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Pegasus of the fleet the Navy's flying warrants.

In the fall of 2005, while putting the finishing touches on his Army Warrant Officer Flight program package aboard USS Preble (DDG 88), Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class (NAC/AW/SW) Robert Antonucci received a message from his department head about the Navy's new pilot Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Flight program.

"I really didn't want to join the Army," said Antonucci. "But, I really wanted the opportunity to fly. Once I received the message from my department head about our new warrant flight program, I took the Army package and put it in the shredder."

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Antonucci submitted his package for the 2006 CWO board and was disappointed when he was not chosen. He immediately started his bachelor's degree and increased his shipboard qualifications to make his package better for the 2007 CWO flight board.

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"I had an entire year to make my package stronger," said Antonucci. "During this time I earned more qualifications including command CPR coordinator, assistant fitness leader and assistant urinalysis coordinator. Increasing my qualifications and going beyond my associate's degree made my package stronger plus I made first class. I was selected for the '07 board although I needed a waiver due to my age."

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Antonuccci was one of 45 prior-enlisted members selected for the CWO flight program since its inception in 2006 with 29 entering pilot training, and 16 entering naval flight officer (NFO) training. The selectees had to be commissioned by their 27th birthday, possess an associate's degree or higher and be between the ranks of E-5 through E-7. Age waivers can be granted to applicants not exceeding the age of 29 for pilots and 31 for NFOs.

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"The attrition and performance of the CWO pilots is right there with the rest of the student population," said Marine Corps Col. Scott Walsh, Commander of Training Air Wing 5 (TW-5), Milton, Fla. TW-5 trains aviators from the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force and allied nations.

"The profile of a successful aviation student is traditionally a young single guy between the age of 23 to 25," said Walsh. "A warrant officer is probably between the age of 27 to 28, married with kids. Though typically having families and other responsibilities associated with their age demographic, warrants have maturity, focus and time management skills commensurate with having served as enlisted Sailors," said Walsh.

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CWO2 Kevin Holland, a former aviation warfare systems operator first class, recommends future applicants educate their loved ones early about the intense commitment of the program.

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"If you are married, talk to your spouse about it and don't sugar coat it," said Holland. "Let your spouse know that flight school will be rough and you will probably see them one day out of a seven-day week. Your face will be in a book the majority of the time."

In 2006, Holland had just completed his bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics and was completing his package for Officer Candidate School (OCS) when he read the message traffic for the CWO flight program.

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"I've always wanted to fly since my dad took me to see the helicopter he worked on in the Navy when I was a kid: an SH-3 Sea King," said Holland. "Upon seeing the message traffic, I immediately deleted everything from my OCS package stating OCS and tailored it to CWO. I was fortunate to be chosen among the 10 pilots and four NFOs in that class."

CWO2 Matt Chandler, formerly a chief aviation electronics technician, was also motivated to fly by his father as a child. Chandler grew up hearing stories of his Dad's experiences in various Navy flying clubs in the 1960s.

"My dad had to cut his flying dreams short to support me and my eight siblings," said Chandler. "In some way, I wanted to fly for my father, but more importantly [I wanted to fly] for something bigger than me."

Applying for the program as a chief petty officer, Chandler felt some pressure to remain in the chief's mess.

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"I have missed the privilege of serving in the world's finest fraternity, however, this flying gig is pretty awesome," said Chandler. "I'm reluctant to admit I chose one for the other, but rather I am part of a team that is paving the way for enlisted commissioning programs and creating opportunities that come with change."

The flying warrant application process entails taking the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB), obtaining an aviation candidate physical and interviews from at least three officers within the aviation community. Upon being chosen, the CWO flight candidate attends five weeks of LDO/CWO indoctrination training in Newport Rhode Island, six weeks of aviation preflight indoctrination (API), five months of primary training, and five to eight months of platform-specific training in a squadron before reporting to the fleet.

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According to CWO2 Leighton DaCosta, "Our flight program is non-traditional only in its method of selection. The traditional pilots have mostly come from the Academy and Officer Candidate School (OCS). We come directly from the ranks."

CWO2 Amy Blades came from the ranks as a prior undesignated Sailor and aviation boatswain's mate (handler). Blades was first motivated to fly when she was a third class aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67).

"I took a back seat flight on an EA-6B Prowler, and it was the best experience ever," said Blades. "I've been striving to be an aviator ever since."

Blades initially applied for the CWO program in 2006 and was not selected. She reapplied in 2007 and was selected as an alternate.

"One of the CWO selectees, a friend of mine, was accepted to both the CWO program and OCS," said Blades. "He chose OCS which opened up a spot for me to be in the 2007 class."

Going from the operations of a ship to a classroom atmosphere was initially challenging for Blades and the other warrants.

"I did college, but college does not compare to this," said Blades. "The majority of us have not been in a heavy learning environment since our last "C" school. To overcome the challenges, I formed study groups with everyone around me, which included the small handful of us warrant candidates along with Academy and OCS graduates."

Cmdr. Sean Maybee serves as the executive officer for training squadron VT-6, one of three squadrons at NAS Whiting Field responsible for training new pilots during primary training.

Maybee believes the CWO program will enhance the tactical level of the squadrons allowing them to have a greater experience base across the fleet.

"In the future, the flying warrants will be the 'go-to' aviators when they have 5,000 flight hours," said Maybee. "In the future, we will have a warrant who has been an aviation aviation safety officer two or three times before bringing their wealth of knowledge and art of flying to the squadrons and classroom."

During primary training, the pilots progress through basic flying, aerobatics and formation flying.

"Formation flying is multiple aircraft in formation, side-by-side with 10 feet of stepdown, four feet of wing-tip distance and 20 feet of tail distance," said CWO2 Richard Michael Shilling. "Formation flying is very challenging and hair raising."

Before aircraft primary instruction (API), every candidate goes through a month-long introductory flight syllabus (IFS) to determine their capacity to operate a Navy aircraft. During IFS, candidates engage a civilian flight syllabus completing 25 hours of flight training. Flying within a Cessna 172, candidates are judged on their adherence to safety, ability to carry out maneuvers and overall readiness to learn.

"The purpose of IFS is to see if you can handle an aircraft," said Shilling. "The Navy would rather spend more than $5,000 to find out you should not be a pilot and that you would be a danger to yourself and others, than put $250,000 into you to find out the same thing."

Shilling was an aviation ordnanceman first class with VFA-31 when he applied for the program in 2007.

"I was in the process of completing my package to become a line officer and attend flight school in 2007 when my master chief told me of this program," said Shilling. "He told me the warrant program does the same thing but you fly specifically."

NAVADMIN 067/09 for the CWO program states, "This program harnesses the strength of Sailors today and shapes the Navy of tomorrow by creating flying specialists unencumbered by the traditional career paths of the unrestricted line community." Flying warrants will rotate between traditional sea/shore flying billets and will fill junior officer billets. Flying warrants are not eligible for department head tours.

"There's a benefit to having pilots not having to hit the same widgets," said Maybee. "You get a young ensign from whatever commissioning route, and they all have their career progression which entails becoming a department head, commander, commanding officer, etc. Flying warrants will not have the same issues and concerns. They would have never left the cockpit for a Pentagon tour or major staff. The only concern they have is their next flying tour."

Lt. Bryant Nunn, a pilot instructor at TW-5, teaches pilots from all training routes including OCS, Naval Academy and warrants.

"The flying warrant program provides the Navy with a more informed pilot," said Nunn. "We often times get students who have no idea what they're getting into. Students who come through the warrant program know the aircraft they want to fly. Most of them have worked that platform, become familiar with it and are a lot more informed."

Nunn conducts flight briefs with the pilots before they fly to ensure preparedness and adherence to safety.

"The flight brief is the most rigorous part of the flight event," said Antonucci. "You must brief the instructor giving them all the knowledge you have. The brief is very in-depth, covering everything such as the safety aspects, systems of the aircraft and flight maneuvers."

Nunn believes the CWO flight program will help bridge the gap between enlisted and officers on the flight line.

"In the past there may have been some issues with pilots understanding their enlisted troops," said Nunn. "This program helps breakdown any disconnect between enlisted and officer, between the serviceman that keep our planes flying and those who fly them."

DaCosta helped to keep planes flying while serving aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75). His job as a fire controlman included tracking airplanes, crafts and missiles along with fixing missile launchers. As a NFO DaCosta will be among the men and women who operate the advanced systems aboard naval aircraft as the overall tactical coordinators. As an NFO, Dacosta does not pilot but helps to navigate during training and real-time scenarios.

"The NFO runs the flight and is the mission commander," said DaCosta. "Whether it's dropping ordnance or doing tactical engagements, the NFO is part of the team helping to augment the pilot's job."

DaCosta was not accepted the first year as a NFO in 2006. To strengthen his application, Dacosta was selected as Junior and Senior Sailor of the quarter, nominated Sailor of the Year, received a Navy Achievement Medal and earned his master training specialist qualification at Surface Combat Systems Dam Neck, Va.

"The first year I applied, many aviation rates picked up, plus I applied as a second Class," said DaCosta. "The next year I kept charging and fortunately got an e-mail from the higher-ups asking if I wanted to reapply."

For DaCosta, the most challenging aspect of flight school is managing the external challenges from family and loved ones.

"One of the goals of flight school is task saturation and priority management," said DaCosta. "My father passed away while I was in pre-flight which was the No. 1 challenge for me to overcome. My dad was very proud of me for being one of 30 selected for the program, one of 10 NFOs and one of the few minorities chosen."

Despite the challenges, Blades takes special pride in the road traveled to become a warrant.

"We've fought our way through the ranks, some were knocked down but got right back up," said Blades. "We've spent our time on deployments, be it on the flight deck, the boiler room, the sand box or the middle of the ocean. We've been the one's to ask for more responsibility, not just to better ourselves but more importantly to help better our crews and commands. We're here because someone believed in us and thought we could make the Navy a better place to live and work in. So, through blood, sweat and tears we have come to be the Navy's flying warrants--'Pegasus of the Fleet.'

Hutto is assigned to Defense Media Activity- Anacostia, Washington, D.C.

Story by MC2(AW) Jonathan W. Hutto Sr.

Photos by MC1 Monica Nelson
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Title Annotation:Chief Warrant Officer flight program
Author:Hutto, Jonathan W., Sr.
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2010
Words:2144
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