View Full Version : From Pilot To Carrier Captain -How?

12-26-2004, 03:41 PM
The USN, from fairly early days, adopted the policy that to command a Carrier the Captain/Admiral had to have wings. Made a lot of sense. So a number of old school 'black shoe' navy men went off and got their wings, eg King, Halsey, Buckmaster, Mitscher, Ramsey etc. Fletcher and Spruance being notable exceptions.

But the guys mentioned above were not really flyers. They were highly skilled 'blue-water' sailors, who had the vision to recognise that Carriers would become a force in the future, and simply went off to get the quailification (wings) that would allow them to command carriers in the future.

But the latter crop of Carrier captains were actual flyers who transitioned from active Squadron/CAG command to carrier command eg Flatley, Thatch, Blackburn etc.

What I would like to know is how a pilot can become a ships (carrier) captain? When would he get the sea time necessary to learn the multitude of demanding skills eg navigation, watch procedure, engineering, ships gunnery, damage control, ship handling etc? That takes a normal Naval Officer a lifetime to learn.

How does the transition take place?

12-26-2004, 07:34 PM
Some elements of what you mentioned they learn as naval personnel regardless of whether they are in aviation or not. We all learned naval procedures before we learned aviaiton procedures. Also, a captain of a carrier has a staff including chief of engineering,gunnery officer, navigation officer, communitcations, medical etc. These are entire departments aboard a carrier. The Chief of Engineering on my carrier also had the rank of captain. Also, sea command doesn't require the rank of Captain. Destroyer, frigate and sub commanders can be Commander or Lt. Commander and smaller vessels are even commanded by Lieutenants. So, they certainly acquire the necessary training before being awarded command and if they wnet to Annapolis, they receive a large measure there. I'm sure someone else can give you more details on this.

12-26-2004, 09:13 PM
Once deemed "worthy of command", naval aviators of sufficient rank are assigned command of a large surface ship to prep them for CV command. Usually, these ships are amphibious ships - LST's, LSD's, etc. (Cruisers, destroyers, and frigates are held for designated surface warfare officers to command).

Once they successfully complete that surface command, then they may move on to command an aircraft carrier. In this way, they don't just jump from command of an aviation squadron or airwing to command of the largest warship afloat - it gives them significant surface command experience to prep them for the ultimate . . .

12-26-2004, 10:08 PM
Really good post/topic.


12-26-2004, 11:48 PM
TwoGuns is absolutely correct, however keep in mind that when a pilot-turned-carrier skipper steps aboard his new command, it's not the first time he's been aboard a carrier as ship's company. He's most likely held a department head job such as Navigator, or Operations, or maybe XO.

Also, the Navy has a ship handling course, where they actually teach you how to drive a boat! http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif

12-27-2004, 12:09 AM
IIRC, Congress passed a law that stated carriers could only be captained by aviators. That was to protect the infant naval air arm from the battleship cabal.

12-27-2004, 12:12 AM
As Quoted from the Tom Clansy Book "Carrier:A guided tour of an Aircraft Carrier"

Command- The Top of the Heap

For Naval aviators, the path to combat command starts when they arrive at thier squadron for their third flying tour (another 3 to 4 year, two cruise sea tour) and are assigned a major squadron department (maintenance, training,operations,safety,supply,etc.) to run. How well they do here will ultimately determine how far they will go in the navy. After the department head tour, officers who prove to be only average will go back to another shore tour, perhaps on a staff or to a project office at the Naval Air Systems Command, and will probalbly be allowed to serve thier twenty years and retire. But if the Navy feels an Officer has command potential, then things begin to happen quickly, starting with a 2 year "joint" staff tour which is designed to "round out" the Officer's career and provide the "vision" for working effectively with Officers and personnell from other services and countries. Following this, the Officer heads back to what will probalbly be his or he final flying tour, as the Executive Officer of a squadron. If the first cruise goes well, the second cruise comes with a bonus- promotion to full Commander (0-5) and the job commanding a squadron of naval aircraft.

It is also the begginning of the end of the Officers squadron life.In less than 18 months, he or she will be handing over command of the unit to his or her Executive Officer and the cycles moves on. From here on, aviators take one
of two paths. Thay can take another staff tour, followed by "Fleeting Up" to take over their own air wing (with a promotion to Captain 0-6). The other option is they can take the path to command an Aircraft Carrier. This includes nuclear power school, an 0-6 promotion, and a two year tour as a carrier XO (executive officer). Following this comes a command of a "deep draft" ship (like a tanker, amphibous or logistics ship) and EVENTUALLY COMMAND OF THEIR OWN CARRIER.

12-27-2004, 01:05 AM
Mitscher? He was one of the very first Naval Aviators ever qualified! Number two comes to mind, but that might have been John Tower...

A "gentleman' for whom I used to work happened to run his carrier aground. Probably not his fault, except that the Captain of a carrier or plane, is always at 'fault', goes with the job.

12-27-2004, 01:51 AM
747, that sounds like the Ike incident, But Big E ran aground on the west coast not long before that too. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/10.gif

Typical career path for a Naval Aviator becomming a CV/CVN/Gator Freighter CO...

-Command of a Squadron, 36 months XO/CO tour.
-Navy War College, 1 year.
-Pentagon tour or Flag Staff, 12-18 months
-Dept Head tour aboard CV's i.e. AirBoss after which he makes the rank of full bird Capt, 18 months.
-Sellected as XO for a CV, 18 months.
-Commands his own ship.. Must be Deep Water Draft. i.e. Oilers (AO's), Ordnance Handelers (AOE's), Cargo, 18 months.
-Selected to command a CV, or CVN, depending on which pipeline he/she took, 18-24 months.

If they don't scew the pooch, their first star shortly after being releaved.

12-27-2004, 04:28 AM
Very interesting replies. Thanks to all.

But the information does raise some questions. In a 'normal' sailing officers career (eg RAN) that oficer would start off as a Sub-lieutenant and progress up the promotion ladder working in various departments such as engineering, gunnery, radar, navigation, damage repair etc, all the while standing watches and gaining knowledge on ship handling. As well as attending naval college and staff duty. So that by the time he reaches a command level -no matter what the craft - he has worked and run all ship departments and is supposedly competent in all.

If I'm understanding what has been said correctly the aviator who has been selected for higher command goes from several years active duty as an aviator (with really no exposure to shipboard seafaring duties) to XO command of a ship (with a break in between for Staff College and other land based duties).

Where on earth does he learn the finer points on shiphandling? Or learn how each department is run, and should be run? Where does he learn to become a sailor?

Am I missing something here?

12-27-2004, 10:45 AM
understand first that onboard ship there are different types of officers, a line officer can go on to command a ship, then you have supply corp, engineering officers(chang), navigator, not to mention LDO's, and warrants, line officer will not serve as a chang unless its a small deck

12-27-2004, 12:02 PM
What vidar said. But he forgot to add nuclear power training. That can take about a year as well. Also, you don't neccessarily have to do a department head tour as ships company.

As for the WHY Pips: Imagine trying to train a shoe as a Carrier Captain. Flight Ops involves a lot of stressful time critical decisions that only the CO of the carrier can make. Do I trap this plane with the gear problem or send him to the beach? Do I risk punching into Iran's waters to keep winds within the limits for this recovery? Do I launch these planes into this horrible weather even though our ships ACLS and ILS is down (they almost always answer yes to this one)? These are some of the tough problems a carrier CO handles. Imagine a SWO (ship driver) with no practical aviation experience making these decisions. He would not have any credibility with his airwing or flight deck. The first time he made a poor decision he would be done.

On the flip side, how can an aviator command a ship? Well I'll just say nobody ever washed out of Surface Warfare Officer School and was sent to flight training. The opposite happens all the time (someone washes out of flight school and is sent to be a ship driver). Besides, the Carrier CO has competent SWO and Nuke types around to back him up. Not to mention this would be his 3rd or 4th command so he can handle the administrative part of the job easily. Sounds arrogant, but it is much easier to make an aviator into a ship driver than vice versa. Most Carrier CO's are on the bridge during all flight ops. That can last 16 hours a day for weeks on end.


12-27-2004, 12:10 PM

I have a number of associates who stated out as 'ship drivers', one who spent four years in destroyers before earning his wings. He's about to be selected for O6 if his current 'project' works out.

By the way Vidar, one of my dad's good friends was one of the first 8 pilots to fly the S3 operationally. Slipery little devil.....

12-27-2004, 12:35 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Fliger747:

I have a number of associates who stated out as 'ship drivers', one who spent four years in destroyers before earning his wings. He's about to be selected for O6 if his current 'project' works out. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Yes, and one of my good friends in my last squadron spent three years as a shoe before going to flight school. There just were not enough pilot slots available when he graduated the academy so he had to pay his penance before going to flight school. It is fairly common. Making a community change early in your carreer is a big difference from washing out (as per my jab earlier). I'm glad that your friend saw the light early in his career. http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif