throughout the entire aviation training process under the umbrella of the U.S. Navy.

Navy aviation mission and aircraft

The naval aviation mission is to protect and support U.S. naval forces and provide a rapid-strike capability worldwide. Naval aviators range from anti-submarine patrols to joint-strike fighters to helicopter search and rescue; their aircraft include fighters, turboprop cargo aircraft capable of carrier based landings, and a large fleet of helicopters (which the Navy calls “helos” rather than “rotary-wing aircraft”).

Marine Corps aviation mission and aircraft

The Marine Corps operates both fixed-wing and rotary-wing assets to provide close air support and transport to its ground forces. The six main functions of Marine aviation are anti-aircraft warfare, offensive air support, assault support, electronic warfare, control of aircraft and missiles, and aerial reconnaissance. Corps aircraft range from transport and attack helicopters to joint-strike fighters.

Navy and Marine Corps selection criteria/requirements and demographics

Naval aviation officer candidates come from a variety of commissioning sources: the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval ROTC, and the Naval Officer Candidate School (formerly geared to naval aviators but now organized to train applicants for the entire Navy).

As with the Air Force, a large percentage of aviation slots go to both Naval Academy graduates and ROTC cadets/midshipmen. The approximate percentage of officer candidate school slots for naval aviation runs around 10 to 15 percent a year. Other qualifications to become a naval aviator are

  • U.S. citizenship.

  • Age: 28 upon commissioning.

  • Education: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.

  • Medical: Ability to pass Class 1 flight physical.

  • Vision: 20/40 uncorrected and correctable to 20/20 with normal depth and color perception. Waivers are available for PRK but not for the Lasik eye procedure.

  • Swimming ability.

  • Eligibility for security clearance.

Naval/Marine flight training programs

After you’re accepted into a naval aviation program, the first step is to earn your commission (if you’re not already commissioned through another source). This process means officer candidate school — a 12-week program taught by both Marine and Navy instructors at Newport, Rhode Island.

When you receive your commission, you begin your first phase in the path toward becoming a naval aviator: Introductory Flight Screening (IFS). IFS consists of 15 hours of flight training and is taught by contracted civilian instructors at three different locations throughout the country. Next, you attend aviation preflight indoctrination, a six-week introductory phase taught at Pensacola, Florida. This program consists of four weeks of academic instruction and two weeks of survival and psychological warfare training.

Finally, you go to one of two locations (Florida or Texas) to begin a six-month primary flight training program. At the end of primary flight training, you’re assigned to one of four intermediate flight training paths based on the Navy’s needs and your performance and preference. Each path has its continuing training program:

  • Tailhook: Aviators selected for tailhook training (aircraft equipped to land on an aircraft carrier) report for an additional 27 weeks of training. Of those, approximately 80 percent are selected for advance strike aircraft and spend an additional 23 weeks in flight training before transitioning to specific aircraft.

  • E2/C2 pipeline: Those selected for the E2/C2 pipeline receive an additional 8 weeks of training for other carrier-based aircraft and then report for a 16-week multi-engine training program.

  • Helos: Those selected for helos report to Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting in Florida for primary and advanced training in the fundamentals of rotary-wing flight.

  • Maritime: Those selected for this path receive initial multi-engine training with the E2/C2 group and then separate for specific training to operate larger, non-carrier-based, multi-engine aircraft.

Upon graduation, the three respective services (the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard, which utilizes naval training facilities) separate for advanced training in both the mission and specific aircraft of their individual branches.