Is there a path to Naval Aviator (Pilot) if you don't branch Naval Aviator at commissioning from NROTC?


Nov 27, 2017
Should a just commissioned ensign (NO) or 2nd LT. (MO) get their wings/ graduate Pensacola as a NFO navigator, then serve as an NFO, is there a path for that person to ultimately switch to become a naval aviator either in active duty or afterward in the reserves (including switching branches, like to air force reserves, Air National Guard, etc?

What about people who serve in other roles after commissioning (sub, SWO, nursing, etc.) who do not earn their wings in the Navy, but are in-life commercial pilots with all ratings (Commercial, all 3 CFIs, Multi, ATP)- can they join the reserves as a pilot after whatever parts of that branch’s flight schools they need to attend– if so for what branches?

Not a question of getting out of required service following ROTC - not in question. Just looking to understand options should DS not be selected for Pensacola as an aviator, but dreams to fly. Thanks.


May 6, 2019
It must be possible. My DS’ SNSI in NJROTC was a surface warefare officer before he became an F-14 pilot and F-14 Instructer. He wears both his Naval Aviator wings and his Surface Warfare “water wings” on his uniform. I have no idea how common that is.

Capt MJ

Ancient Mariner, Salt-Encrusted
10-Year Member
Sep 27, 2008
It will always, always, come down to needs of the Navy.

To move from one officer community to another, there has to be a demonstrated need in the gaining community and a capacity to lose endstrength in the losing community, in that particular year group (a group of officers commissioned in the same FY across all sources). Every year there are Navy lateral transfer/redesignation boards that allow small handfuls of people to switch communities. Various criteria must be met, the two manpower levels I just mentioned, plus specific windows of time, usually a small number of years after the officer has qualified in their own community and before they would be too far out of step/behind in the gaining community career progression. They have to be top performers in their own community with a resounding endorsement from their CO. There are certain career milestones that happen in each community that make an officer promotable; some can be caught up with, some not, which is why it’s a narrow span of years for this process.

Now, down at Pensacola, sometimes the stars align, and they have had more student pilot attrition than they want, so they will open the door to top-performing student NFOs who are presumably medically qualified, and a local transfer-redesignation process occurs. The needs of the Navy drives whether this happens.

As far as gaining all the other pilot quals on the commercial side, for a Navy Reserve pilot billet - once again, if the Navy needs warm bodies that can fly, and it is willing to invest the money to retrain as a Navy pilot, I am sure it is possible. Probable? No idea. I will say during my 26 year Navy career and professional associations over the years with Navy pilots in the Reserve, I never
met one who was not an active duty Navy pilot first. That is just anecdotal from me, though.

We had a USNA sponsor son who wanted pilot, got NFO, went to Pensacola, that window opened up, and he cheerfully leapt through it. It can’t be planned for.

Here’s a reference for the current FY22 lateral transfer/redesignation board.

I sat as a member for my community on three of these boards, once as the senior member. We had to review all packages, both requesting transfer outbound to another community, and transfer into the community. Our community manager gave us our manpower stats in advance, for example: Outbound/can’t lose more than two from year group XX, all other year groups no more than 4, total of 12 all in. Inbound, up to 6 in YG YY, no more than 3 in all others, for example. Much depends on the size f gaining/losing communities. There are statutes which decree how many officers can be at each pay grade in the services, so the manpower people are always crunching accession, attrition, growth, reduction, planned promotions to next pay grade, etc., stats to determine community endstrength requirements.

The applications are submitted in a certain format. The Commanding Officer’s endorsement is powerful. The officer’s performance to date is also critical - the board is shopping for top-ranked JOs with “pack-plus” performance reports, not a middle-of-the-pack and definitely not a pack-minus officer who has realized he or she is circling the drain in their own community.
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5-Year Member
Sep 22, 2015
As pointed out by Capt MJ, needs of the service.
However, you aren’t limited to Navy flight school. It’s not unheard of for officers to switch services and go to flight school. The current CO of the Eisenhower is a West Point graduate who went to Army flight school, then later transferred to the Navy.


USNA 78/parent 11/BGO for >25yrs
10-Year Member
Aug 27, 2010
I have seen a few officers go from NFO to pilot. I have a classmate who I'll be meeting for drinks in a couple of weeks who went back to flight school after a fleet tour as an A6 B/N (NFO). The aviation community was short pilots and they too him back to school and he became a pilot.
I know quite a few SWOs who later became Aviators and in most cases for my year group and after, it is because they chose Surface with the Air Option at Service Selection Night. I actually chose that but opted to stay with SWO but one of my roommates and another former teammate both shifted to flight school after getting their SWO qual and initial tour.
All of this take place on Active Duty. I do not know of anyone who managed this as a drilling Navy reservist.