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Naval Flight Officer: Wikis


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The warfare designation insignia of a Naval Flight Officer (NFO)

A Naval Flight Officer (NFO) is an officer in the United States Navy or Marine Corps that specializes in airborne weapons and sensor systems. NFOs are not pilots (Naval Aviators), per se, but they may perform many "co-pilot" functions, depending on the type of aircraft. Until 1966, their duties were performed by officer and enlisted Naval Aviation Observers (NAO). At that time, the NFO designation was established and the insignia was introduced.[1] NFOs are line officers, eligible for command in the naval aviation communities.

The counterparts to the NFO in the United States Air Force are the Combat Systems Officer, Navigator, Weapons Systems Officer, and Electronic Warfare Officer.

The United States Coast Guard had a short-lived NFO community in the 1980s and 1990s when it temporarily operated E-2C Hawkeye aircraft on loan from the Navy. Following a fatal mishap with one of these aircraft at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, the Coast Guard returned the remaining E-2Cs to the Navy and disestablished its NFO program. [2]



NFOs attend the same classes with naval aviators during Aviation Preflight Indoctrination at Naval Aviation Schools Command, NAS Pensacola, Florida. Afterwards, they enter a dedicated NFO "pipeline" (curriculum) at Training Air Wing SIX (TRAWING 6) at NAS Pensacola/Sherman Field. Here they are assigned to one of two Primary/Intermediate Student NFO Training Squadrons, Training Squadron FOUR (VT-4 Warbucks) or Training Squadron TEN (VT-10 Wildcats), and are taught basic aviation fundamentals in the T-6A Texan II, including instrument navigation, visual low-level navigation, aerobatics, and formation flight. Based upon performance, preference, and needs of the Navy or Marine Corps, student NFOs are then assigned to advanced training at Training Squadron EIGHTY-SIX (VT-86 SabreHawks), Patrol Squadron THIRTY (VP-30), at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, or Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 120 (VAW-120 at NS Norfolk/Chambers Field, Virginia.[3]


Training for a Naval Flight Officer is in a tiered system. After primary training is completed, students are selected for either carrier aviation or "maritime" aviation (i.e., land-based, larger aircraft). Selection is based on a combination of student preference and the rank of the student in his class. The top graduate is typically offered his choice of duty. The rest of the graduates are placed in billets according to "the needs of the Navy" or Marine Corps.

For carrier aviation student NFOs, training progresses an additional fourteen weeks in the primary training squadron before they are assigned to VT-86 for jet training. VT-86 prepares student NFOs for eventual assignment to EA-6B Prowlers (USN and USMC), F/A-18F Super Hornets (USN), or F/A-18D Hornets (USMC), flying the T-39 Sabreliner and T-45 Goshawk. Training in specific Fleet aircraft occurs after graduation from Advanced NFO training (i.e., "winging") and is conducted at the respective Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the particular type/model/series aircraft. This process also holds true for newly-winged NFOs slated for land-based naval aircraft.

An exception to this process is for those Student NFOs assigned to the E-2 Hawkeye community, who following completion of Intermediate NFO training at VT-4 or VT-10, are transferred to NS Norfolk, Virginia for advanced training at VAW-120, the E-2 Hawkeye FRS. VAW-120 awards these NFOs their wings during their training syllabus at the FRS.

Intermediate training for land-based aircraft typically sends student NFOs to San Antonio, TX for joint training with the 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph AFB before being sent to the FRS for the E-6B Mercury TACAMO, the EP-3E Aries, or the P-3C Orion.

With the impending divestiture of Specialized Undergraduate Navigator Training (SUNT) from the Air Force's 12th Flying Training Wing and merger into a new Undergraduate Military Flight Officer (UMFO) program for all services at NAS Pensacola, a select number of Student NFOs slated for the P-3, EP-3, and eventually the P-8 Poseidon are being sent directly to VP-30, the FRS for P-3s and EP-3s, as part of a prototype advanced training program similar to that historically utilized by the E-2 community (i.e., NFO "winging" at the FRS), before beginning the normal FRS syllabus. A similar program for Student NFOs slated for the E-6 Mercury at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma is also under development.

NFO training is currently under extensive overhaul under a program known as Undergraduate Military Flight Officer (UMFO). The UMFO program will continue to use the T-6A Texan II aircraft, but will replace the T-39G/N with the T-45C Goshawk once further navigational training system upgrades are made to NFO-specific T-45C aircraft.

Naval Aviator vs Naval Flight Officer

Naval Flight Officers (NFOs) are the men and women who operate some of the advanced systems onboard some multi-crew naval aircraft, and some may also act as the overall tactical coordinators of multiple air assets during a mission.

A common misconception related to NFOs is that they do not fly. NFOs do fly, but not as frequently as Naval Aviators.(Naval Aviators are required to fly at least once every fourteen days, while NFOs are required to fly at least once out of every twenty-one days.) Most naval aircraft do not contain dual-flight controls, and in the unlikely event that the pilot may become incapacitated, the crew is likely to eject, if possible, as NFOs are not fully-qualified to fly or land the aircraft, especially landing aboard an aircraft carrier. However, one notable exception has been the S-3 Viking, a dual-control aircraft where NFOs replaced co-pilots and alternately acted in the dual role of Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) and Co-Pilot/Tactical Coordinator (COTAC). The Navy's UC-12 Huron operational support aircraft (OSA) fleet, another dual-control aircraft, has also occasionally employed NFOs as "co-pilots" and naval operational flight procedures permit the UC-12 aircraft to utilize "dual piloted" instrument approach criteria with an NFO in the co-pilot seat.

The S-3 Viking and the EA-6B Prowler, due to their side-by-side seating, are also considered as "dual piloted" aircraft for instrument approach criteria and associated weather minimums. This same practice was also employed by the former A-6 Intruder attack aircraft.

NFOs serve as navigators, tacticians, Weapon Systems Operators (WSOs), Electronic Warfare Officers, and bombardiers. They can even serve as aircraft mission commanders, although the pilot in command, regardless rank, is always responsible for the safe piloting of the aircraft. Many NFOs achieve flight lead and mission lead qualification, even when the pilot of the aircraft does not have that designation. Often, a senior NFO is paired with a junior pilot (and vice versa). NFO astronauts have flown the Space Shuttle as Mission Specialists, and wear NFO-Astronaut wings.

NFOs have risen to high ranks in both the Navy and Marine Corps and have commanded squadrons, carrier air wings, shore-based functional aviation wings and groups, Marine Aircraft Groups and air stations, aircraft carriers, carrier strike groups, Marine Aircraft Wings and numbered Fleets.

Rear Admiral Benjamin Thurman Hacker, the first NFO flag officer, was selected in 1980. He previously flew the P-2 Neptune and P-3 Orion.

Admiral William Fallon, an NFO who flew the RA-5C Vigilante and the A-6 Intruder was the first NFO to achieve 4-star rank. In 2006, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to lead U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). He had previously commanded U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) and U.S. Fleet Forces Command prior to his USCENTCOM assignment. He retired in 2008.

General William L. Nyland, USMC was the first Marine Corps NFO to achieve 4-star rank as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. He previously flew the F-4 Phantom II and the F/A-18 Hornet, and he retired in 2005. [4]

The Fleet

In the Fleet, NFOs are assigned to Navy and Marine squadrons flying the F/A-18F Super Hornet, F/A-18D Hornet (Marines Only), EA-6B Prowler, E-6 Mercury, E-2C Hawkeye, EP-3 Aries, and P-3C Orion. They have recently begun to fly the EA-18G Growler and will also eventually fly the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and P-8A Poseidon

In the S-3A, NFOs previously served as the Copilot/Tactical Coordinator (COTAC) and Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) or TACCO/Mission Commander (TACCO/MC). In the S-3B, they increasingly served COTAC Mission Commander or COTAC/MC.

In the P-3C (and eventually the P-8A), the NFO is initially designated as a navigator/communicator (NAV/COM) and eventually upgrades to TACCO and then TACCO/Mission Commander (TACCO/MC).

In the EA-6B and EA-18G, they are designated as Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMOs) and may also be Mission Commanders.

In the F/A-18F and F/A-18D, the NFO position is known as the Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) and may also be Mission Commander qualified.

In the E-2C Hawkeye and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, they are designated Combat Information Center Officers (CICO) and CICO/Mission Commanders (CICO/MC).

In all, the specific roles filled by an NFO can vary greatly depending on the type of aircraft to which an NFO is assigned.

Past Aircraft

NFOs also flew in these retired aircraft:

  • A-3 Skywarrior (including EA-3, ERA-3, EKA-3 and EA-3) serving as Bombardier/Navigators (B/N), Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMOs), Navigators, Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO), and Evaluators (SEVAL/EVAL).
  • A-5 and RA-5C Vigilantes serving as Bombardier/Navigator (B/N) in the A-5A and Reconnaissance/Attack Navigator (RAN) in the RA-5C
  • A-6 Intruder serving as Bombardier/Navigator (B/N)
  • EA-6A Prowler serving as Electronic Countermeasures Officer (ECMO)
  • WV-2 and WV-3 Warning Star as Navigator (NAV)
  • EC-130 Hercules "TACAMO" aircraft serving as Navigator (NAV) and Mission Commander (MC)
  • ES-3A Shadow serving as Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO)
  • F-4 Phantom II serving as Radar Intercept Officer (RIO)
  • RF-4B Phantom II serving as Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO)
  • F-14 Tomcat serving as Radar Intercept Officer (RIO)
  • LC-130 Hercules serving as Navigator (NAV)
  • C-130 Hercules serving as Navigator (NAV)
  • P2V Neptune serving as Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) and Navigator (NAV)
  • SP-5B Marlin serving as Tactical Coordinator (TACCO)
  • [EA1F [AD-5Q] [Skyraider] serving as Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO)/Electronic Countermeasures Operator (ECMO)

Popular culture

See also


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