Air Force Pilots and Navy Pilots: What’s the Difference?

Air-Force-Pilots-and-Navy-Pilots-Whats-the-Difference2-448x198Air Force pilots and Navy pilots perform a valuable service to our country, but each branch of the military provides a different type of protection. Air Force and Navy pilots are no exception to that, as each type of pilot performs a different function.

Training and Missions 

Air Force pilots and Navy pilots share some similarities. They receive similar training and, in fact, often train together. However, Navy and Air Force missions are different. Navy pilots usually respond faster to missions as they are often stationed on aircraft carriers, located closer to areas where they are needed. Because Air Force pilots consider their home base an Air Force base, the response time often is longer.

Aircraft Size 

One difference between Air Force pilots and Navy pilots is the size of the aircraft they fly. Navy pilots use smaller aircraft more suitable for takeoffs and landings on the deck of an aircraft carrier, while Air Force pilots handle larger aircraft. The smaller aircraft used by the Navy pilots are also more suitable to the types of missions involved.

Pilot Wings 

Whether the pilot is an Air Force pilot or Navy pilot, once they are certified to fly, they are given wings as a badge. The type of wing distinguishes the branches of the military. Air Force pilots earn silver wings with a large shield on the design. Gold wings given to Navy pilots not only have the large shield but an additional small shield connected to a big anchor. Gold wings are given to the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

Both Air Force pilots and Navy pilots provide an invaluable service to the country as part of the military. For more information on aviation, visit us at Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay up to date on the latest aviation news.

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15 thoughts on “Air Force Pilots and Navy Pilots: What’s the Difference?

  1. ” Navy pilots use smaller aircraft”…not necessarily so. Both services have a broad range of missions requiring many different types of aircraft. I flew P3C Orions which is is land based four engine turboprop used for long range surface surveillance and anti submarine warfare. “They receive similar training”…landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier is a significant difference.

    1. I agree, we have trapped and shot EA-3B “Whale” , RF-5C Vigilante, C-130, F-14, F-4B and the Skyraider. Now those aren’t smaller aircraft.

  2. I don’t get this article at all. What’s the point? Who wrote it? What is the author’s qualification?

    I’m a retire USAF pilot and I did an exchange tour flying with the Navy back in the 90s. There’s really no difference between Navy and Air Force pilots, except those caused by the different environments they fly in, and those caused by the differing philosophies of the two services. For example, in the aviation arm of the Navy, their regulations are oriented toward telling them what they can’t do, whereas the Air Force tells you what you can do. So, if the regulation doesn’t cover a specific thing — like flying under gondola cables in Italy (for example), Navy guys assume they can, since nothing says they can’t. Air Force guys assume they can’t, since nothing says they can. (I know, that’s kind of an old joke, but it’s actually pretty accurate from my experience.)

    The Air Force holds supervisors accountable for things their underlings do, even if it wasn’t deliberate, so to cover their own asses, supervisors keep close control and a close eye on what goes on in their command. The Navy generally doesn’t do that — in the aviation arm anyway. They hand over total responsibility and accountability to the lowest man — the pilot. Even if something in the system makes it likely (if a rule is broken) that somebody will die, and they could easily change it to prevent that, they don’t change it. They just say it was the pilot’s fault for doing that thing.

    I two and half years flying with the Navy, I witness more breaches of flying discipline and more disregard for flying regulations (basic things like VFR cloud clearances and non-formation qualified pilots — including a squadron exec — flying unauthorized formation for the purpose of taking cool pictures — once resulting in two deaths, the loss of one aircraft and an off-field emergency landing of another) than I saw in more than 20 years of Air Force flying.

    I have also worked with many Naval aviators who are among the best pilots I’ve ever met.

    1. Thanks for the information Chris. I’m currently looking to join the USAF. Any chance I could ask you some questions?

  3. The major difference between USAF and USN pilots is the mission the Air Force and Navy has for them. The pilots in the USN have the primary mission of fleet defense. The pilots in the USAF have the primary mission of national defense.
    The USAF also has the primary responsibility of strategic and tactical offensive operations. Only the USN’s E-6B Mercury aircraft have a strategic offensive role, and that is with USAF crews aboard to handle USAF ICBM communications and USN crews to handle USN SSBN/SLBM communications.
    USN aircraft do handle some tactical offensive ops, but the majority of that mission is handled by USN CGs and DDGs with the tomahawk missiles, while the aircraft generally stay closer to ground troop offensive and defensive ops. This is seen mostly in USMC aircraft and USN CVN ops in support of amphibious ops.

  4. A basic difference is Air Force Pilots fly airplanes. In the Navy, they pilot boats. If a Navy man flies an airplane he is referred to as a Naval Aviator.

    1. Jesse in the navy you don’t pilot a boat…its called a ship and you sail it so get your shit right please and thank you…and a naval man piloting a jet is still considered a pilot…

      1. In the Navy a pilot is the person who guides your ship into the harbor. An aviator is the person who flies the aircraft. Having stood bridge watches and as a flight deck Landing Signalman Enlisted on my ship I know the difference.

  5. Jesse it’s called a ship not a boat you don’t pilot it you sail it…and a naval airman is called a pilot not a naval aviator. so get your shit right please and thanks

  6. Soon there will be space fleets….made up of “SHIPS”….and they will “SAIL” though the Heavens…and the ground roots will be the “NAVY”…

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