If you can make it as a naval aviator, you'll be a rare bird indeed. As of 2011, there weren't a lot of female naval aviators, with just 800 nationwide. But women have made strides in the service. The Navy dropped limits on women flying in combat in 1993. By 2011, 6 percent of naval aviators were women. That was double the 3 percent who had the rank in 1991. If you want to join them, you'll need the right education, background, fitness level and flight training.
To fly Navy jets, you'll need to navigate your way through undergraduate school. The Navy requires all aviators to have a bachelor's degree from a four-year school. No specific major is required, though it helps if you study a scientific or technical field like aerospace or electrical engineering, astrophysics, chemistry, physics, math or statistics. Also, consider joining your campus Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, even though it’s not mandatory. On top of early training in leadership, you’ll get a scholarship for up to $180,000 to cover college costs. The ROTC also gives you an educational edge thanks to classes in cultural awareness, naval science and national security.
Once you finish your degree, you’ll apply to be a Navy officer candidate. Defending the country is sensitive and important work, so expect to get the third degree. You'll need to hand over your birth certificate and Social Security card to prove you're a U.S. citizen. Plus, the Navy wants to see your medical records, and it will ask if you’ve ever used illegal drugs or been arrested. Be prepared to list every place you've worked or lived, as well as foreign countries you've visited. In addition, you will need to provide high school and college transcripts. And to assure the Navy you have good character, come up with four references recruiters can interview.
If Navy recruiters approve your application, get ready for a battery of tests. You’ll need a good score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test, a 225-question, multiple-choice exam that measures what you know about general science, math reasoning, vocabulary, auto and shop information and mechanics. You also have to pass a physical exam that includes blood and urine tests as well as hearing and visual tests. If Navy docs spot any inner-ear issues that cause balance problems, or heart-related issues such as arrhythmia or high blood pressure, that could end your chance to fly. You also need 20/20 vision, either naturally or with glasses or contact lenses. Finally, get ready for a fitness test that tells recruiters whether you are in good physical condition. You can’t have more than 33 to 34 percent body fat, and you must complete a minimum number of push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. There’s also a timed 500-yard swim and a timed 1.5-mile run.
If you meet the criteria to become a Naval aviator, the Navy ships you off to Officer Candidate School at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island to begin hands-on flying prep. The 12-week program teaches you leadership, physical fitness, military training and how to command ships and submarines. After completing OCS, you'll move on to a six-week course at Naval Aviation Schools Command in Pensacola, Fla. After that, you'll jump into flight training in Pensacola. In primary training, you request an aircraft and learn basic flight and navigation skills. Advanced flight training teaches mission specifics. Once you complete flight training, the Navy assigns you to a squadron for more training in your specific type of aircraft.
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