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NFO to Pilot Program Writeup

Ray-Ban

Active Member
None
#1
I found myself traversing these forums about 5 years ago trying to find up-to-date information on the NFO to Pilot program. Having gone through the process, I figured it'd be helpful for others to share my experience.

For background, I was NPQ'd at OCS as an SNA due to my eyesight, and transferred to an NFO contract. Like most I'm sure, my first reaction was disappointment. When I got down to Pensacola I tried to find a doc that would give me another flight physical, thus another shot at being a pilot. Starting API, I finally figured out that this was unlikely to happen, and followed some sage advice I got from this very forum: If I ever wanted another shot at being a pilot, I'd need to first work on being a really solid NFO.

I made it out to the fleet, completed an OIR deployment, and had a ton of job satisfaction as an NFO; I was also lucky enough to find myself in a very NFO-centric community. Additionally, I was able to get LASIK while my squadron was a few months out from starting workups; otherwise I would have never been medically qualified. I was about 10 months from rotation out of my JO tour, and my Skipper/detailer asked me what I wanted to do. Fortunately, I had an incredibly supportive front office (and training officer) that understood my desire to both follow my dreams to be a pilot, but also to have a solid backup plan to stay in the community if I didn't get selected. That said, I would have been perfectly happy continuing on with my current career progression. My PRD was June with the NFO to Pilot board results coming out a month prior. Long story short, I had orders for WTI in Fallon pending my selection to the NFO to Pilot board. I found out that I had been selected when the letter came out post-DH board results in May, and I headed to primary within 3 weeks, getting the option to choose between either Whiting or Corpus. I immediately called ahead down to the TRAWING, and they classed me up within days of arriving after explaining why I couldn't afford to sit around in the pool for 3 months.

I was very lucky with the support my front office showed, as without that I could have been pretty badly burned by telling them I wanted out of the community (with respect to training opportunities given). I also had a previous NFO to Pilot transition in my squadron, and two former community detailers as DHs who gave me the rundown of career implications.

Being back in primary again is a blast; there's no ground job to worry about, and you mostly fly with fellow LTs (thus skip the "hazing" you got back in ensign-hood). Also, it's much easier having already flown the T-6A and having a general "airsense" from fleet experience. You also generally get proficiency-advanced through some of the contact flights and most of the instrument flights to help shorten the time to train. The current "gouge" from the selection guys on CNATRA staff is that we get "priority selection" to go back to our original communities; otherwise we select like every other student. The only difference being that our NSS doesn't factor into the average for future students (for obvious reasons).

With all of that out of the way, here are a few big takeaways from the experience:

1) I can't emphasize this enough: make the most out of being an NFO that you can. You'll need a high-ranked EP out of our JO tour to be competitive for the board, and you won't get one if you're bitter about your job (also, no one really cares that you wanted to be a pilot). Take every training opportunity you're given and bust your ass at your ground jobs. Also, if you do get selected, you'll need that EP to help you down the road when it comes time for O-4/DH selection.

2) Depending on your squadron, you may want to "hold your cards close" until you're 100% sure that you want to apply; some may not as supportive as others. Have a good plan for what happens if you don't get selected so that you don't totally shoot yourself in the foot. You don't want to miss out on training opportunities to help build your FITREPs because they didn't want to waste those on someone who's not sticking around. Keep in mind that it may be your Skipper who greases the skids with the Admiral and CAG for a letter of recommendation, so you really need him/her in your corner.

3) If medical was the reason you couldn't go SNA originally, then work with your squadron flight doc/corpsman early on to ensure you're even medically qualified for the transition before talking to your front office about it. Your SNA flight physical is valid for one year prior to the transition board (so I'm told).

4) There's mixed information about how "competitive" the board really is; I've heard that some years more than 30 people apply, and others only 5; they generally select 5-6 a year. YMMV.

5) There can be some serious career implications from doing the NFO to Pilot transition. While your peers are doing production jobs at the FRS or Weapons Schools, you're back in student land getting NOBs. I personally decided that if it came down to it, being a pilot to me was more important to me than making DH. That said, there are plenty of examples of guys who've done the transition successfully and are back on the "golden path". (I know two that made DH in my community, and current CNATRA was one as well)

More specific information about the application process, timing and waiver requirements etc can be found here: https://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/officer/Detailing/aviation/Pages/NFOtoPilotProgram.aspx

Hope this was helpful, and standing by for questions.
 
Last edited:

Uncle Fester

Robot Pimp
None
Super Moderator
Contributor
#2
Good write up, stickied for gouge.

Just out of curiosity, what’s “priority selection”? As in if you want to go back to your original community they’ll make it happen, but otherwise you pays your money and you takes your chances with the other cones?
 

Ray-Ban

Active Member
None
#3
Good write up, stickied for gouge.

Just out of curiosity, what’s “priority selection”? As in if you want to go back to your original community they’ll make it happen, but otherwise you pays your money and you takes your chances with the other cones?
Yeah that's what we were told by STUCON who emailed the CNATRA selection staff asking the question. There's an NFO that just selected here and is going back to his (VFA) community, so that's my only data point so far.
 

cfam

A pilot is a pilot. An NFO is something else.
None
Contributor
#4
Having applied myself and watched several friends go through the process, I can’t emphasize the importance of that EP fleet tour FITREP enough. Not only will it help you get selected, and keep you more competitive once you get winged, it also gives you at least a slight chance of remaining competitive in your original community if you don’t make it through flight school for any reason.
 
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