Roster of known United States Navy, Marine Corps and
Coast Guard enlisted pilots
|Edward J. Bamrick
Charles J. Boylan
D. D. Chaplin
Joseph C. Cline
Harold A. Elliott
Paul E. Gillespie
Foss M. Hardendorf
Robert H. Harrell
Harold H. Karr
George W. Knowles
|Robert E. Lee
Francis E. Lovejoy
Erlon H. Parker
Walter V. Seiler
F. H. Tuttle
Charles E. Wardwell
The Middle Years: 1919-1940
The Bureau of Navigation decrees in October 1919, "In the future, it will be the policy of the Bureau to select a certain number of warrant officers and enlisted men for flight training and duty as pilots of large heavier-than-air craft and directional pilots of dirigibles."
The enlisted pilot designation Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP) is first used in January 1920. NAP certificate number one, dated January 22, 1920 is issued by the Bureau of Navigation to Harold H. "Kiddy" Karr, CQM (A) (NAP) USN. NAPs continue to retain their specialty rates and perform rating duties as well as fly.
Qualifications for pilot training are further elaborated. Applicants must be a chief warrant officer, warrant officer, chief petty officer, or petty officer first class. The age limit of thirty years old narrows the field as warrant officers and chief petty officers rarely achieve the required grade by that age. A clear record, high moral character and excellent physical condition are additional stipulations and the instruction states "no waivers to be granted." Later clarification details that upon completion of training the candidates are to be ordered to flying duty. Warrants are titled "Student Naval Aviators," while enlisted men are "Student Airmen" to distinguish them from the officer Naval Aviators. A Pensacola Station Notice of 06 February 1920 lists Class 1 with thirty-six enlisted men in heavier-than-air and four in lighter-than-air training.
In 1921 three NAP designations are made - seaplane, ship-plane and airship. Balloon pilots are not considered NAPs although some wear the one winged badge for a short season. The Bureau of Navigation directs all enlisted men who have been designated Naval Aviator to request the proper designation of Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP). They are authorized to continue to wear their specialty rating badge on their sleeve and Naval Aviator wings on the upper left chest.
An additional school is established at North Island, California, to increase the number of ship-plane pilots. Normal attrition keeps the number of NAPs between 100 and 130 with about two-thirds of those in fleet squadrons and the remainder in shore based squadrons. To improve the number of bluejacket pilots, Congress passes legislation requiring the ratio of enlisted pilots to officer pilots be thirty percent.
The Marine Corps offers a small number of enlisted Marines "in-the-field" instruction governed by a training syllabus issued in 1923. The Marine Corps Order authorizes those who complete the course to be designated Naval Aviation Pilots. "Any enlisted man who could qualify in practical and theoretical flying as outlined in the syllabus could be recommend for designation at once." Hence, in mid 1923, First Sergeant Benjamin F. Belcher and four Gunnery Sergeants, Neil W. Abbott, Archie Paschal, Millard T. Shepard and Peter P. Tolusciak are designated USMC NAPs one through five. Tolusciak is a former pilot in the French Army and officer in the Polish Army.
The Navy enlisted rating of Chief Aviation Pilot (CAP) is established in 1924 for those qualified in heavier-than-air craft. The rating badge for AP uses a replica of Naval Aviator wings. The Aviation Pilot First Class (AP1c) rate is added in 1927.
All enlisted flight training is discontinued in 1932 and the AP rate is discontinued in 1933. Chief and First Class APs are required to convert to technical aviation ratings or Radioman. The designation NAP added after the rating is again used to note enlisted pilot status. With World War Two, the Aviation Pilot (AP) rating is re-established in 1942, but now includes chief petty officer through third class petty officer. With many enlisted pilots receiving officer commissions and a decline in the number of enlisted pilots, the AP3c is soon discontinued. Student pilots are advanced to AP2c upon graduation of flight training.
The enlisted pilot attrition rate during training in the 1920's and early 1930's is problematic. In 1927 a study recommends that potential NAPs be high school graduates, in aviation ratings, be on at least their second enlistment and meet the same age requirement of the officer pilot candidate program. Some qualified fleet sailors are sent to elimination training to better improve the pass rate, while others are sent directly from the fleet to pilot training. A more radical recommendation involves sending volunteers straight from initial recruit training to ten weeks of elimination training. The goal is ten recruits per week qualified to enter pilot training. The boot camp to pilot program is approved in January 1929.
One of the amusing stories from the recruit to pilot program involves George W. Webber Seaman 2c (NAP). In the first class of recruits to graduate from the program, Webber is ordered to VS-3 aboard the USS Lexington for duty involving flying. Berthing space is scarce and Webber is assigned a cot on deck. Each squadron is required to supply messcooks to assist the ship's cooks in the galley. VS-3 being short of non-rated men sends their newest Seaman 2c to messcooking duty. Webber does his galley duty, flies with his squadron off the carrier, and spends nights on his cot on deck. Webber's messdeck shipmates are concerned that he is impersonating a pilot and advise him he will be in big trouble if caught wearing aviator wings. Webber invites his fellow messcooks topside to observe one of his flights and put their concerns to rest. When the Lexington's Commanding Officer, Capt E. J. King, (later Admiral), learns that one of his carrier pilots is messcooking, Webber's mess duties quickly end. Commander Webber retires in 1959.
The Navy finds the thirty percent enlisted pilots requirement difficult to maintain and recommendation is made to Congress to decrease the number of NAPs from thirty percent to twenty percent. Congress legislates the change in 1932. With a lowered percentage requirement, the economic depression, and a Navy's economy drive, all NAP training ceases from 1932 to 1936. A trickle of bluejackets are added to the training pipeline from 1936 on to maintain the twenty percent level.
The Late Years: 1941-1981
With the build up of forces immediately preceding World War Two the number of NAPs increases in proportion to commissioned pilots. The requirement for more officers finds a ready source in the NAP community and an increasing number of NAPs are commissioned as Naval Aviator. During World War Two, commissioning of enlisted pilots continues with estimates that ninety-five percent of the NAPs are given temporary officer commissions during their military career. A number of commissions are made permanent with completion of college education programs.
The assignment of NAPs to duties other than piloting aircraft is not limited to Navy messcooking. In the early days of the 1942 battle for Guadalcanal Marine Air Group 14, sorely in need of combat pilots, found they were missing two NAP sergeants in their forward deployment. A search of the records reveals that Sergeants Ollie Michael (left) and Rohe C. Jones (right) have been ordered to latrine digging duties on New Caledonia. The two leathernecks are hastily cut orders back to their squadron and pilot Douglas SBDs in the fierce contest for possession of the Solomons. Jones is killed during his third combat tour. Michael is credited with sinking three Japanese ships in November and December 1942. (Photo by Perry N. Colby, Nov 42. NNAM)
In flight operations, while airborne, experience dictates the position of enlisted pilots. A bluejacket pilot of a single pilot aircraft may lead a section and have an officer flying in his section. In multi-engine aircraft it is not uncommon for an enlisted pilot to be plane commander with a less experienced officer in the right seat. On the ground, the normal officer and enlisted status resume.
The Enlisted Flight Training Program is cut following World War Two. A few enlisted pilots receive training after the war, but in 1948 Congress ends the requirement for enlisted aviators. Whereas, some hold 1948 as the termination of the NAP program, in fact many enlisted pilots continue their careers in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard in the following decades. With the reduction in forces, temporary officer commissions are relinquished and a number of NAPs returned to their permanent enlisted status.
When the Korean War begins in June 1950, the Marine Corps have 255 NAPs. By the ceasefire in July 1953 the number of NAPs in the Corps has dropped to 137. At the advent of Vietnam in 1964 the number of NAPs in Marine aviation is 27. The last four U.S. Marine Corps enlisted pilots, Master Gunnery Sergeants Joseph A. Conroy, Leslie T. Ericson, Robert M. Lurie and Patrick J. O'Neil, simultaneously retire on February 1, 1973.
The unofficial roster of Coast Guard NAPs lists 216 pilots. All but 37 are trained during the forty-four months of World War Two. ADCM John P. Greathouse, the last Coast Guard enlisted pilot, retires in 1979.
In 1955 the number of non commissioned Navy pilots in flight status hovers around 300. Retirements coupled with advancements into Limited Duty Officer status continually cut into the number of bluejacket aviators. The last enlisted pilot on active duty is ACCM Robert K. "NAP" Jones, who retires from the Navy on January 31, 1981.
(1) The Silver Eagles Association (SEA). LCDR Robert Buchal, USN (Ret), sentinel of the SEA files, undated and provided the NAP roster.
(2) The National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM), NAS Pensacola, Florida. NNAM archives hold SEA records including a limited number of biographical questionnaires submitted to the SEA by NAPs.
(3) Naval Aviation News (see in particular NAN, September 1967)
(4) United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995, Roy Gossnick
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