A naval flight officer (NFO) is a commissioned officer trained in advanced weapons and other systems for the US Navy or Marine Corp. He or she does not pilot the aircraft, but manages various systems, allowing the pilot to stay focused on piloting the aircraft while the NFO monitors the weapons systems. This is especially important in potential combat situations; because there are no flight duties, a naval flight officer is able to be more fully aware of the battlefield, enabling him to lead the mission. In their squadron, both pilots and NFOs can hold positions of leadership, such Operations or Maintenance Officers.
Although naval flight officers do not have the complete training that would enable them to fly the aircraft, they are thoroughly trained in basic piloting techniques in aircraft with dual-controls. Some naval aircraft are designed with side-by-side seating to allow for dual pilot operation by a pilot and an NFO. Aviators and NFOs undergo much of the same physical training and fundamental aviation courses.
Ensigns and 2nd Lieutenants that have been newly commissioned, and plan to enter aviation, report to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and receive Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API). API is an educational program on aviation fundamentals. Coursework in this six week program includes all aspects of flight, including classes in such topics as aerodynamics, aircraft engines, navigation, and meteorology. As API students, NFOs, like pilots, must undertake strenuous physical training to prepare them to withstand the rigors of flight on board combat craft like F/A-18 Hornets and EA-6B Prowlers.
Following successful completion of API, naval flight officer candidates remain in Pensacola for primary flight training. After this training is complete, NFOs can select assignment to aircraft that is jet or propeller driven, and then begin the next level of flight training. The next step in training allows the NFO to become even more skilled in flight and navigation. The NFOs then select the aircraft type in which they wish to specialize.
The more advanced training is guided by the aircraft type an NFO has selected. Advanced flight training is the last step to receiving NFO wings and reporting to a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for additional training in the chosen aircraft. The FRS will instruct new NFOs how to operate their aircraft’s systems in any mission in which it might conceivably be used. Upon graduation from FRS training, a naval flight officer is a certified fleet aviator.