The title flight officer was a military rank used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was also an air force rank in several Commonwealth nations where it was used for female officers and was equivalent to the rank of flight lieutenant. The term flight officer is sometimes used today to describe job title positions as aircrew members.
A flight officer is a member of the aircrew of an aircraft who is responsible for specific functions. The flight officer may function as the navigator, responsible for planning the journey, advising the pilot while en route, and ensuring that hazards or obstacles are avoided. The flight officer may also be responsible for operating aircraft mission/weapon systems, including mission planning, mission timing, threat reactions, aircraft communications, and hazard avoidance. In the United States Navy and Marine Corps and formerly United States Coast Guard, officer aircrew members responsible for operating airborne weapon and sensor systems are called naval flight officers. The title of flight officer is also used for police officers who serve as pilots in law enforcement aviation units.
Flight officer was a United States Army Air Forces rank used during World War II, from 1942 to 1945; the rank being created on Sep 10, 1942 On 5 November 1942 military glider pilots were commissioned flight officers after the completion of their training. The new rank insignia was nicknamed "the blue pickle".
The rank is equivalent to Warrant Officer Junior Grade (WOJG) which is today's Warrant Officer (NATO grade: W-1). Enlisted and aviation cadet trainees who successfully passed air qualification training were appointed as Flight Officers and served as rated pilots, navigators, flight engineers, bombardiers and glider pilots. At the end of World War II, the Army Air Forces discontinued the use of the rank of flight officer. All of the service's flight officers had either been promoted to commissioned officer ranks during the course of the war or discharged.
In the late 1940s, following the creation of the separate US Air Force in 1947, the United States Army required more pilots. However, congressionally-imposed commissioned officer strength levels prevented pilot expansion. The Army requested authority to establish the Flight Officer/Warrant Officer program. This proposal was rejected because the Army already had three groups of personnel – -enlisted, warrant officer and commissioned officer. As a fall back position, the Department of the Army decided that the grade of flight officer was in reality a Warrant Officer grade with a restriction to the Warrant Officer Junior Grade rank (WOJG).
The Warrant Officer Flight Program was begun in 1949 and the first pilots graduated in 1951. Most of the Warrant Officers were trained to fly helicopters; the Army had begun a helicopter pilot training course for officers in 1948. Flight Warrant Officer Candidates had to be between the ages of 18 and 28 when they began training, though they could begin training if they were about to have their 18th or hadn't yet had their 29th birthday.
Army commissioned- and warrant officer pilots were under the Transportation Corps from 1947 to 1983, after which Army Aviation had its own branch. They were only allowed artillery spotting, reconnaissance, and casualty evacuation roles, as the Air Force had a lock on everything else.
The rank of flight officer was re-instituted by the United States Air Force's civilian Auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), in the mid-1980s, replacing the former ranks of warrant officer and chief warrant officer, new entrants for which had been eliminated by the Air Force in 1959 and discontinued with the retirement of the last USAF chief warrant officer in the Air Force Reserve in 1992. CAP Officers between the ages of 18 and 20 are eligible for promotion to the ranks of flight officer, technical flight officer and senior flight officer. Requirements for promotion to each grade is generally the same as for promotion to CAP second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain, respectively, and those flight officers who choose to enter the commissioned ranks are promoted to these respective ranks when they reach the age of 21.
Flight officer was established as a rank equivalent to flight lieutenant in the women's air services of several Commonwealth nations. The rank was used by the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and its successor, the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF), until 1968, and by Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS) until 1980. It was also previously used in the Women's Royal Australian Air Force, which was absorbed into the Royal Australian Air Force in 1977.