Does The Navy Have Pilots?

We all know the Navy is a sea-based military arm, commonly dealing with battles on the high seas as well as being used to transport troops and provide support in other ways to ground and air troops. 

One thing many people don’t realize is that the Navy actually has their own pilots and aircraft that they use in slightly different ways to other branches of the military.

Does The Navy Have Pilots?

This has been a big part of almost all wars that have strong militaries, from the first world war to today.

In this article we will explore why the Navy has pilots and how they are used.

History Of Naval Aviation

Since 1900, military enthusiasts have been attempting to develop naval tools for reconnaissance by utilizing airspace.

Kites were originally used for naval aviation and to hold up wireless communications and mainly provided advantageous height for reconnaissance

The first ever airship to successfully be used within the navy was the Mayfly in 1909. The Mayfly was mainly used as an aerial scout, a counter to the Germans’ use of Zeppelins and other aerial scouting units.

By 1910, the French had established ‘Service Aeronautique’ and alongside it many schools training pilots in the ways of marine and air life.

In the US, naval aviation began with Glenn Curtiss who attempted to prove that aircraft could take off on a boat and land onto another boat.

This was proven successful by one of his pilots who flew from Virginia to San Francisco, taking off on a boat and landing on another boat.

Fast forward to World War I and Pensacola was established, the first naval air station, 163 pilots were trained in naval aviation and by the end of the War around 1000 naval aviators existed.

Pensacola was founded in the area known as the Florida panhandle and helped bring naval aviation to the forefront of American defense.

Once World War II had broken out, and Pensacola had proven its worth, naval aviation really began to take off, pun intended.

Over 100 naval aviators were being trained a month, and the major naval battles of Midway and the Coral Sea were mainly conducted via aircraft rather than boat to boat combat.

Naval aviation was a big part of America becoming the globally recognized military power it is today and since World War II naval aviation has been a huge part of the military as well as the navy itself in America as well as across the world.

Both US naval and air services train their pilots at Naval Aviation Training Command (NATC), located at Naval Base Pensacola, Florida.

NATC is responsible for training both enlisted and commissioned officers from across the globe, but naval aviators and air force pilots are subject to the same training.

How Are Naval Aviators Used?

As war has changed and technology has progressed, the roles of the naval aviation forces have changed.

Even when out of war there are many roles that are undertaken by naval aviators that serve different purposes. Let’s explore some of them here.

Fleet Air Defense 

Obviously, naval aviation has the ability to provide firing support to its naval ships. Naval aviators can, obviously, reach areas and vantage points that a seafaring ship cannot, so they provide countless support to their sea based fleet. 

Strategic Projection 

What this means is that a naval base can send troops and support to the ground and land without having to dock the ship, in potential enemy areas, as well as simply for speed.

Moreover, the naval ship can maintain protection from the sea also.

Mine Countermeasures 

Sea mines can cause serious damage to ships and are particularly hard to remove without the aid of an aircraft.

The aircraft can drag a sled through the sea’s floor to check for mines and fish them out as necessary, maintaining a safe distance the whole time even if they do erupt.

Vertical Replenishment 

Vertical Replenishment, often called VERTREP for short, is the act of aircraft being used to replenish supplies, ammunition, and any other munition the naval ship may need. Cargo can even be moved from ship to ship.

Anti-sub Warfare 

This was mainly developed during the Cold War when submarines became used within covert warfare and surveillance. Light aircraft carriers were deployed with munitions to use against submarines. 

Although more powerful than these light aircraft were Anti-sub Warfare helicopters in addition to fixed wing aircraft in conjunction where they can fire missiles.

Maritime Relief, Patrol And Reconnaissance 

With the addition of aircraft, naval reconnaissance has become much easier, seeing where ships are etc. Aircraft can also patrol the air as well as the sea for safety. 

Moreover, the ships can provide relief to ships in distress, save sailors, and even bring supplies during emergencies and disasters. This is often repurposed to land during natural disasters and emergencies.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, the navy does indeed have their own pilots.

There is a whole military division, which most global military powers now have, called naval aviation, which is dedicated to the teaching and practice of using air vehicles to support maritime operations.

There are many uses of air support for the navy, specifically in the modern era.

Obviously, maritime battles have rarely been conducted in water since the 1900s, while we may imagine ships firing cannons against each other like a pirate film, this is rarely the case in modern day.

When two enemy ships enter into combat, the combat mainly takes place in the air and is rarely on foot or using ship weaponry.

Even in the present day, if a ship was targeted, missiles would mainly be fired from land, rather than engaging with an enemy ship through naval aviation. 

Naval aviation for combat is mainly used in serious war situations such as the Second World War as well as the Cold War.

Naval aviation mainly serves the navy in less combative ways, these days, mainly by providing maritime support in different situations.

Jacob Stern
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